Towards a New Islamist Discourse September 17, 2007Posted by ummahonline in Kolum, Vox Pop.
By: Haris Zalkapli
Political Islam is facing a challenge of gargantuan proporation these days. But it is not the challenge – usually described as threats on Islam – from groups such as Article 11 and the interfaith commission, which are often generalized and grouped together as “the anti-Islam group” by some Islamists which is the biggest. The greatest challenge is from within – the failure to recognize and truly compete in today’s free market of ideas.Many Islamists still speak of invoking the Internal Security Act against these groups and view them as criminals whose only wish is to see disintegration and destruction of Malaysia’s plural society.
Some speak of the lack of freedom of speech in this country and in the same breath announcing that they would sacrifice their lives to protect the sanctity of Islam, whatever that means. It is not clear how they got the idea that it would reach a stage where violence would be required.
But one thing is clear. The Malaysian Islamists’ discourse on freedom of religion shows their failure in competing in the free market of ideas, unlike other smaller but more organized groups. We don’t see many intellectually sound articles written by Islamists or ulama addressing the issue in the print media.
Take the controversy surrounding the Farish A Noor’s article in Harakah a couple of years ago. While you could feel that many are upset and disagree with Farish’s views in the article entitled Memikirkan Semula Pendekatan PAS, you didn’t see articles of equal standard (meaning articles that academically and coherently addressed the issues presented and not resort to name-calling and reducing the issue to “attacks from the enemy of Islam”) published anywhere.
What could be so difficult? After all, there were many news media, including web sites run by Islamists that would be happy to publish those views.
The same thing is happening now. We can see still a huge number of Islamists fail to see that it is of paramount importance that they present their views on the different level. Saying that these are the enemy of Islam seeking to destroy the religion, which then would arouse the anger of a great number of Muslims, simply will not do. How about arousing their intellect for a change?
The works of groups such as Article 11 cannot be reduced to only challenging the supremacy of Islam. And it is also irresponsible to call for the authorities to stop this group from organising their programs. After 49 years of independece, no one should be denied of this freedom.
In dealing with the current “liberal threat,” we see that Malaysian Islamists cannot help but speak in the language of power. The fact that today’s globalized world allows such contestation of ideas seems to elude them.
The religion of Islam really has great potentials. It is the fastest growing religion in Europe and the Americas. The appeals of this religion is clear. But Islamists need to really know that the free market of ideas – much like the free market of goods and services – knows no mercy. Products that are not competitive will lose out in this huge global market.
It is exactly because of the merciless free market of ideas that PAS, the most succesful Islamic movement in the region, needs to undergo a reform, to enable it to face the new reality of fierce competition in the free market of ideas. In view of the competition both locally and internationally, PAS needs to put this at the top of its agenda. And more sophisticated views should come out of PAS’s intellectuals and ulama, in the language of the world today.
As a popular movement and strong political force, PAS cannot help but undertake this responsibility. Whether we like it or not, PAS’s discourses largely shape the thinking of a significant number of Muslims in Malaysia.
It is time that PAS discard the old ways that have made it ill-equipped to compete in today’s free market of ideas. Old concepts and practices that it is used to – such as the problematic leadership by ulama – need to be redefined. And empty rhetoric will not help it to get by in the world that is getting more and more sophisticated day by day. The free market of ideas requires a new PAS, one that is at ease with the world today and equipped with the intellectual tools to face the challenges that come with it.