12th September 2016 should have been an auspicious date for Malaysians. For the Muslims, it marked this year’s Hari Raya Aidil Adha – a joyous festival where we celebrate our devotion to God, our sacrifices, togetherness, and charity. The day also brought us fantastic news from Rio de Janeiro, where national parathletes Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, and Abdul Latif Romly each won gold medals at the 2016 Paralympic Games, breaking three world records in the process. Praise came in from all sides – from national newspapers The Star, Berita Harian, Malaysiakini and other media outlets, to country leaders and politicians from across the divide, to regular netizens. Everywhere I clicked, the entire social media seemed to be abuzz with pride and joy at our athletes’ remarkable triumphs. AirAsia boss Tony Fernandez was so pleased, he offered free flights for life to gold medallist Abdul Latif. Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin approved an improvised rewards scheme for paralympic athletes and wrote impassionately about it on his page.
And then, there was Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA). The self-proclaimed ‘Malay Muslim’ group could not resist from pissing on the nation’s parade and showing everyone how utterly classless and petty they were (not to mention hypocritical and wrong. But more on that later). Instead of offering congratulations, an article on ISMA’s mouthpiece ismaweb.net truly played its part as the racist antagonist extraordinaire by harping on xenophobic tunes and, out of nowhere, smugly berating the “racist and chauvinist” Chinese – what they perceive to be MCA, DAP and the ever-obscure Red Bean Army – for their seemingly muted response to the Paralympics heroics. The article was published on Hari Raya Aidil Adha, just a day after the Rio achievements.
Like, really, ISMA?
A collective dose of butthurt from their humiliating loss in a civil suit was what probably instigated this latest rant on the portal. For the uninitiated, ISMA chief Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman, a couple of years ago, infamously made the claim that Chinese Malaysians are ‘trespassers’ to the country. He was recently found guilty of sedition by the court and forced to pay a RM2,000 fine.
This new article, most likely made in indignant retaliation, was written by Mohd Luttfi Abdul Khalid, a known ISMA leader. As with every other piece of tripe published on the website, there was a disclaimer beneath the write-up exempting ISMA’s liability for its contents. And if that wasn’t enough, it was posted on the site of a group which proudly (and unabashedly) labels itself a ‘moderate Muslim organisation’.
Excuse my incredulity, but I have two contentions with this:
1. ISMA claims to speak for the entire Malay voice in the country when the first clause of their slogan is ‘Melayu Sepakat’ and they employ other such jingoism in their propaganda. However, I doubt this very article written by me (a professional Malay man and a practising Muslim), will even be considered for publication at Ismaweb. This is because I realise the organisation has specific agendas, a narrow line of thinking that one must adhere to in order to be accepted. In reality, ISMA champions only Malays they deem suitable for their agenda. This article clearly falls outside those criteria. Indeed, for all their pontification of Malay rights, ISMA was curiously silent and much less supportive of PKR’s Wan Azizah Wan Ismail – a moderate Malay party leader – during the heated Kajang by-election against a Chinese MCA candidate several years ago. Why the double standard? Presumably, because Wan Azizah was not ‘Malay enough’ for ISMA.
2. If there ever were a website named Umnoweb, Pasweb, or Amanahweb, you could be damned sure the content would absolutely reflect Umno’s, Pas’, or Amanah’s stance and ideologies, what more if the articles there were written by known Umno, Pas, or Amanah activists. To claim otherwise would be just plain stupid.
The link is undeniable. Ismaweb started off not as a news portal, but as ISMA’s own organisational website earlier this decade. Over time, though, the news and activity pages gave way to more opinionated articles, most of which were aimed at promoting their ‘Melayu Sepakat, Islam Berdaulat’ agenda. The site then finally crumbled under the weight of its own existential crisis and became the channel we know now, while isma.org.my was created as ISMA’s official site instead.
I have refrained from surfing Ismaweb in recent years, mainly because my last visit there gave me cancer. Logging on the other night did not assuage my dread. With regards to the above issue, I believe Luttfi’s article actually reflects ISMA’s way of thinking pretty accurately. Their crude views, in fact, remind me of a football analogy: ISMA is that useless substitute sitting in the dugout who, right after the striker scores a beauty, instead of running to him and celebrating madly like the rest of the team, purposely trots on his own to the opposing fans, making rude gestures to rile them up. These pantomine villains tend to crave controversy, relish confrontation, despise any efforts at reconciliation, and – more often than not – create trouble to hide their own insecurities.
Moreover, as if knee-jerking wasn’t enough, the whole article then goes ridiculously off-tangent to compare our Rio heroes with the vitriol aimed at Alifah Ting and Ridhuan Tee. Now, I am familiar with the issues pertaining to both persons and I do empathise with them to an extent, but good grief! How the manner of our celebration of world-class parathletes relates in context to the controversies exclusive to Alifah and Ridhuan, apart from just the fact they all happen to be Malay/Muslims, is beyond me. Such escalated logic seems nothing else than a desperate attempt at shoehorning both names into a wholly unrelated issue, held together by flimsy claims of a Chinese racial conspiracy.
Reading the article further, I became more firm in my assertion that it truly belongs in the trash folder. I give two reasons why:
1. Hypocrisy: Ismaweb commenting on the Paralympics is a bit rich. Would they have written anything had our Malaysian parathletes lost? Would they have waxed lyrical about how despite gargantuan effort, sacrifice, and determination, it ultimately wasn’t to be for our countrymen? ISMA harps on about the Chinese lack of support, but did they themselves show any support to the rest of the Paralympic contingent? More pertinently, as a media portal, shouldn’t Ismaweb instead have taken the initiative to provide updates and exposure of the Rio Paralympics to its readers, rather than countering with a snarky and belligerent article that only free-loads off the success of others? All this glory-hunting lark seems risky business, especially when it blows up in your face. Which brings me to my second point –
2. Inaccuracy: the news that DAP initiated a parliamentary recognition of the Paralympic medallists after the article was published must have been met with cold sweat and nervous laughs at the Ismaweb offices. Who knew things would turn out as such? But, in all seriousness, had ISMA been patient and not resorted to imprudence, the affair could have been avoided altogether. Alas, they were not, they were vastly premature and extremely trigger-happy and here we are.By now, every man and his dog knows that after the glowing nationwide tributes, ISMA is left looking rather foolish, indeed.
(Touching on the coverage of the Games themselves, where ISMA seems to miss the point entirely, here’s the fact: the Olympics is obviously a bigger event and therefore much more publicised than the Paralympics. Of course people – Chinese, Malay, Indian, Iban, Ang Moh et al. – were going to know more about Lee Chong Wei’s incredible feat and cyclist Azizulhasni Awang’s too, for that matter. Don’t try to tell us that you knew of and have supported Ziyad, Ridzuan, and Abdul Latif way before the games, ISMA.)
Nevertheless, reading off my Facebook newsfeed and clicking on various news outlets that day, it was clear that Malaysians from across the political and social sphere came together to cheer, support and congratulate our champion parathletes. It was a unique and tremendous sporting achievement that transcended race and political barriers and allowed all Malaysians a moment to unite. The heart-warming story of Ziyad’s father thanking his Indian maths teacher and a truly touching video of Ridzuan hugging his coach R. Jeganathan (to whom Ridzuan is like a son, as he declared) were testament to that. Such powerful shows of goodwill should have been celebrated and cherished, not spoiled.
So, how can ISMA be so oblivious to the contrary? Idiocy, for one, but then again, I have a theory: how do you define what ‘news’ is? You can’t, without being a tad biased. What ISMA perceives as a silent response from the Chinese community, is just not true from the perspective of many, including mine. Ismaweb, however, would rather cherry-pick its own truths and then base their entire narrative around them. Ostensibly, this mindset stems from the group’s hardcore belief in their Malay rights, far more than the mutual rights of all Malaysian citizens. This thinking is thus manifested in their stubborn refusal to engage or even acknowledge non-Malay groups on a level field. Essentially, ISMA chooses netiher to listen nor read about the Chinese community, effectively ignoring them altogether. This produces a convenient bubble within which ISMA can be comfortable portraying their version of the truth. The sorry cycle is renewed every once in a while with ‘news’ such as that on the Paralympics above, hence further strengthening their convictions.
My advice to Ismaweb is: rather than publishing incendiary articles and passing them off as op-ed pieces, try helping the parathletes themselves. Don’t just jump on the success bandwagon, when things look good. Devote yourselves to helping those who are most vulnerable in our society. Do what you can to engage with orphans, the physically disabled, soup kitchens, drug addicts, poor families, and people with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, where Malays are the race affected most. Engage with institutions like AADK, GIAT and NASOM, who all work relentlessly to aid less fortunate bumis for whom you, ISMA, claim to fight yet actually do nothing. Pointing a finger at an entire race is easy; putting in hard work consistently for years is far less glamorous, but can instigate real change.
In the end, the huge, ironic question that may well be lost in the midst of this debacle is: what would the parathletes themselves think if they were to read the article? Would they vigorously nod in agreement? No. Ridzuan and the others would almost certainly be embarrassed, even furious, that their achievements were demeaned and manipulated in such a way.
At such a critical juncture in our world today, where the threats of radical religionism, bigotry, and blatant xenophobia could potentially divide us all, Malaysia’s wonderful run at the Olympic and Paralympic Games provided a welcome tonic for the people. I, like many others, truly believe such a triumph deserves to be shared by every Malaysian of every race, creed and age, and no amount of Ismacais can tell me otherwise.
Article contributed by: Hajime Saito
*The title is not a typo (nor was I speaking with a lisp). Since ISMA loves name-calling so much, I thought they deserved one of their own. Ithma is an Arabic derogatory term which refers to all manners of vice, including the acts of racism, hypocrisy, and slander.