Dissociating Malays from the ‘amok’ mentality

NOVEMBER 25 — WHAT was going through the mind of “Edi Rejang” when he decided to take it upon himself to harass a woman, just for doing her job?

What possessed him to actually enter the non-halal section in a hypermarket, which was built with the sole purpose of preventing Muslims like him from getting offended by the public sale of alcoholic drinks and pork?

For someone who had such an averse reaction to beer, why would he purposely approach a beer promoter targetting non-Muslims of drinking age? Was he just trying to procure a sample himself?

And on top of it all, what was he expecting when he uploaded his own detestable act online?

Now that it has gone viral, we have a broken man, whose identity was revealed by vigilantes online — leading to him finally losing his job.

While it was vile that his wife and child were similarly exposed just for what he did, I just do not think there is much sympathy in reserve for Edi losing his job. Any right-thinking company would do well not to protect such a racist and bigot, and there is nothing to be gained by that negative publicity.

For far too long, many racists, supremacists, bigots, and victimisers have gone unchecked, simply because they felt that they could get away with it, with all the might of the majority behind them.

It could be argued that Edi’s verbal assault was an embodiment, a distillation of the toxic mix of three elements widely prevalent in some Malay-Muslim males.

A coalition of Malay-Muslim groups protesting against the ICERD ratification tried to march to Parliament earlier this month. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
A coalition of Malay-Muslim groups protesting against the ICERD ratification tried to march to Parliament earlier this month. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

The first is the inevitable side-effect of dakwah culture. In its most literal sense, dakwah can be seen as the effort to evangelise or proselytise the teachings of Islam to other Muslims, or even an attempt to convert infidels, by promoting the best of the faith.

But the practice has been corrupted in modern times, especially here. The divine tenet of amar ma’ruf nahi munkar, or “to encourage good deeds and forbid wrongdoings” has morphed to skew more towards the latter than the former.

“Forbidding wrongdoings” is no longer about preventing Muslims from disobeying God, but to force one’s beliefs onto others — even non-Muslims. It is now about eradicating whatever elements and influence that is deemed un-Islamic in public, about ensuring that whatever one’s interpretation of Islam reigns supreme in the public space.

Instead of enjoining the State to attend to the tenet in a plural society, we have instead zealots taking the moral policing upon themselves, such as evident with the Skuad Badar vigilantes in Kedah, the spread of the Dakwah Sentap ideology that encourages youths to reprimand their friends in a harsh and stinging manner, and the popular Pencetus Ummah evangelists with their incendiary messages bordering on takfirism.

The second element is toxic masculinity, that has been passed on from fathers to sons: that women rank lower than men, have no agency of their own, and therefore men have dominion over women.

Edi must have thought that he could easily get the woman to submit to him, with his domineering and intimidating status as a man. After all, in so many other situations, and perhaps in his own life as well, women have always cowered before him, and taken his words as gospel.

Instead, he met his match in a woman who was as graceful as she was resolute — undeniably a woman who has benefited from feminism. She deftly handled all of Edi’s accusations and rudeness, with the experience of a woman who has in many cases handled unwanted attention from men just like him.

And the third element, the last resort from Edi was to just go berserk. He had given her the F-bomb and flipped his finger, when he was ultimately rebuffed, and ran out of any arguments to sustain and justify his unbecoming behaviour.

He must have thought that this would at last rile her up, and he would finally get a reaction to back his argument to vilify a beer promoter. And yet, she took it calmly and kept her cool.

As an ethnic Chinese, perhaps she knew she had no other choice but to stay calm, no matter how frightened she must have been. Here she was, facing the status quo: not only a man, a Muslim, but a Malay on top of that -- who would side with her? Most of Malaysia, as it later turned out.

But her fear was understandable. Ever since the bloody tragedy of May 13, some Malays have used “running amok” as a threat against anyone who dares to “test their patience.”

It is as if the Malays are oblivious to the fact that the “Malays running amok” trope was a stereotype started by the colonial British, popularised by James Cook in his 1772 book: “To run amock is to get drunk with opium indiscriminately killing and maiming villagers and animals in a frenzied attack.”

Running amok is not a way to show a Malay’s pride and honour. It is a violent behaviour, manifesting from mental illness. It is an easy way for a Malay to escape his trauma and responsibilities — to run amok, is to run into suicide and killed by peacekeepers.

Instead of recognising this distasteful stereotype of the Malays, modern Malays have embraced it instead, emboldened and encouraged by racial supremacists and political animals such as Umno: whose president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had recently played up the trope as threat against Putrajaya ratifying an anti-racial discrimination treaty.

It was shameful how Putrajaya relented to the violent threats made by supremacists and Islamists. It is understandable that Putrajaya may have just wished to keep peace and order, but by capitulating it has only served to prove that running amok has its value, that it works.

Lest we forget, running amok is an exclusively male thing. No Malay woman has been reported causing a bloodbath just to kill herself. Can you just imagine if the administration is free of such toxic Malay-Muslim men?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.