Monday, June 11, 2012

PAS and Benevolent Nation

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad,11 June 2012
I have never feared to engage in any intellectual discourse or even in any hostile debate. But admittedly I have my bout of anxiety in undertaking the invitation to speak on the PAS’ ‘Negara Berkebajikan’ in the 8th Dinner Talk on the 2nd June held by ‘Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia’- (SABM).

It isn’t because I’m unfamiliar to SABM. Indeed it’s quite to the contrary from its inception days. Yes the SABM’s constituency isn’t my kind of usual audience perhaps. But I have engaged in even more inimical crowds of participants, both locally and abroad, talking on acrimonious issues under the rubric of ‘Political Islam’.

Frankly, it’s the subject matter of ‘Negara Berkebajikan’ or now translated as ‘Nation of Care and Opportunity’ or in brief a ‘Benevolent Nation’ that is causing it all. It’s my maiden speech of sort on this topic. I couldn’t really fathom the kind of response my talk will elicit.

Are they seriously wanting to know more of this new advocacy of PAS, I thought to myself? Or will they simply shoot at me again on the topics of Hudud or Apostasy, with little interest for the subject of the ‘Benevolent State’?

Besides, how could I expound and articulate the subject without being perceived as ‘proselytizing on Islam’. Should I be talking off the cuff or deliver an academic lecture that might bore the audience to slumber?

Consequently I started the talk breaking ground rule no 1 on public speaking ie with an apologia.  I told the audience that I’m honestly undecided as to how I’m to pitch this talk. My quick hand-shaking around earlier gave me a grasp of the profile of the audience.

As I told them that I’m not about to be ‘proselytizing on Islam’, I deflected the seriousness of the introduction by an ice-breaker saying that I’m not here to run down the BN government because they have already ran down themselves enough.

With their laughter to greet me, I quickly set into motion that enabled me to give a brief snap-shot of the ‘dire state of the nation’. With 7 grim scenarios of the nation; from a gross fiscal mismanagement of a rich country (endemic corruption, crony capitalism and all) ending with very many poor people, to the deepening of racial and religious divide of late, the audience were ‘primed’ to accept the fact that our beloved nation is in dire strait.

It’s a kind of ’ABU’ syndrome setting in; a typical symptom of despair and despondency uniquely Malaysian. Lest you’re unaware still, it’s dubbed the ‘Anything But Umno’ or also incidentally in Bahasa ‘Asal Bukan Umno’ therapy. Surely, as I emphatically said, the task of redeeming a nation beset with such predicaments wouldn’t be an easy feat.

But why PAS’ Benevolent Nation as a solution? Foremost in their minds was, what has happened to PAS’ Islamic State? Anticipating the question that has preoccupied the minds of many, not least because it’s been demonised by PAS’ political nemesis Umno, I had to carefully debunk all apprehension.

Umno is in fact accusing PAS of not only deconstructing Islamic State (IS) but of late worse still, of Islam, for the sole reason of PAS wanting to achieve federal political power. This has become Umno’s greatest folly of late. Worst of it all, Umno compounded the attack with loads of racial overtone and ‘Islam-under-siege’ religious paranoia.

PAS is accused of ‘selling out’ Islam to DAP, alleging Malay political power would be severely diminished with a ‘diluted Islam’ with PAS’ new Benevolent State.  To that end, the NGOs Perkasa and JATI came handy.

Granted this political backdrop, I was all the more keen to expound on the concept of Benevolent State to my audience. I was eager to make them understand that PAS’ new image is not only politically-driven or an expediency of a political party into a critical election year.

Indeed PAS, like many of its Islamist counterparts the world over, especially of the Middle-Eastern countries in post Arab-Spring democratisation, is experiencing a ‘generational shift’ in their 'democratic' ideological discourse, a new narrative or even ‘scholarship’, a direct product of an Intellectual Renewal or ‘Ijtihad’ of contemporary Islamist thinkers.

Islamists now understand better of how to engage 'democratically' and through the 'ballot box' in a language comprehensible to all.  PAS similarly has actually transformed itself into a contemporary Islamist political organisation that exudes understanding of the context and demands of new realities in an emerging ‘New Politics’.

The concept of a ‘Benevolent Nation’ described it all. It wasn’t easy to explain all these phenomena to a Malaysian audience with hardly any exposure to ‘Political Islam’, much less to appreciate of ‘Islamists’ experiencing a ‘Shift’ of sort. Perhaps you now understand my earlier anxiety.

But my predicament was quite easily overcome when I decided to throw back the question at them. “Why do you as, as believers of other faiths and ideological convictions hate so much the idea of Islamic State”? The anticipated answers came spontaneously from the audience, almost spot-on.
Amongst their commonest angst of the IS were; Syariah will be enforced, Hudud will be applied on all, People of other faiths will be made into second class citizens or ‘zimmi’ (read the conquered) and worst of it all, they felt alienated.

Empathising with their grouses, I wasted no time in expounding the concept of the ‘Nation of Care and Opportunity’ for almost an hour, intermittently posing questions at the audience as to break the monotony of an ‘academic lecture’.

Lest I have deluded myself to believe that I have given a speech worthy of a “Dinner Talk”, permit me to quote a few lines of emails I received from the organiser the very same night and from a Christian-leader participant.

On behalf of the SABM Core Group, I would like to thank you for making the Dinner Lecture a memorable learning experience.
Your exposition of the "Nation Of Care and Opportunity" philosophy and perspectives on national issues was excellent. 
The presentation was very well received. The feedback from the largely urban middle class audience was very positive. Many were delighted to have met you in person.
Thanks a million for the seamless way you handled the tough questions.

And another from A Christian Leader:
"Thank you very much for the succinct and clear exposition of the current position of PAS which you gave at the SABM dinner and talk on Saturday night 2 June 2012. 
I am very glad to note that PAS looks to the welfare of all Malaysians by being a blessing to all others. Truly this is the "Pas for all" tagline which I once saw on a banner in the 2008 elections in Taman Sri Muda in Shah Alam but today is better articulated and elaborated in the PAS booklet "Nation of Care and Opportunity"……signed Tan Kong Beng, A Christian leader.

Permit me to pen down a summary of the salient highlights.

PAS Nation Of Care and Opportunity - is a ‘National Proposition’ to redeem a nation that has been severely compromised by leaders who did not actually place the citizenry as the ultimate stakeholders but whose mandate they shamelessly gotten in every election.

PAS' Benevolent State - provides for both ‘Equitable Opportunity for All’ while catering for the special needs of the 'disadvantaged groups based on need and not race, religious or even political affiliation in providing for ‘enablers’ and  care to empower people to realise their true potential.

PAS' Caring Nation is surely not identical to the 'Nordic model of Welfare State Sweden or Norway'  that hinges on a 'redistribution taxation system' , although similar in providing for essential services like education, health and transportation as to keep 'cost of living' manageable and ensuring their citizenry having a decent quality of life.

It emphasises on fair opportunity for wealth creation much as it ensure equitable redistribution, thus empowering the rakyat in enhancing their 'disposable income'.

It stresses on the non-governmental sectors to assume their role in society as equally a moral and religious duties. Endowment institutions by non-governmental organisations and business community will flourish as to provide services and care as witnessed in past Islamist civilization and even contemporary Muslim affluent societies.

Most critically, PAS’ Benevolent State places ‘Leaders as Custodians’ and not as usurpers of power,  in embodying the Quranic concept of ‘Vicegerents of God on Earth’ or ‘KhalifatulLah fil Ard’. Hence the timeless principles of integrity, transparency and accountability, is very much a religious imperative on all Islamists when mandated, alone or in a coalition, by the electorates to be serving the rakyat and the nation.

This forms the bedrock of a Good Governance in the Benevolent State for all Islamists to unrelentingly establish Justice, Fairness and for Prosperity for All.

PAS is no exception and this surely is a ‘New PAS’.

DR DZULKEFLY AHMAD, is the PAS MP for Kuala Selangor, and a former lecturer in Medical Science and Islamic Civilisation at University of Science Malaysia. He was also a consultant at an asset management company and a senior advisor to a Saudi-owned property firm in Kuala Lumpur. An active member of  the students movement in Britain in the seventies and eighties, Dr Dzulkefly was the director of PAS Research Centre (1998-2009) and since 2004, has been a member of the PAS Central Committee. He is also active in the electoral reform group Bersih and the Anti-GST Task Force.

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