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PAS: Trapped between a rock and a hard place

January 3, 2009

Dipetik dari MalaysiaToday

Malaysia Today interviews Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, the Member of Parliament for Kuala Selangor and the Director of the PAS Research Centre, to get his views on a range of controversies surrounding the Islamic party, in particular the Hudud and Islamic State issues. With the Kuala Terengganu by-election soon upon us, maybe it is appropriate we pick his brain to see what ticks.

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Malaysia Today (MT): The Hudud issue has reared its ugly head again — and with the Kuala Terengganu by-election looming over the horizon on top of that. What is your comment about this old but new controversy?

Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad (Zul): Yes, I must admit I am very disturbed by this. But I hasten to add that I had anticipated this. Despite our constant reminders to all party leaders not to shoot ourselves in our own feet, I know the temptation is just too great — especially when challenged in our own turf, in our own constituency, and in front of our own party members. You just can’t avoid responding or reacting to provocation. However, whichever way you respond, the mainstream media will spin it against you. They want us to be embroiled in this very precarious issue in the hope that the Chinese and Indian voters will reject PAS. Barisan Nasional’s spin-doctors are at work again. It is not that they are very smart but rather it’s just that we, PAS, are less savvy and keep doing the wrong thing.

MT: Could not Dato Husam Musa or any other PAS leader just avoid this very dicey subject of Hudud and the Islamic State, knowing that whichever way you respond they will ‘spin’ your reply and you still can’t win?

Zul: Going back to the debate, I thought we could have cleverly avoided this polemic and not get trapped into the Hudud controversy, yet again. The question asked was: would Pakatan Rakyat implement the Hudud law when they take over the Federal Government? YB Husam could have answered that it is for Pakatan Rakyat’s top leadership to decide, and his opinion is immaterial to the decision. Period.

But that is not how PAS would like to handle the issue of the Islamic State or Hudud. The issue is so ‘sacred’ to the psyche of PAS, especially of its leaders. This is what I thought PAS must learn to ‘unlearn’ and to think out of the box.

Let me continue my comment this way.

I almost believe that what seems to be reckoned and believed by PAS as their strength has now been demonised and twisted to almost becoming like their Achilles’ heel. But there is a catch here and every political analyst understands this. It’s both a boon and a bane or a disadvantage. It’s unique to a plural demography. Why? Given the demographic make-up of the Malaysian voters — a scenario of 60:40 Malays-Muslims versus Non-Malays-Non-Muslims — an issue like the Islamic State or Hudud is surely a “Double-Edged” sword for a party like PAS. Umno, in fact, has the equivalent to this in the Ketuanan Malay — a double-edged sword that angers even component party members in Barisan Nasional but thought to be Umno’s sacred cow amongst the Malays.

MT: Why must PAS leaders allow themselves to again be dragged into this polemic? Some say that it may be better for PAS to just avoid the issue, as proven in the last General Election. What is your comment?

Zul: PAS seems to be of the opinion that we have to play to the Malay-Muslims gallery when championing the Islamic State/Hudud (IS/H) and ideologically contrast ourselves from Umno — which is half-hearted or non-committal at best about the I.S/H, or worst, in opposition to it. PAS fears that should they fail to uphold and remain steadfast on both the IS/H, Umno and the Malays may accuse them of ‘compromising and betraying their Islamic struggle’, or of ‘kowtowing’ to DAP or PKR — a position PAS wouldn’t want to place the party in and risk losing a bigger Malay-Muslim votes, including their core supporters in the Malay heartland states. But is this perception or fear founded or ever verified, or is it just a fallacy? That’s what I personally would like to know.

As for the Chinese and Indian voters, their support for PAS in the last General Election was essentially because PAS was able to allay their fears and anxiety about both the Islamic State/Hudud. Our ‘Inoculation Strategy’ of the party’s think-tank worked well to break down the prejudice and negative stereotyping, which was demonised by the mainstream media and, sometimes, admittedly reinforced by our own ‘misdoings’ — like the of launching the ill-understood Islamic State Document (ISD) in 2002 that invariably caused the breakup of the Barisan Alternatif when DAP left the opposition coalition.

Looking back, while Umno/BN suffered a political Tsunami on 8 March 2008, PAS wasn’t sure it would be able to ride that wave and win big, unlike PKR and DAP then. PKR and DAP were confident of gaining from the swing. But not PAS. PAS only became a beneficiary when the party think-tank repositioned its political advocacy and messaging away from a ‘formative approach to a substantive one’. Rather than use jargons, terminologies that were exclusive and, in fact, were marginalising others — and above all least understood by voters, which made us look like the ‘unelectables’ — the party think-tank was firm and relentless in making sure that PAS’s message is inclusive, comprehensible and appealing. Hence, we came with a manifesto “A Clean and Trustworthy Government – A Nation of Care and Opportunity”. And we came up with the tag-line – “PAS for All”. Yes, we benefited because we knew what to say and how to say it.

MT: Are you saying that PAS will not be able to sustain the support of the non-Malays-non-Muslims if it is to take this path of sending wrong and conflicting signals?

Zul: Frankly, I must admit it is tough, especially when, time and again, we are caught by our own rhetoric and perceived as inconsistent and always taking a ‘flip-flop’ position. So we have to revisit our ‘political messaging’ and ‘political advocacy’, once and for all. Sometimes I can’t avoid contemplating taking the issue head-on or taking the bull by the horns, so to speak. But doing so when very close to an election or a by-election may not be wise. I am sure that the bigger Chinese and Indian constituencies are beginning to realise that Umno and its media are using these issues of Hudud and the Islamic State as ‘bogeymen’ to frighten them into rejecting PAS, in particular in the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

I sincerely hope it will soon be over — with the help of the alternative media like Malaysia Today — and a new ‘knowledge-politic’ will begin to emerge. Until such time, PAS leaders and members must learn how to exercise restrain and tact. This is extremely crucial. PAS needs the support of the non-Malays-non-Muslims. We can’t make it with just Malay-Muslim support. This, no one can deny. Not even PAS thinks it can make it with just Malay-Muslim support. Yet we keep saying the wrong things, much to our own detriment.

MT: You have said, on other occasions, that Islam is not just a matter of Hudud, Qisas, etc., which would be a legal reductionism of a larger concept into punitive legal matters — or in short about punishment and punishing people. How would you like others, especially non-Muslims-non-Malays, to understand PAS as a political party that they should consider supporting?

Zul: PAS is unique, in that it is both a political party and an ideological one. The ideological commitment is Islam. Islam is our raison d’eter, our reason of being here. In a mixed-demography like Malaysia, this is almost like a political non-starter, many may argue.

While PAS may be in a position to win a few states, even on their own, PAS is nowhere close to getting power on our own at Federal level. The question of PAS taking the federal government is academic and hypothetical, given Malaysia’s demographic make-up.

Hence, PAS must be in a Coalition with the other component parties of the Opposition. Well, it is not just about being smart, expedient or pragmatic, but it is now almost mandatory to be in one Grand Coalition to take on Change and Reform in Malaysia.

I could go into great detail in arguing and debating from a Syariah point of view — with regards to the wisdom of the Islamic Jurisprudence (Maqasid Syariah) — that being in a Political Coalition, or Tahaluf Siyasi in Arabic, with our Pakatan Rakyat partners is not only permissible but almost enjoined by the Syariah. I have no qualms in admitting this. There is an authentic prophetic tradition on this and the ‘Siyasah Syariah’ or Syariah-Driven Politics enjoins this approach. We are truly a plural politic in a plural society. There is no other way towards achieving government save through Power-Sharing (Tahaluf Siyasi) and understanding the demands of Plurality (not meaning Pluralism).

Bearing in mind the supreme purpose of Syariah is Justice (Al-‘Adaalah), and that Justice is the largest common denominator of the three parties in Pakatan Rakyat, PAS must remain focused on this noble goal. PAS must also place the principles of achieving Good Governance (Al-Istikhlaf) and Wellbeing for All (Al-Isti’mar) as critical cornerstones of a new nationhood. All these are Quranic concepts are both universal and inclusive. These principles are in consonant with the aspirations of PKR and DAP.

Of course you have other shared visions as enshrined in the Federal Constitution as in Rule of Law, Fundamental Liberties, etc.

MT: So what would you describe as PAS’s main thrust in your political message and political advocacy as a member of Pakatan Rakyat?

Zul: Simple and plain. PAS must state in very categorical terms that these are our shared objectives and visions in Pakatan Rakyat. While Hudud is important, as enjoined and to be enforced only on Muslims, right now the people are not ready. The focus must first be on Justice and Good Governance, and maybe we revisit the subject of Hudud and the Islamic State some years down the road, if that is possible — which may never be possible considering the demographic makeup of Malaysia.

So you move away from representing Islam as being a corpus of legal prescriptions that are only aimed at punishing people. Your rhetoric no longer hinges on the claim that Islam is going to solve all social problems and abominations through punishing them – meaning through the punitive laws of Hudud, Qisas and Ta’zir. You indeed put an end to reducing Islam as merely aimed at criminalising and prosecuting people and break that negative stereotyping and biased perception.

You reposition Islam as a Liberating Force of Democracy providing Justice for All and of ending injustices, both socio-political, economic and religious You then stress on the role of Islam in nation-rebuilding and being part of a constructive engagement to end all excesses of corruption and mismanagement of the national wealth and resources.

If later, however, the Malay-Muslim constituency demands the implementation of Hudud, etc., this must only be done within the ambit and in the due process of law and legislation of the country and not otherwise. But again, the Islamic punitive laws shall only be enforceable on Muslims. Period.

MT: Why must PAS take it upon themselves to defend and champion Hudud? Couldn’t PAS share the burden with others?

Zul: For the record, the PAS governments of Kelantan (in 1993) and Terengganu (in 2003) had passed the Enactment of Islamic Penal Code or Criminal Laws, both Hudud and Qisas, and rightly endorsed by both Sultans, being the head of state and of religious affairs. It was the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who rejected its implementation and strongly reprimanded the state governments after earlier giving his consent, as reported in the mainstream media (19th and 25th April, 1992). So PAS must be absolved of politicising Hudud since PAS has ben both serious and consistent. The stumbling block is Umno and it is now Umno that is again making a political meal of this issue.

However, PAS must no longer take it only upon themselves as to the implementation of the Islamic Penal Code. It must be shouldered by all Muslims from all divides. The onus and responsibility should be on all! In so doing, PAS will cease to be the Champion of Hudud, while similarly not being burdened in suffering the backlash every time the emotive subject is brought to the fore by its political nemesis.

PAS should highlight to all that it’s the Umno/BN government that is stifling the effort to have the punitive laws of Islam enforced on Muslims. That’s the greatest political advantage and PAS could remain focused and consistent in championing the more important issues of the nation, together with its coalition partners in Pakatan Rakyat.

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