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MP SPEAKS | Timah whiskey row shows what's wrong with Malayan politics

MP SPEAKS | I call upon five ministers from mainland Malaysia, who are also from Borneo, namely Maximus Johnity Ongkili (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs), Alexander Nanta Linggi (Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs), Fadillah Yusof (Works), Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (Parliament and Law) and Nancy Shukri (Tourism) to speak in one voice in this Wednesday cabinet meeting to put an end to the nasty populist campaign to force the manufacturer of Timah to change the whiskey's name and image.

The incessant attacks on Timah whiskey is a symptom of what is wrong with Malayan politics, and must not be shared by Borneo politicians.

Instigated by agitators of communal insecurities - two camps of peninsular Malay politicians trying to outdo each other as champions of Malay-Muslims, and a drink legally consumable only by non-Malays - became the latest victim of intra-Malay hero drama.

Timah whiskey has been attacked on two nonsensical grounds that the brand and its icon can associate Muslims with drinking and are therefore out to insult or confuse the Muslims.

First, Timah, the Malay word for tin, is a shortened form of Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad and a common name for Malay women. Second, the image of Captain Speedy – a whiskey lover in British Malaya while bringing about peace for the tin-mining industry in Taiping as the British assistant resident in Larut, Perak – bearded and wearing a kopiah-like Ethiopian skull cap may be mistaken as a Muslim man.

Sanity at stake

A true towering Islamist, Syed Ali Tawfik al-Attas, former director-general of Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim), has forcefully refuted both absurd accusations in Bahasa Malaysia and English.

For him, those who would shorten Fatimah, (an Arab word, not Malay), as the name of the Prophet’s daughter, as “Timah” and associate her to the whiskey are the truly biadab (rude and offensive) ones.

He further called them “arrogant” for insisting that they are right after the whiskey manufacturer’s explanation.

The stake in Timah whiskey is not just the brand name of a product, but sanity in our political, social and economic life, as put eloquently in the petition

“It is senseless, and dangerous, to claim that anything some Malaysian Muslims may find familiar, must be exclusive for their usage, and that non-Muslims cannot use them whenever some Muslims claim to be offended.”

Surrendering on Timah whiskey will not put an end to the insecurities of those who insist to feel insecure. We have had bans on the words Allah (by non-Muslims), root beer and hot dog, where would we end? Do we let the most insecure set the standard in the name of sensitives and harmony and dictate what we may eat, drink, think and speak?

No appetite for orthodoxy

Does anyone remember Borneo sensitivities? In Borneo, our attitude to alcohol consumption can be summed up to four points: (a) alcoholic drinks - lihing, montoku, bahar, tuak, langkau, etc – are part of our indigenous cultural heritage; (b) drinking is not for Muslims amongst us; (c) alcoholism and irresponsible behaviours like driving after drinking are condemned; and (d) beyond the above, it is an individual’s freedom to drink or not drink.

What kind of civility (kesopanan dan kesusilaan) – the fifth pillar of Rukunegara – is it for some Malayans to call all alcoholic drinks “Satan’s urine”?

Sabahans and Sarawakians, even those who don’t drink for religious, health or other reasons, reject outsiders’ insult of our heritage.

To go all-out against drinking, to condemn not just alcoholism but any consumption of alcohol – even in the name of public health or consumerism – is offending Borneo sensitivities, and if we need to raise the card of sensitivities before we get heard, undermining the spirit of social contract embedded in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

Sabah and Sarawak are part of Nusantara, which has a real tradition of diversity and accommodation and we have no appetite for the orthodoxy set by some Malayan bigots.

Legal confines

Lest Malayan-centrists forget, we natives of Borneo are keenly observing how our cousins are respected in Kalimantan, where Indonesia’s new capital will be. We are opposed to Malayan domination not only in resource exploitation but also in cultural suppression.

Our grandparents signed on to a secular Federation of Malaysia, where individuals have the freedom to engage in activities that may be considered ‘personal vices’ in some religions, like drinking, smoking, gambling and dating, so long as it is within legal confines.

It is the spirit of religious freedom as espoused in Islam - "for you is your religion, and for me is my religion”- where no one has the right to impose the ‘dos and don’ts’ in their faith onto other faiths and cultures. They did not sign on for an Islamic federation where some Malayans get to set their notion of Muslim standards for all of us.

The anti-Timah campaign is invoked, not by the name of Timah or the beards and skull cap of Captain Speedy, but by the whiskey’s winning of successive awards in international competition.

For some Malayan bigots, since Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation, then Malaysians cannot win any award for activities unaccepted by their worldview. And such activities even include gymnastic sport where Farah Ann Abdul Hadi was showered with condemnations for her ‘revealing’ outfit, instead of congratulations for her medals.

Voice of reason

If the intra-Malay one-upmanship competition continues suppressing common sense and progress in Malaysia, then all Borneo parties and politicians – regardless of faith and affiliations – must collaborate strategically to be the voice of reason and harmony in Malaysia.

We must not sacrifice the futures and freedom of our children and grandchildren for this generation’s pursuits.

Borneo Malaysians must not deceive themselves with the propaganda of Borneo Exceptionalism and Isolationism and that the Malayan madness will stop at Malaya as if the South China Sea can protect us.

As long as Sabah and Sarawak remain a part of Malaysia, and our development lags behind Malaya, many of our children and grandchildren will study, work and eventually settle in Malaya. In other words, Borneo children in Malaya will suffer if nonsenses and insecurities reign supreme.

Meanwhile, bigots with an imperialist mindset will not leave even our regions alone as “eyesores” in their pursuit of purity. For them, Malaysian is but the expansion of Tanah Melayu, as Umno parliamentarian Tajuddin Abdul Rahman claimed in Parliament, whom I had categorically refuted as then deputy chief minister. 

If the five Borneo ministers can assert reason on the cabinet’s decision on Timah tomorrow, this will send a clear message to Malayan politicians on both sides of the divide - that Sabahans and Sarawakians are not blind followers in their dangerous game of obsessions. We will not pour in fuel if they want to set fire on Malaysia as a multicultural union.

As Malaysian politics gets more fluid and intra-Malay competition more dangerous, all Borneo-based parties - including the Borneo chapters of federation-wide parties - must forge some common grounds on what we must defend together while we compete between us to bring the best for our regions and Malaysia. We must beat insanity and imperialism with intelligence and imagination.


WILFRED MADIUS TANGAU is the MP for Tuaran.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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