Malaysia has given the BBC news more ridiculousness to report. As of three days ago, the world can confirm that the religious right in Malaysia are obsessed with beer. Not long ago Kartika Sari Dewi’s postponed sentence for drinking beer in public made international headline news and now Malaysian Muslims will not be allowed to attend upcoming The Black Eye Peas concert mainly for the fact that the event is sponsored by the drink of the devil himself, Guiness stout. It looks like Malaysia is set to become a nation increasingly at odds with itself.
Malaysia serves up its citizens plenty to be decadent about: an impressive skyline at par with many of the world’s greatest cities, an economist’s nightmare number (and size) of shopping complexes, an ostentatious city dedicated to administering the country comparable to the parliamentary palace in Romania and Rashtrapati Bhavan in India, and colossal skyscrapers to match its leader’s egos (while making up for other areas). These are merely crude markers of the country’s direction: towards modernity at breakneck speed but out of touch with the people who struggle to catch up. And it is often within these circumstances that the young and urban find themselves swept off the by tide of modernity’s lure of popular consumerist culture.
Now, the religious right’s moral nitpicking has made victims of the young Muslim Malaysians yet again. As usual, their strategy with regards to engaging with Muslim youth particularly during this blessed month has been one of stern reproach rather than cordial approach. And without fail again, no cultural alternatives are offered to fill a more religiously-approved vacuum.
Why blame Malaysians for being interested in Western popular culture? For anybody who’d ever been to Malaysia in the last two decades will know, global pop culture and its derivatives are everywhere; they are there the moment you step outside your home, when you take the bus, what you hear on the radio, what you see in the national papers, forcing their presence on you whenever and wherever they can in a never-ending capitalistic symbiosis.
Linking companies that run a haram business with moral degeneration at a pop concert is a real stretch. It shows how little the religious elite know about young Muslims today and how pop culture plays a part in their identity-making and socialisation. Further, it insults what Malaysian Muslims already know about alcohol, thanks to the constant drilling of Islamic education in school. Malaysians parents often leave their children to their own wits to find what interests them, be it video games, Harry Potter books, chart-topping hits, or the bland Hollywood films playing at the nearest cinema. Family outings on weekends take place at shopping malls, not the nearest mosque.
If all this noise is about how young Muslim people should be behaving, where is the genuine and non-authoritarian interest in the development of Malaysia’s youth? An unsubstantiated ban on pop concerts will push the divide between the religious elite and their intended audience further, and continue to make a mockery of Malaysia’s self-lauding moderate Islam.