Soeharto looks like he might pull through. Again. I was speaking to a guy who works outside the building I work in, and he said that Soeharto will never die because of his wahyu, which you might loosely translate as a type of divine wisdom and power. Very Javanese, that.
But that’s not stupid. What’s stupid is what’s happening currently in Malaysia. Currently, the Malaysian government is launching an attack against a Catholic newspaper in Malaysia that publishes a Malay language version, and in that Malay language version, uses the word "Allah" to refer to God. Najib Tun Razak, the Deputy PM there, is leading this charge by saying that Muslims are going to get angry if Christians start using Allah instead of the traditional Austronesian word, which is Tuhan. He’s not mentioned in the article, but he’s been all over BBC news explaining these things, and as I have argued in the past, Najib has historically been linked with Malay "ultras," or nationalists.
While I don’t want to editorialize too much, I….OK whatever, let me editorialize. This is stupid. People have been calling their mono-deity "Allah" in the Middle East since long before Islam was a religion. All over the Muslim world, Christians call God "Allah": in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and in many parts of Indonesia. Indonesia and Malaysia are different in that there is a pre-existing local term for God, whereas in places like Lebanon/Iraq/Egypt, the local form of Arabic is the local language. Muslims in the Middle East don’t complain about Christians using the word Allah. Neither do Indonesians. So why should Malays? Moreover, it’s been 700 years since Islam has been in Malaysia, and not once has someone thought to get angry about a non-Muslim saying Allah to describe his God.
So what’s the deal here? Politics. In not too long, Malaysia is set to have a general election, and the regime is doing its best to rally together its biggest constituents, Malays. Najib especially has the role of "enforcer" in this situation, so he’s looking for ways to display his "pro-Malay" credentials. All Malays are Muslims by law in Malaysia. It’s a sad commentary that this is what passes for pro-Malay credentials. Of course, the unintended consequence is that this is going to further inflame ethnic tensions in the country by further reinforcing the overlap between Islam and Malay-ness. So now that Najib has made this an issue, we WILL find people deciding that they are angry about non-Muslims saying Allah. A political issue will have been created out of nothing, and for political purposes.