Sep 3, 2007

The Clutches of Colonialism

There is a Malay proverb "Seperti katak di bawah tempurung", the literal translation of which is "Like a frog underneath a coconut shell", the meaning is that a frog which lives his life underneath a coconut shell will have no knowledge of the outside world and will think that the coconut shell alone is his world. Refusing to venture out from underneath the coconut shell the frog is more or less content with his ignorance. The proverb is often used to describe the profound ignorance and indifference that many of the Malays have towards the world around them.

In what was perhaps intended for local consumption, Malaysia's Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz suggested that Malaysia's legal practitioners possessed a "colonized mindset" and in a divisive twist on the popular proverb suggested that the continued use of English common law was indicative that Malaysia's legal practitioners were nothing more than "frogs under the well of colonization". Further, Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz would state in Malay, "Is this a sign that the English Common Law is the best law in the world? Is this a sign that our legal experts have yet to escape the clutches of colonialism?" Perhaps attempting to strike a chord with the Islamic fundamentalists, the Chief Justice would propose reforms that would introduce hardline Islamic law in Malaysia.

The extemporized speech given by Malaysia's Chief Justice doesn't seem to explain exactly how the adaptation and implementation of Islamic Shariah law in lieu of English common law would be escaping the "clutches of colonialism" and on a deeper level the mere suggestion itself seems to undermine self-assertion rather than support it. Despite the fact that the proposals have little chance of ever being implemented, the Chief Justice seems to be undeterred, suggesting that the proposals might have some ambiguity in their intent.

What should alarm the West is not the innocuous suggestion that common law be scrapped in favour of Islamic law, but rather the Chief Justices' use of an "us versus them" dichotomy as some sort of theoretical justification for the change. For the suitably disposed, the suggestion of which seems to be, that the continued use of English common law amounts to nothing more than a Faustian reliance on Malaysia's former colonial masters.

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