Khat and cultural colonisation

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 06 Aug 2019

I WAS a bit perturbed by the accusation that the Jawi alphabet and stylistic khat writing is a sign of Islamisation. From my knowledge, the Jawi alphabet is an adaptation of the Arabic alphabet to suit our local language, Bahasa Malaysia.

I was told that when coming up with an argument, flip it around a few ways to see if it is ridiculous. And this “Jawi promotes Islamisation” argument can be flipped so many ways to show how idiotic it is.

If Jawi and khat writing is a sign of Islamisation, it would mean that the Malay right wingers are right – that Lim Guan Eng putting Chinese calligraphy on the walls of the Finance Ministry is, in fact, a sign that we are now linked to China. Since Lim also said he has Jawi calligraphy on his wall, would that mean he is also promoting Islamisation?

Since I am typing this in Romanised English, am I supporting British colonisation before Merdeka? And does that mean lawyers and judges speaking in Latin have a direct line to the Pope?

Are Ichiban Ramen restaurants then supporting the Japanese Occupation during WWII?

Will anyone still using a sickle or hammer be promoting Soviet Russia?

This seems to be the mentality of the detractors, seemingly the same small-minded mentality of Malays who see a cross and think they will be converted.

Let’s just face the sad fact that the main argument here is that we want to remain limited and comfortable in our racial silos with set boundaries against each and every culture.

That we would prefer each and every race and religion be boxed into their separate categories, not impacting or mixing with one another. Even if Jawi is already on the currency we use every day.

If there is talk about how Jawi would be appropriate in this time and age, that khat is an outdated form of art, I would say the same about poetry. Heck, wouldn’t we argue the same about all forms of art and artistic expression altogether, from calligraphy to interpretative dance?

Why bother having a digital recreation of the Mona Lisa when someone can just post a selfie on Instagram, if we want to talk about current relevancy?

Personally, I’ve never understood art in any shape or form. Even going to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and looking at a recreation of Michaelangelo’s David does not mean I understand it. Even if I find it a beautiful sculpture, I can’t explain why. Nor can I explain why I find Da Vinci’s The Last Supper intriguing or the Chinese calligraphy during every Chinese New Year season fascinating.

I might not understand the khat art of Cufica, but I notice people who appreciate it. Just as much as

I notice people going nuts over Japanese script and block prints of a wave by Hokusai, Van Gogh’s Sunflower collection, the Gutenberg Bible or even the gold-leaf Quran.

Art, religion, calligraphy, cursive writing, Jawi, Latin or even Chinese characters, none of this truly has an impact on future learning and technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and coding, robotics and big data.

But what it does is this: It sets us apart from the technology we are developing. It is what makes humans human. Now, of course, given time, an AI construct could learn to write a haiku or deliver news in iambic pentameter, but only by viewing and recreating human work.

So when someone tells me culture should not be dictated in schools, I disagree. Culture is the one thing we should be teaching in schools because it makes us one nation that understands each other, even if it starts with taboos and customs.

That is the basis of unity and cultural preservation. If you still don’t get why cultural preservation is important or in vogue, I suggest you rewatch the movie Black Panther and understand that those are cultural representations of real African tribes united as one, albeit in a fictitious landscape.

Which is why Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik should take heart in promoting all calligraphy, not just khat.

All this said, there are a lot of things wrong with our education system, sure. But this idea isn’t one of them. It is not some move to radicalise schoolkids with Islam – if it was, then everyone holding a Malaysian ringgit would be promoting the same and we should be using the US dollar.

But then again, it has Latin on it and maybe that might make us all Catholic if we follow the mentality of those opposing this measure.


Petaling Jaya

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