|Is the keris a symbol of violence?|
"Never give a sword to a man who can't dance." - Kung Fu Tze
Let us peacefully resolve the intellectual controversy surrounding the keris (traditional Maly dagger) and inquire into the problematique of the Malay neo-feudalistic-cybernetic construction of social reality, as essentially, we exist through language. From words become flesh. From inscriptions become ideology and what is inscribed into our consciousness is dependent upon the history of our material beingness.
Language is reality, some might say. Transform the language we are in, and we will see psychological and social transformations unfolding. Neourolinguistic programmers, cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists and biosemioticians will tell us how perceptions can be reconfigured.
The main problem with the Malays is that they have become silent reproductions of the feudal ideology. They have been "Othered", "alienated", "objectified as subjects" and "classically-conditioned" by each other through the long process of historical alienation both in body, mind and spirit by the language of feudalism – language that has structured the reality of what is not called "culture of the Malays"/budaya orang Melayu.
The product of the genealogy of the transformation of the silent Malays or the "hamba sahaya" (indentured serfs) is a people that has become institutionalised and silenced not only by the neo-feudalistic construct derived from the excesses of vulgar materialism-based ideology, but by yet another form of colonisation: the deeply structured hyper-modernised subliminal ideology derived from the structurally and historically violent image and symbolism of the keris. From the feudalism of the Malay kings to the totalitarianism of the psycholinguistic and philosophical-psychological strategies of mental conditioning, control, and containment of Biro Tata Negara we see the transformation of the Malay mind.
In relation to the (George) Orwellian-isation of the Malay world, physically and psychologically - the keris is a symbol of violence.
Contrary to how many a Malay historian would romanticise the keris, it is a symbol of historical violence akin to the modern day symbol of the rifle wielded by Charlton Heston for the National Rifle Association, or by the tyrant Godfather-movies-loving Saddam Hussein during his glorious days of cigar-smoking Tikrit/tribalistic celebrations.
The hyper-modern Malay continued to be shackled by feudalistic-inspired institutions of thought-control – institutions that are successful in its total quality management (TQM) of fear through specialised and stylised language.
Language and power
Language shapes thought and defines consciousness and from this, the material landscape of human control takes shape. Language can never be neutral. In it contains, ala (Noam) Chomskyian analysis, the deep structure of dominance. Human languages have built-in cybernetic codes, signs, symbolism, and signification to transform human beings into powerful beings, and into gods, and demi-gods. The more archaic and most jealously protected the language is, the faster it will become extinct. Sanskrit, Akkadian, Sumerian, Andamanese, and Aramaeic suffered through this process. Language that glorifies demi-gods and the high and mighty amongst human beings become extinct through the process of self-destruction of the inner contradiction. With Fate and the Divine conspiring, the subaltern narrative overthrows the Grand narrative.
Language contains gate-keeping mechanism to include or exclude others. Language sustains, entertains, appropriates and propagates power relations. The language of law, medicine, engineering, computer science, economics, bio-technology, finance, religion, ethnicity, and any of the manifold variations of modern human activities, excludes the ordinary human beings of less economically-privileged class. Thus, a farmer, a padi planter, a shopkeeper, a factory worker, a beggar, a rubber tapper, a taxi driver and those who labour in institutions created by the more linguistically powerful and articulate in society become the "silent majority"; one who will become losers in this complex game of language called "life".
Language, parallel to the development of capitalism and consciousness, creates the modern caste system with the newly-conditioned pariahs becoming the urban poor enslaving themselves for the benefit of the postmodern state; one that employs "feel good language of economic progress" deployed to maintain social control so that the lowest of the caste will not see the reality they are in. Unable to perceive the reality they are in, they fail to cognitively liberate themselves.
As French sociologist Michel deCerteu would say, language and power is embedded in the "practice of daily lives". Language creates spaces of knowledge and power between the oppressor and the oppressed – through a complex matrix of dominance. There is language of oppression in the daily signs and symbols and in the institutions that govern humanity.
Language, as a system of signs and symbols, permeates consciousness in all spheres of human activity - from how one addresses the King to the language of borrowing Michel Foucault "panopticon and synopticon" of international corporate domination embalmed in the highway billboards along the road to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Photos of the traditional rulers, prime ministers, and state leaders that adorn offices, classrooms, or any public places are meant to colonise our consciousness into accepting power relations, in this linguistic game designed to have those with "official, standard, and neo-archaic" language wins. The losers will kowtow to those who are more articulate in this game. One must imagine the Malay Sisyphus happy, as the Algerian Nobel Laureate Albert Camus would say.
Liberate from language
The Malays have suffered through the blindness of their own language; one that contains the seeds of destruction that numbs the human mind into subservience. The various forms of addresses of the Malay signify the class and caste divisions within the Malay society. What is termed as "respect" in the utterances, addresses, and salutations is anti-egalitarian and preserved to maintain the hegemony of the neo-feudalistic ruling class. However corrupt a leader is, one still uses the language of "respect" to honour even the most dishonourable leader who has plundered the wealth of the nation for his/her family to enjoy more respect and honour maintained through specialised and stylised language.
All the titles given to the rakyat are a form of language power play that ensures the maintenance of hegemony, masking the structure of dominance. 'For whom does respect serve?' – is the essential question for us all.
Such is the predicament of the mind of the Malay. Unless we learn how to deconstruct language of dominance and create newer frontiers of understanding power, ideology and totalitarianism and next deconstruct language so that it may gracefully evolve into one that reflects a class-less and caste-less society – the predicament will remain. The Algerian revolutionary thinker and psychiatrist, Albert Memmi would advocate the study of the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised through the use of language.
But how is the restructuring of social language possible? What will happen to our class and neo-feudalistic system if the "silently reproduced" Malays revolt against the language that oppresses them and release themselves from what American literary critic Frederic Jameson would call "the prison-house of language" built out of the spirit of the keris? – a symbol of semiotic-feudalistic violence propagated as a symbol of "amanah" or trust?
Must we have faith in such a symbol as the keris? Or is it all about economic dominance from time immemorial? From the use of the name "Iskandar (Dzulkarnain)"/Alexander the Great in the names of traditional rulers to the embalmation and enhancement of feudal glory to the name "Iskandar Development Region" in mystifying corporate domination through mega-real estate projects, we see the game of semiotics taking shape in the history of consciousness. In-between this periodisation contains the waves of structural violence masked by language.
For whom does the keris serve?
This is the question the Malay linguist and historian and anthropologist of the keris must help us answer.