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The Timah Whiskey Issue

Timah Timah Tang Tu

What’s in a name?

As the insanity of the past few couple of weeks over local whiskey brand Timah has shown, in the wrong hands that can be a very loaded question indeed.

In case you’re lost worse than one navigating KL traffic without Waze, Timah is a proudly non-Scottish, Malaysia-made, award-winning, double-peated (which refers to its extra smoky flavour) whisky. Try saying that 10x fast!

But while most countries would notch this on their wall of things to brag about and/or list it in tourism brochures, several folks who, to borrow a quote, must’ve slept late the mornin’ they handed out brains, decided this was cause for complaint instead.

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These folks decided the name Timah — which means tin in Malay as a nod to the brand’s heritage — sounded a lot like the short form of Fatimah. And not just any Fatimah either, but the daughter of Prophet Muhammad.

And just like the manufactured anger of Icerd past, conservative-leaning ethnoreligious politicos, including our cabinet minister for religious affairs, ran with it. 

This, they argued, only means one thing: That easily impressionable Muslims would be confused. 

And if you think this was yet another case of our ultra-conservative government goons in action, think again. Not to be outdone in the brainless argument sweepstakes, PKR MP Rusnah Aluai declared that drinking Timah would be like “drinking a Malay woman“? ‘Cos you know Timah – Fatimah – Mak Cik Timah – Mak Timah (she later claimed she’d been intending to address the confusion, not make it worse 🤷).

The hysteria shows no signs of slowing – not even when it’s been pointed out that no bearded man is likely called Timah; that whiskey’s haram for Muslims and thus not found on regular drink aisles of supermarkets; that non-Muslims use the name Fatimah too, and that there’re roads called Jalan Fatimah (in Batu Pahat) and Jalan Tun Fatimah (Melaka).

Even the rational voices of former ministers don’t seem capable of drowning out this crescendo of clownishness.

Also, not since the completely inappropriate movie Sausage Party have we had to think about the food we’re eating in such an odd way. It’ll take a while before Ramly burgers, Dutch Lady milk and Julie’s biscuits are gonna go down our gullets comfortably again.

Daim chocolate? No Way. Yusuf Taiyoob can take his dates elsewhere, and Ali and his walking stick can bugger off.

And while we’re tempted to laugh the whole thing off with a “welcome to Malaysia” joke and a roll of the eyes, such religious polemic is dangerous. Why? Because it works.

It’s no secret that such tactics divide Malaysians along sectarian lines in their aim to win the hearts and minds of the Malay-Muslim vote bank. Remember that International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) brouhaha after GE14 we mentioned? The decision to sign the treaty was reversed. The use of the word Allah by non-Muslims? Taken to court.

And now, we hear the makers of Timah are considering a name and label change after meeting with the “Keluarga Malaysia”(allegedly! allegedly!) government. While we understand why the company could ultimately decide to do so (everyone’s gotta earn a living somehow), such a move would sadly signal a win for the forces of intolerance, conservatism and, frankly, idiocy.

These are the same forces that ignore the promise of a united Malaysia for an us-versus-them ideology between Muslims and everybody else because this disharmony is their ticket to political expediency. 

So what do we do? Well, with elections round the corner, we’ll have to start deciding where we stand, not just on bread and butter issues, but also the more deeply philosophical ones like these. 

Because like it or not, the time is coming where we’ll need to decide if we want to stand united or fall divided.

Artist of the Month
Haili is a cartoonist and graphic artist. An old hat at political art, his satirical work and cartoons have appeared in Gila-Gila, Batu Api and Seloka 21, even Harakah and Suara Keadilan since the 90s. Follow his work on FB @hailikki and Twitter @kartunhaili

Illustration by Fahmi Reza

Illustration by Fahmi Reza

Fahmi Reza is one of Malaysia's most iconic political graphic artists and activists. Using his wizardry with the pen and his wicked sense of humour, he calls out government and political incompetence and deceit through graphics and posters.

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