- Melayu Islam Beraja
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank the Royal Asiatic Society and, in particular, my old friend Pg Dato Sharifuddin for this opportunity to address such a distinguished audience. I stand before you today, therefore, not as an academic or a researcher, but as a so-called 'practitioner of MIB', especially during my nearly 40 years of government service, in which I had the privilege to serve in various capacities. Throughout those years, Brunei's national philosophy as a 'Malay Islamic Monarchy' or Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB) attracted much interest. When I was the chairman of the National Council for MIB we were mindful of the fact that in an increasingly globalized world racial references in a socio-political order are adverse to the basic notion of 'equality'. By the same measure, the role and position of religion, specifically Islam and, to a certain extent, the adaptation of a monarchical system of rule did require some element of elucidation. The notion of a political community bound together by racial affiliation and whose moral and ethical codes are determined by the authority of faith—and where that political community is organized according to an ancient political system—is often at odds with contemporary Western political-cultural correctness.
MIB is simply the revival of Brunei's socio-political heritage, a cultural concept inherent within the Bruneian socio-political consciousness. It is the culmination of over 700 years of our socio-political, cultural and economic history. Interestingly, the consumers of our elucidation efforts do not necessarily hail from the West; rather, many aspects of it were packaged for indigenous consumption; it was a situation where indigenous identities did not always reflect indigenous thinking. With many of our people having been educated in the West, or at least along Western lines, a re-awakening of our socio-political consciousness is occasionally required. The justification for MIB has always been presented from a historical perspective, as a way of saying this is how we have always been.
The reality, however, is that MIB is not how we have always been. MIB is the cumulative outcome of Brunei's socio-political experience. It is true, as some people have pointed out, that MIB is not an exact re-enactment of the traditional Brunei [End Page 93] socio-political order, and that it is a concept enhanced with Western, or specifically British, concepts of power. These observations touch upon the very essence of MIB because it was never meant to be an exact re-enactment of the traditional Brunei socio-political order, but rather the revival of our socio-political heritage. Like any other community, the Bruneian socio-political identity is shaped by its history, formed by both our shared experiences as a society as well as through the interplay of critical socio-political perspectives, performed by key individual actors of history. Thus, both the collective and the particular elements in Brunei's historical process and how they interacted have been the focal dynamics in the weaving of Brunei's social, political and cultural fabric; even more importantly, at all times they remain identifiable within the Bruneian socio-political psyche.
When the British government came to Brunei's aid in 1904, their primary objective was to help consolidate and, thereafter, revive a failing ancient negara. Just over 100 years ago Brunei was facing economic collapse; its territories, or what was left of them, were in chaos and in dire need of order. It was a sombre state of affairs, one that MacArthur2 described as 'a dying nation that needs to be saved'. The British began in earnest a process of consolidation and re-organization. In one of their first initiatives, the British undertook to preserve Brunei's physical existence and thus protect it from the ravages of the Brookes in Sarawak. They therefore demarcated clear physical boundaries for Brunei, for the very first time. Internally, the British re-organized Brunei's administrative structures by introducing Western administrative methods. The impact of these reforms had an overwhelming effect on Brunei political culture. First, it did away with one of the fundamental principles of the concept...