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Whither the feeling of love?

07 Oct 2007 BEHIND THE HEADLINESsunday@thestar.com.my
Some Indonesians are now resentful of Malaysia over a song. If the controversy has so easily abandoned the central theme of Rasa Sayang, what hope is there of resolving greater problems in our region?

WHEN an Indonesian politician suggested Malaysia might have unlawfully used the Rasa Sayang song to promote tourism, thereby usurping Indonesia’s rights, it exposed a wealth of misperceptions.

Malaysia has dismissed the allegations as groundless. Indonesian responses are mixed, from seeking to “copyright” such artistic creations to being relaxed about such supposed infringements by others.

There are several problems with the allegations.

First, there is no law to regulate, restrict or prohibit using the song Rasa Sayang, which is not copyrighted and even whose author-composer is unknown.

Second, Malaysia does not claim authorship.

Song of contention?: Tourism Malaysia’s Rasa Sayang e-invite contest website.

Third, using it does not deny others the right to use it. Having used it, Malaysia cannot and does not deny Indonesia’s use of it; and Indonesia therefore also cannot deny Malaysia’s use of it.

Fourth, suing Malaysia for using the song would require state action between governments, whereas the song is a cultural product of the Malay Archipelago, which includes both Malaysia and Indonesia.

Therefore, as Malaysia has reasoned, attempts to sue will affect inter-state relations but not change the cultural nature of the issue, where the question of “undermining” Indonesia through “heritage theft” should not arise at all because the song comes from and is used in the same culture.

The notion that using something must deprive another of doing so seems to be a persistent Indonesian complaint against Malaysian tourism campaigns. When speaking at a university in Surabaya, I was grilled by a student over Malaysia’s use of the slogan “Malaysia, truly Asia”, which denied that Indonesia was also Asia.

I said Malaysia did not deny Indonesia was equally Asian, only that Malaysia was proud of its rich cultural mix from many great Asian traditions, particularly Chinese and Indian.

So where neither copyright law nor evidence of piracy exists, no party can be accused or charged, or even blamed for or suspected of, such infringement. An accusation to such effect based on no apparent, offered or demonstrable reason or justification is in fact a false accusation, even as it comes during Ramadan.

In matters of culture especially, hazy mutual influences over many years are alien to the necessarily specific nature of lawsuits. In the silat martial art, for example, many distinct forms have developed in Malaysia, Indonesia and even former colonial power the Netherlands.

Among them, Persatuan Gerak Badan Bangau Putih founded in Bogor has its roots in the Shaolin Temple in China. So does Japan’s shorinji kempo (Shaolin kungfu), while Chinese kungfu itself derives from the Indian Buddhist monk Ta Mo’s yogic exercises.

Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia share many similarities because both developed from the Malay language of the region that includes Borneo and southern Thailand and the Philippines. But nobody is complaining of borrowed words, phrases and idioms. Attempts at a “common spelling system” between both national languages were scrapped after Indonesia went its own way and left Malaysia in the lurch.

A senior Indonesian analyst recently wrote that Malaysia needs to understand why Indonesians get upset when their illegal workers are penalised in Malaysia.

Equally, Indonesia needs to understand why Malaysians have to enforce laws, especially if understanding is to be two-way. Many Malaysians also wish to understand, for example, why Malaysian films and publications are blocked from the Indonesian market while Indonesian productions are allowed to be sold here.

Are recent outbursts against Malaysia just the random ranting of lumpen proto-Malay against the more cosmopolitan deutero-Malay, or are nationalist and other factors involved? Simply keeping up to date with the issue would show that arguments persist in Indonesia itself over whether Rasa Sayang (Feeling of Love) “belongs” to Maluku or North Sulawesi.

If the controversy has so easily abandoned the central theme of the song, of friendship and goodwill among peoples, what hope is there of resolving greater problems in our region? As usual, a better appreciation of the law would help.

A Jakarta-based lawyer asked me why in Malaysia, charges of corruption or abuse of power were filed against even VIPs. I said where a prima facie case exists to warrant such action, the requirements of law had to be fulfilled.

He was surprised that “you Malaysians take the law so seriously”. Coming from an undocumented labourer would be one thing, but coming from an urban, middle-class Western-educated lawyer in Jakarta seemed to say it all.


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