US embassy cable - 85BANDARSERIBEGAWAN1399

SULTAN OF BRUNEI STRIKES TWO MORE RAPID BLOWS AT ISLAMIZATION

Identifier: 85BANDARSERIBEGAWAN1399
Wikileaks: View 85BANDARSERIBEGAWAN1399 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Bandar Seri Begawan
Created: 1985-12-02 07:40:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV XX
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 020740Z DEC 85
FM AMEMBASSY BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1170
INFO AMEMBASSY BANDKOK
AMEMBASSY JAKARTA
AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
AMEMBASSY MANILA
AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE
C O N F I D E N T I A L BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 1399 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS: PGOV XX 
SUBJECT: SULTAN OF BRUNEI STRIKES TWO MORE RAPID BLOWS AT 
ISLAMIZATION 
 
REF: BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 1379 
 
1. CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT 
 
2. AS REPORTED REFTEL THE SULTAN OF BRUNEI BOYCOTTED 
ACTIVITIES MARKING THE PROPHET'S BIRTHDAY ON NOV 25 IN 
ANGER AT THE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE HAVING INTRODUCED 
SEPARATION OF THE SEXES AT THE CELEBRATION. EVEN THOUGH THE 
DECISION TO SEPARATE THE SEXES WAS REVERSED, NO MEMBER OF THE 
ROYAL FAMILY PARTICIPATED. WHILE THE SHOCK WAVES FROM THIS 
CONTRETEMPS WERE STILL REVERBERATING AROUND BRUNEI THE SULTAN 
TOOK TWO MORE STEPS TO UNDO INNOVATIONS INTRODUCED BY 
ISLAMIC CONSERVATIVES. 
 
3. ON NOV 27, WITHOUT ANY PRIOR WARNING, NEWSCASTERS ON 
RADIO TELEVISION BRUNEI (RTB) APPEARED WITHOUT HEAD 
COVERING. THE PRACTICE OF HAVING NEWSCASTERS WEAR HEAD 
COVERING, THE WOMEN TIGHT-FITTING SCARVES THAT FASTEN 
UNDER THE CHIN AND MEN THE TRADITIONAL MALAY SONGKOK, WAS 
GRADUALLY INTRODUCED OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS; AND IT HAD 
BEEN ABOUT A YEAR SINCE ANY FEMALE APPEARED ON THE 
TELEVISION NEWS WITH UNCOVERED HEAD. SINCE NOV 27 HEAD 
COVERINGS HAVE COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED, AND IT IS NOW WIDELY 
KNOWN THAT A WRITTEN ORDER BANNING HEAD COVERING WAS ISSUED 
BY PRINCE JEFRI, WHO AS MINISTER OF CULTURE, YOUTH AND SPORTS 
IS RESPONSIBLE FOR TELEVISION, AND THAT THE ORDER HAD BEEN 
CLEARED WITH THE SULTAN. (THE ORDER ALMOST CERTAINLY 
ORIGINATED WITH THE SULTAN). 
 
4. NEXT, ON NOV 30, IT WAS ANNOUNCED ONT HE EVENING TELEVISION 
NEWS THAT, BY COMMAND OF THE SULTAN AND EFFECTIVE THE FOLLOWING 
DAY, THE BRUNEI GOVERNMENT OFFICE OF INFORMATION WAS ABOLISHED 
AS A SEPARATE ENTITY AND ITS FUNCTIONS TRANSFERRED TO A 
JOINT BROADCASTING/INFORMATION DEPARTMENT TO BE HEADED BY RTB 
DIRECTOR PENGIRAN BADARRUDIN AND THAT THE LIKE-NAMED PEHIN 
BADARRUDIN, HEAD OF THE INFORMATION DEPARTMENT, WAS TRANS- 
FERRED BACK TO THE RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT. THUS 
BROADCASTING AND INFORMATION WERE RESTORED TO THE SITUATION 
THAT EXISTED PRIOR TO THE FORMATION OF A SEPARATE INFORMATION 
DEPARTMENT, WHICH UNDER PEHIN BADARRUDIN WAS WELL KNOWN FOR 
ITS VIGOROUS DISSEMINATION OF RELIGIOUSLY CONSERVATIVE 
VIEWPOINTS, WITH THE DEPARTMENT EDITED GOVERNMENT INFORMATION 
BULLETIN HAVING BECOME A MOUTHPIECE FOR THE MUFTI OF BRUNEI. 
THE INFORMATION FUNCTION NOW COMES UNDER THE CONTROL OF 
A MAN WHO IS ANATHEMA TO RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES. 
 
5. COMMENT: IF THERE WAS DOUBT IN ANYONE'S MIND THAT 
THE SULTAN'S INTENT WAS TO STRIKE A BLOW AT CREEPING 
ISLAMIZATION, THAT DOUBT HAS NOW BEEN DISPELLED. BY 
MOVING QUICKLY TO UNDO TWO OF THE MOST VISIBLE SIGNS OF 
ISLAMIZATION IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE HUMILIATION OF THE 
ORGANIZERS OF THE PROPHET'S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS, INCLUDING 
MOST NOTABLY MINISTER OF HEALTH AND EDUCATION ABDUL AZIZ, 
THE SULTAN CAUGHT THE PROPONENTS OF ISLAMIZATION AT A 
WEEK MOMENT. THE EMBASSY REGARDS THIS AS A WELL EXECUTED 
MANEUVER ON THE SULTAN'S PART, IF SUCCESSFUL,  A HEALTHY 
DEVELOPMENT FOR BRUNEI. THERE MAY STILL, OF COURSE, BE 
SOME REACTION, WHICH COUL CENTER AROUND THE SULTAN'S 
FATHER WHEN HE RETURNS FROM MEDICAL TREATMENT IN ENGLAND; 
BUT THE STATE OF THE SERI BEGAWAN'S PHYSICAL AND MENTAL 
HEALTH MAKE IT QUESTIONABLE THAT HE COULD LEAD A SUSTAINED 
CAMPAIGN IN FAVOR OF GREATER ISLAMIZATION. 
 
6. THE ADVOCATES OF ISLAMIC FUNDEMENTALISM IN BRUNEI, 
INSPIRED BY EXAMPLES FROM ELSEWHERE IN THE ISLAMIC 
WORLD, APPARENTLY FORGOT IN THEIR ZEAL TO SERVE GOD THAT 
THEY HAD NEGLECTED TO CONSULT CAESAR. 
 
KING 

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