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Malay nationalism, on the eve of Merdeka

  • And since Malay nationalism is the chief culprit in dividing Malaysians, the only solution is to advocate the common ideology of pluralism and pan-Malaysian nationalism so that all citizens irrespective of race and religion are entitled to equal status, for the country's independence to be truly meaningful.

By Boo Cheng Hao

Why are non-Malays feeling so uneasy about the education ministry introducing Seni Khat at Chinese and Tamil primary schools?

And why did Malay-Muslims feel “offended” at the sight of the cross put up on a church building?

Even on the eve of the nation's 62nd anniversary, non-Malays, including Chinese, Indians as well as the non-Muslim indigenous communities in East Malaysia, have remained skeptical about the government's unpredictable education policy, thanks to the deep-rooted Malay-Muslim nationalism in this country. At the same time, such skepticism has only served to deepen Malay-Muslims' misunderstanding of the non-Muslim communities.

This I think has a lot to do with the Malay-first and Muslim-first political philosophies embraced by our leaders. Government institutions, including the BTN, have constantly instilled such beliefs into the minds of our civil servants.

BTN was established in the 1980s during Tun Mahathir's first premiership with the apparent objective of making Malay-Muslims the dominant force in public administration in violation of the Federal Constitution and the country's multiracial and multicultural reality.

When Mahathir was the education minister in the 1970s, he abolished the civic education curriculum that stressed the values of civic rights and civic duties. While implementing the Look East policy, he failed to see the deep influences of Confucianism over the populations of Japan and South Korea, and the fact that civic education in those two countries had dramatically boosted the people's civic consciousness and quality, which have contributed towards the success of both countries.

On the contrary, Mahathir reiterated the Malay-first and bumiputra-first policy which is a complete opposite of the philosophy of Japan and South Korea to lift the levels of their people's civic awareness. As a result, the majority Malay-Muslims have become so engrossed with controversies surrounding their “special rights” which do not benefit the general population, while remaining largely ignorant of the citizens' civic duties.

Nationalism will only improve a country's competitiveness if it has a global orientation. If nationalism is only driven by a single ethnic community, it will only render national unity an inaccessible dream in multiracial and multicultural Malaysia.

It has been proven historically that a multiracial country dominated by a single ethnic community may not actually encourage real solidarity among its people. And very often a national ideology that places the indigenous group well above other communities will often tear up a pluralistic society, whereby the so-called “indigenous” group may not be the actual earliest dwellers on a land.

According to the definition in support of South Africa's Apartheid policy, the “indigenous” people was defined as the people who set up the “first civilized administration”. Coincidentally, in his book The Malay Dilemma, Mahathir defined “bumiputra” as the people who set up the “first definitive government”, or in this context the Malay-Muslims who have been bestowed the privileged right of determining the citizenship status of other groups. The Orang Asli, on the other hand, have never been granted the constitutional status entrusted to Malay-Muslims.

Those who whitewashed Mahathir's racist inclination prior to the May 9 general elections of 2018 should stop doing the same immediately. Tun Mahathir's countless policy reversals in recent months have gradually put the nation back on the roadmap of satisfy the insatiable lust of single-race dominance.

The Malaysian society will once again be torn apart by controversial issues, and this whole thing has started by none other than Dr Mahathir himself.

On the eve of the nation's 62nd independence anniversary, such unconstitutional ideology of categorizing Malaysians into bumis and non-bumis is still deeply dividing our beloved nation.

In any country, nationalism that is driven by one single ethnic community often lacks the consistent moral ground. The Malay nationalists look at Malaysia as “Tanah Melayu” (Land of the Malays) with Malay sovereignty or Ketuanan Melayu as their uncompromisable guiding principle. And such a discourse fails to consistently apply to the Malay-Muslim minority in southern Thailand fighting for their equal civic and political rights in a majority Thai-Buddhist country.

The same is also intimidating the fundamental rights of Orang Asli and East Malaysian indigenous peoples, making them “second class bumiputras” and triggering calls for a referendum to be held this year in Sabah and Sarawak to fight for their independence.

In dealing with the issue of Malaysians' civic rights, it is imperative that all relevant parties look at strategies in racial relations and national integration from the global perspectives. Otherwise, this country will be reduced to a state of utter chaos not unlike the battlegrounds of Middle East. No one can say for sure this is not going to happen at all.

I feel that Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew was holding a similar self-pity posture of providing a discourse for Singapore's independence by virtue of its secession from the Federation of Malaysia. He described Singapore as a small boat surrounded by the Malay-Muslim ocean. Lee basically gave up his "Malaysian Malaysia" discourse and instead compared Singapore alongside Israel as a political contingency plan for the island's nationhood.

According to Michael D. Barr, Singapore's nation-building was based on Lee Kuan Yew's personal racial concept and his belief in the Chinese (East Asian) cultural superiority.

To me, the actual situation was the exact opposite. Lee was more of a man believing in Anglo-Saxon superiority, and indeed he was perceived by the West as a more Westernized leader than many Westerners. Such misplaced superiority complex was a rarity among the ruling elites in newly independent Third World nations.

Although Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir held very different views on nation-building while both were members of the Malaysian parliament, it might be shocking to find that Lee subsequently confessed to Western scholars that he actually agreed to three-quarters of what Mahathir wrote in The Malay Dilemma, in particular what he said about the overwhelming inferiority complex existent among the Malays towards their own culture as well as genetics.

Mahathir's Malay nationalism was established upon his own self-pity attitude and unscientific misjudgments. Time has subsequently proven that Mahathir's Malay-first advocacy is both retrogressive and erroneous, its sole purpose being to serve the Malay political elite and demand absolute submission from the Malay public towards their leaders, even though a leader has committed an unforgivable mistake. Such total submission to own community's leaders has reduced the universal value of equality to secondary importance. It has not only imperiled national unity and integration but has also severely bogged down the progress of Malay-Muslims.

Such a disposition has rendered generations of Malays highly tolerant to corruption in the name of keeping “Malay sovereignty” continually reigning in this country.

However, following a string of financial scandals and widening wealth gap within the community itself, remarks that call for “Malay sovereignty and dominance” are no longer readily accepted within the administration now than in the past, as evidenced by the outcome of the 2008 through 2018 general elections that have reflected the more matured way in which the Malay electorate cast their ballots. What lags far behind the realistic world is the leadership elite on both sides of the political divide.

We must thank Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his PKR for their reform campaigns in the past two decades that have had a decisive impact on the long-standing policy of single-race dominance. PKR is the only successful Malay-predominant multiracial political party in the country, and it represents the hope of majority of Malaysians in running this country in the future.

Many people believe that GE14 would not have brought them a new government if not for the effort of Tun Mahathir and his party PPBM. I personally feel that this is just a manifestation of fact-distorting Stockholm syndrome.

Mahathir was the country's prime minister on a BN ticket for 22 years from 1980 through 2002, and has wielded insurmountable influence on probably three to four generations of Malaysians, instilling deep inside them the political culture of intercommunity confrontation as well as the long-term policy of “Malay dominance”.

Despite the fact Malaysia has been independent for 62 years now, our political elite has failed to deliver itself from the nightmares of Malay nationalism and intercommunity confrontation, and all this could be attributed to one man.

Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir were politicians from the same era, both having wrongly applied the bell curve distribution theory of Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein in justifying their elite rule and believing that the ruling elite had the privilege of making all the decisions on people perceived to be intellectually inferior.

Mahathir felt that Malays' relatively poor performance in commercial and professional fields had something to do with genetic and cultural factors. Although this has been subsequently proven baseless, he keeps exploiting it to consolidate the power and oligopoly of the Malay ruling elite.

The progress made by some Malays in various fields is not a consequence of the special “privileges” granted to them by the government, which has allowed a small group of people to receive government contracts or high positions in government linked companies. In its stead, it is the result of industrialization, urbanization and generally improved education standard that have collectively allowed the Malays and other indigenous peoples to enjoy significantly better lives.

Before the introduction of New Economic Policy, the household income levels of urban Malay and non-Malay families were very close, with urban Malay household incomes at about 70% those of urban non-Malays. The same ratio also existed between the Malay and non-Malay households in urbanized Singapore. As such, urbanization, industrialization and more effective education policies are the best approaches to lift the competitiveness of the Malays and other bumiputras in the country.

Indeed, the Malay-centered New Economic Policy once had the noble mission of restructuring the society and eliminating poverty. Nevertheless, its weaknesses have since been exposed. The establishment of GLCs and the privatization policy have further widened the wealth gap among Malaysians, while the subsequent conflict of interest has undermined the harmonious political and democratic system. The Malay nationalist economic model under the auspices of NEP has managed to privatize government assets and businesses, and given rise to the emergence of cronyism and nepotism, as well as a corrupt politico-economic culture. 1MDB is only a tip of the iceberg. And even after Pakatan Harapan has taken over Putrajaya, many of the corrupt practices from the previous administration are not only surviving, but are perceived by many as getting worse.

A patronage socioeconomic policy should be one mapped out based on the needs of individuals. Any policy drawn up along racial lines constitutes an invisible form of racial segregation. Patronage policy must not be race-based, as highlighted by Martin Luther King that such policy should help all poor Americans irrespective of skin color. For so many years, the US supreme court has ruled that racial quota is unconstitutional and that the academic qualifications and job efficiency shall prevail over a person's race or skin color, meaning even poor white Americans can benefit from the patronage system.

It was said that Mahathir had encountered some unpleasant experiences with racial discrimination while he was a medical student in Singapore. That said, a person's unpleasant past experiences shall not automatically justify his racist inclination today.

Malaysia's highly racist politico-economic system was built up single-handedly by Mahathir, who stated over and again that he had a mission to “save the Malays and Umno”.

We don't have to be surprised by the many policy reversals maneuvered by him after the 2018 election victory. Pakatan Harapan is like a three-horse chariot, with an old horse constantly making U-turns. The differing value systems between PPBM and other PH allies have not only eroded the coalition's credibility and survival, but also the two-party democracy which has just taken shape.

Where it is hard to tell the differences between PH and BN, perhaps a “no party system” is more apt to describe the political situation of the country today.

The actual risk factor in the creation of a New Malaysia lies with the Malay-first ideology. Not only will it fail to unite the people and materialize a New Malaysia, it will also spawn further confrontation among the ethnic communities, with the potential of disuniting the nation.

Interestingly, some of the Malays believe they are the “Anglo-Saxons of the East”, ruling over different races in the Federation of Malaysia with an Anglo-Saxon kind of superiority.

The British Isles ruled by the Anglo-Saxons for centuries is on the verge of collapse after the Brexit referendum because majority of Brexit proponents have been English nationalists, thus giving rise to the emergence of mutually independent Scottish, Irish and Welsh nationalisms.

The overwhelmingly powerful English nationalism is the root cause of Britain's eventual exit from the EU as well as the near collapse of the United Kingdom. This should serve as a valuable lesson for multicultural Malaysia that nationalism established upon the basis of single-race dominance is actually detrimental to the integrity of the Federation of Malaysia, because the mutually confrontational Chinese, Indian, Sabah and Sarawak nationalisms will pop up as a consequence, further dissolving cohesiveness.

And since Malay nationalism is the chief culprit in dividing Malaysians, the only solution is to advocate the common ideology of pluralism and pan-Malaysian nationalism so that all citizens irrespective of race and religion are entitled to equal status, for the country's independence to be truly meaningful.

(Boo Cheng Hao is former assemblyman for Skudai.)

 

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