The Malays of Tomorrow

August 31, 2009

malaysian insider

Malays speaking without fear

MP for Lembah Nurul Izzah Anwar

MP for Lembah Nurul Izzah Anwar

by Nurul Izzah Anwar

I can’t say that I know Datuk Zaid Ibrahim very well. Our past encounters have been limited to a fleeting hello in front of the steps of my alma mater, the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in 2006, another chat during a reception in honour of Datuk Ambiga Sreevanesagan in June and, most recently, at the PKR’s recent EGM. It’s amazing, but perhaps unsurprising that he has in these three years evolved from an ambiguous reformist in UMNO into the conscience of all Malaysians.

I had always been impressed by his outspokenness, and his willingness to fearlessly voice out his views on issues of national importance is nothing short of inspirational. Zaid does not mince his words where many hesitate to call a spade a spade, especially where it matters the most.

An articulate Malay speaking out for a multiracial and progressive Malaysia is terribly important in this current political climate. For our own community, Zaid epitomises how the Malays might redefine ourselves, to re-imagine a world where we do not think that we are inferior or threatened but are rather confident in whom we are.

In reading Zaid’s book Saya Pun Melayu, I sense the need for Malays to embrace a new paradigm on what it means to be Malay. Many indeed are doing so and this is a heartening. “Malay” need no longer carry connotations of dependency on the state, insecurity, or the crippling feeling alienation and the lack of self-worth.

The word “Malay” can and must eventually mean a call to embrace a broader Malaysian identity, along with a true, inclusive nationalism that is proud of who we are individually but also in what we have accomplished together. We can be sure of our identities and yet still be a part of something greater than all of us — and this is something all the ethnic groups in Malaysia ought to aspire to.

Zaid’s book highlights that fact that we need to look beyond the stereotypes and take an objective, albeit positive look at our community’s accomplishments. We have made great strides in business, the arts, education and the professions. Our success extends from Lembah Pantai where Malays own vibrant businesses selling products made by Malays to the flourishing nasi lemak stalls in Kota Baru.

We attend leading universities throughout the world, increasingly through our own merit. We can count internationally recognised choreographers, painters, cartoonists, writers, and film directors amongst our numbers.

Beyond these markers, our success can more often that not be seen at home through our everyday acts of compassion and sensitivity to others, which spread to our fellow Malaysians to become a national virtue. The kindness shown towards our children, parents and neighbours is perhaps one of the most important signs of who we Malays are as a community. These are real achievements that no one can or would want to take from us.

I’m not denying that we still have a long way to go in moving our community forward, nor am I unmindful that a lot of our successes would not have been in possible without the NEP and its institutions. However, it has become patently obvious that these structures are now holding the Malays back, and that the world has changed since then.

The Malays and, as a-matter-of-fact, all Malaysians need to change as well if we want to remain relevant in this world. We need to step away from our obsession with all things racial and realise that the project of nation-building is not a zero-sum game. Malaysia can never succeed until and unless its entire people feel like they are truly a part of it.

Why then does the old paradigm of ethnic insecurity persist? Why does suspicion and acrimony towards our fellow Malaysians and they towards us still linger? Why are mainstream newspapers calling for ethnic conflict, accusing minority communities of all sorts of ludicrous plots?

The sad reality is that these myths are being perpetuated by UMNO and Barisan Nasional for their own gain. The fact is that UMNO wants to keep the Malay community under its suzerainty forever. They do this by focusing on what we have supposedly not achieved, rather than acknowledging our gains and potential.

They claim to want to protect and uplift the Malay community, but all they have been doing for the last few years is playing on their fears and prejudices. The same can be said for the Barisan components with the non-Malays. This glass-half-empty mentality is being used by UMNO/BN to protect each other and to ward off challenges to their stranglehold on power.

We’ve seen from the case of Zaid of how UMNO demonises anyone who steps out of the pattern of complete loyalty to the party and who have different ideas on how to improve the livelihoods of Malays and Malaysians. We have also as of late seen their scare tactics in action. They have labeled people as “traitors” for calling for a new path of development for Malaysia. They prefer to protect their interests rather than allow the Malaysian people — especially the Malays — to benefit from reform, less corruption and more inclusion.

UMNO also regrettably perpetuates the myth that the Malay community is perpetually under threat from their non-Malay counterparts, and that UMNO is the only party that can save them from this supposed “servitude”. This, rather than anything else, is why race relations have gotten worse in Malaysia.

You cannot expect harmony in a country where its largest ethnic group is constantly bombarded with the message that the minorities are supposedly out to get them and take away their rights. Yet, they chose to follow this tactic since they believe in the short term this will strengthen UMNO and bring Malays back to the party.

They use these “attacking” tactics because they cannot offer anything else. They have shown that they would prefer to entrench those in power rather than allow new ideas and reforms to increase our chances for greater success. There is a real danger that their short-sightedness may cost future generations of Malaysians dearly.

The fact is that Malays have nothing to fear. We are demographically the largest ethnic group in Malaysia and the birth rate is going to keep it that way. Our position in the constitution is enshrined and this isn’t going to change either.

That is what UMNO and the Malay extremists do not get, and what the community as a whole needs to understand. The non-Malays and Malays who challenge UMNO are not seeking to reduce the position of the Malays in anyway, but to defend and uplift all Malaysians. We have to understand that we are all tied together and that we all have a stake in the land. We cannot survive individually as Malays, Chinese or Indians but as Malaysians.

Our non-Malay fellow citizens are not “challenging” our rights or “insulting” or culture and religion — rather they are calling for our nascent nationhood to be allowed to achieve it’s full potential than for us to remain stuck in our ethnic and mental ghettos. The liberals and moderates amongst the non-Malays also suffer from the depredations of extremists within their own communities — they deserve our support as well. The wave of reactionary politics that is engulfing us can only be turned back if progressive Malaysians stand firm against their threats and untruths.

While it is true that much more needs to be done to address those who have not benefited — for all Malaysians — the focus on what we don’t have rather on what we have accomplished only undermines us. We need to imagine a better future, for Malays and Malaysians — this will incidentally make it easier for all of us to achieve what we might lack.

The Malaysia of tomorrow cannot be one in which we are blinded by fear and negativity. The first step in imagining and defining a better future for all of us is to open our eyes and speak out like Zaid and others like him.

14 thoughts on “The Malays of Tomorrow

  1. We need Malays who are prepared to call a spade a spade. These are Malays who can think for themselves. UMNO’s days of playing with Malay fears are coming to an end because the Malays know what is happening in UMNO.

    The Malays of the Future must be articulate, self assured and competitive. So, be resilient and learn to deal with adversity and accept any challenge. UMNO is not a protector, but the exploiter of national wealth. But we still have to deal with people like Ilham and other UMNO Mat Rempit types who are the product of UMNO’s failed policies.

    The Malays of the Future will fend for themselves, because they can achieve excellence in everything they choose to do for themselves if they are focused and work very hard. —Din Merican

  2. You said it Nurul. As a Chinese Malaysian, I don’t rally care who are running the country as long as they run it well and treat everyone equally as good leaders are meant to do. Instead of encouraging the Malays to take the opportunity available to improve themselves, Umno has instead been using them to achieve their own ends. We Chinese, Indians and other non-bumi are also victims. Unfortunately too many Malays fall for their ruse. That’s why people such as yourself who has personally lived through their injustices are our only hope that things will change in the not too distance future. By the grace of God, we wish you every success.

  3. Din,

    I could not have asked much more than what was written by Nurul Izzah. Well written and truly reflective of my own feeling. I believe that there are many Malays out there who feel the same way, a better Malaysia for all Malaysian regardless of race, religion, background and status. No one should feel that he or she is a 2nd class citizen here in Malaysia.

    I am proud to have people like DSAI, Kak Wan, ZI, Syed Hussin and others leading PKR; I am prouder for being part of PKR and supporting DSAI &amp since 1998.
    Nazryan, thank you for being loyal and steadfast to our cause of Justice for All (KeADILan untuk Semua).–Din Merican

  4. I feel that the NEP and affirmative action programs wherever they may be found (we have affirmative action programs over here too) rob the recipients and beneficiaries of pride in their own achievement. Pride in their own achievement is so important for people wanting to make good in the competitive world – be it in politics and government or in business.

    While the aim should be to do away with such discriminatory policies there are Malays so disadvantaged in life because of their economic and socio-cultural conditions that they continue to need that helping hand to pull them out of the vicious cycle they find themselves in. Let’s face it. Affirmative action programs are discriminatory. But the discrimination is against the poor.

    Wherever affirmative action programs are found, they are focused on the country’s minorities. But Malays are not a minority in Malaysia. It is true in the early 50s the Malays faced the threat of being reduced to a minority in their own country.

    Today we are at a different point in our history. It calls for our re-commitment to the ideals of democracy – liberty, equality and justice for all.

  5. ooops …’ the market place discrimination is against the poor and the aim of affirmative action programs are to try the eliminate the vagaries of such unfair competition.’

  6. “The fact is that Malays have nothing to fear. We are demographically the largest ethnic group in Malaysia and the birth rate is going to keep it that way. Our position in the constitution is enshrined and this isn’t going to change either.” Nurul Izah Anwar

    This has always been my argument.

    This is not the politics of change that I feel the country needs. PKR-Pakatan looks set to be another UMNO-BN with leaders from the different communities compartmentalizing their audiences when they speak, sending different signals and feelers to one and then speaking in a different language to another. If this is not racial politics, what is??

    This is the age of the internet when whatever you say to one community gets reported. You can no longer travel to another country today and send conflicting messages and then say something that is meant for domestic consumption only.

    Opposition leaders wanting to see change, wanting to see the country make that transition from the divisiveness of race politics to the unifying force that a people, facing challenges in the modern world, needs must abandon their populist approach to issues.

    We need leadership – real leadership. And real leadership is a rare commodity even today among leaders in both camps.

  7. The fact is there have been some 600 plus amendments by one count, more than 1,000 by another, to our federal constitution over a period of fifty years. The U.S. Constitution over 230 plus years have been amended no more than only 27 times.

    Some of the laws the BN-controlled Parliament passed are said to be ultra vires the constitution. They remain on the books only because they have not been challenged in court.

    For a document to be sacred it must withstand the passage of time. Ours certainly has not.

  8. I don’t think change is coming any time soon.
    I agree with you. Change is not coming in the next 24 hours. But it will come sooner or later. Even the conservative Japanese have awoken to the reality of LDP misrule. The Democratic Party under Mr Yukio Hatoyama will now form the next government in Japan. I have every reason to be optimistic because UMNO misrule will not be tolerated by Malaysian voters.—Din Merican

  9. All the best to the Malays of Tomorrow, but do take note that the likes of Rohaizat Disbarred and Omar Defaulter is mushrooming too!

  10. We the Non Malays have little or no option but to leave it to people like your father and you. That’s our only hope. We ask you and your dad do not disappoint us as the BN have. If you do than the extremists in the non Malay populas will take the law in their own hands. Don’t need to remind your father of another May 13th.

  11. PR in all likelihood anticipated as having a bright potential of forming the federal govt come next elections should be more focus in addressing on issues fundamental to the aspirations
    and core objectives that was chartered based on equal footing which was and still is the essence in the merger of Malaya,Sabah and Sarawak into an independent nation.
    Beating around the bush on trivial and stale matters such as
    race and special priveleges highlights the stagnated and disharmonious conditions found on the Malayan side of the countries
    On the surface it may sound reassuring for a Chinese or an Indian whenever a Malay politician has an open atitude on subjects of special rights etc.., the so call liberated stance which in recent times have turn into a craving albeit music to the ear for the non-bumis.
    While these antics may serve the malay politicians political advancement amongst the non-Malays, nonetheless its an open secret and as long as the special rights remain enacted in the countries constitution total liberty to the nations citizens will never be achieved no matter how the facts are twisted by any politician.

  12. Danildaud.

    You read animal farm right?


    When the animals take over the farm, they think it is the start of a better life. Their dreams is of a world where all animals are equal and all property is shared. But soon the pigs take control and one of them, Napoleon, becomes the leader of all the animals. One by one the principles of the revolution are abandoned, until the animals have even less freedom than before.

  13. Some of the laws the BN-controlled Parliament passed are said to be ultra vires the constitution. They remain on the books only because they have not been challenged in court- Bean

    Che Det made sure that the courts cannot change the laws. Che Det once said that Parliament will enact Laws and the courts cannot interpret the laws, but to just carry out the laws.

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