Malaysia in disarray due to Malay nativism

September 15, 2016

Malaysia in disarray due to Malay nativism 

by Lim Li Ann

A rise in nativism, eroding civic values, and a failing democracy are exacerbating already dangerous divisions.

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Ikan Bakar Jamal Yunos and Red Shirts (of Malay Ultras) sponsored by Najib Razak’s UMNO

Modern Malaysia’s obsession with uniformity (Malayness and Political Islam) is tearing the nation apart. This trend, which sees difference (diversity and pluralism) as inherently dangerous, is being driven by ‘nativism’ – being against ethnic and religious minorities and having an instinctual allegiance towards one’s community intensified by agent provocateurs.

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Within the span of a year, a state mufti has condemned the multi-racial but Chinese-dominant opposition party, DAP, as “kafir harbi” – non-Muslims who can be slain. Malay protesters, arriving in mobs, became entangled in brawls and shouting matches with Chinese vendors at Low Yat Plaza. Even the silver screen took on a dark tone when the Malaysia Film Festival segregated its nominations into “Best Films” and “Best non-Malay language films” — the former assumed to be in the Malay language.

Late last year, tens of thousands hit the streets to demonstrate support for Prime Minister Najib Razak during an event now known as the red shirt rally. The rally sought to “make it clear to Malaysian citizens, don’t challenge the Malays, don’t touch the Malays.” Despite the antagonistic rhetoric about the inferiority of other races, Prime Minister Najib Razak endorsed the rally, offering his “congratulations to everyone who attended.”

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UMNO sponsored Ultras

Pockets of Malaysian society, once humble, tolerant and moderate, are now rallying behind arrogance, antagonism and illiberalism. Such assertions of supremacy appear perplexing. Contemporary psychologist Jonathan Haidt determines one key pillar of morality to be “in-group loyalty”. At one end of the spectrum lie people whose instinct is to care universally, while those at the other protect members of their community. In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) classical sociologist Emile Durkheim explains that these moderate feelings of tribalism are then elevated when one is in a collective.

Amid last year’s red shirt rally in Malaysia, one voice stood out. Sungai Besar UMNO division chief Jamal Yunos grabbed the limelight and chanted “Cina babi!” (“Chinese are pigs!”), triggering pitchfork-level outrage in others. But by Durkheim’s line of thought, Jamal’s behaviour was nothing egregious.

Narrating a man leading a crowd of ardent supporters, Durkheim writes:

His language becomes high-flown in a way that would be ridiculous in ordinary circumstances; his gestures take on an overbearing quality; his very thought becomes impatient of limits and slips easily into every kind of extreme. This is because he feels filled to overflowing, as though with a phenomenal oversupply of forces that spill over and tend to spread around him. … This extraordinary surplus of forces is quite real and comes to him from the very group he is addressing. … It is then no longer a mere individual who speaks but a group incarnated and personified.

Standing alone, any one person’s bold cries for racial hegemony would appear outrageous. But on that fateful day, in moral consensus with people surrounding him, social approbation begets reckless confidence in his judgment and fearlessness in his actions.

The dangerous rise of nativism in Malaysia is also explained by the country’s failing democratic culture. Pillars of democracy can only be upheld when society embraces democratic virtues. Institutes of democracies are meaningless — precarious at best — if they do not go hand-in-hand with democratic values in the hearts and minds of citizens.

Outwardly, Malaysia is a democracy. Elections are held regularly, the elected are accountable to the electorate, to a certain extent as the 1MDB scandal shows, and the state apparatus to the elected members of parliament.

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The UMNO Idiot-Racist

But, Malaysians lack the appreciation for democratic values that makes the term “parliamentary democracy” anything more than a soundbite. And then there are the problems with Malaysia’s civic education – which helps feed this trend of nativism and democratic deficit. Malaysia’s current syllabus for Civic and Citizenship Education boils down to nothing more than a laundry list of moral dos and don’ts.

Malaysia’s civic education needs an overhaul — to be one that mandates critical moral reflection, as opposed to rote memorisation of civic duties — to overcome the political apathy that has enveloped society.

Amy Gutmann, author of Democratic Education (1987), offers that such an education should inculcate truthfulness to one’s self, mutual respect for and the ability to deliberate over differences with others, commitment to society — thus teaching the importance ranging from individual freedoms to collective social consciousness.

When formal institutions of democracy are not accompanied by a corresponding level of public commitment towards core democratic values, institutions of democracy are easily collapsible — and that won’t seem to matter.

Before we unquestioningly accept the many platitudes that are imposed on us, whether by pillars of power or factions in society, perhaps it would do us good to develop our own independent thoughts. Ultimately, these are moral choices that we need to identify, but even more importantly, ones that we are able to legitimately justify predicated upon personal autonomy and societal interests.

Lim Li Ann is an economics and public policy graduate from Singapore Management University. She is a co-author of the chapter on arbitrary detention in the forthcoming book, The History of Human Rights Society in Singapore, 1965-2015.


8 thoughts on “Malaysia in disarray due to Malay nativism

  1. This promotion of “nativism” has functional value s well espoused in Homan’s “Human Group” (1952?)social theorems, one of which stipulates that ” for internal social cohesion of the group external threat has got to be promoted”. The non-Malays and their economic prowess is presented as the external threat.

    When the revenue from the tax basket and FID balloon deflates to nothingness nativism would become scramble egg.

  2. A well considered piece by the author. But i don’t think a racist, demagogic, corrupt, anti-intellectual ikan bakar ‘entrepreneur’ like Jamal or a backside wriggling provocateur like Ali Tinju can understand an iota of what she’s saying.
    A bit too academic, ya?

    Jibros depends on the Power of Incumbency and Loads of Cash, nothing else. With a siege mentality derived from their moral-ethical vacuum, leadership incapacity, corrupted mores and innate stupidity, UMNOb connives to boost their own morale. They need Drama and Puppetry.

    For all leaders – seeing, telling and absorbing the unpleasant truth is an important part of retaining morale. Useful Idiots on orders of their masters, like those two puppets – will deny, prevaricate, lie and agitate in order to appropriation blame on ‘The Other’.

    By provoking a confrontation, they hope to achieve an anarchic state of lawlessness and ‘managed’ mayhem. They depend on ‘destructive optimism’ that is constantly confounded by the events that had provoked their ire. However, their detractors have evolved to a higher state of maturity and are no longer intimidated by crass religio-racist rants and sloganeering.

    UMNOb has become a “Toxic Organization, in which Resonance has become Dissonance.” (Daniel Goleman)

    General Sir William Slim, who was tasked to restoring the morale of the Allied Troops in 1943, after they were driven out from Burma by the Japs, famously said in his book ‘Defeat into Victory’:
    Morale is a state of mind, which must be created on three levels =
    1. Spiritually – not in a religious sense, but to a belief in ‘a great and noble cause’;
    2. Intellectually – the goals must be attainable, the leaders trustworthy and that the cohesion of the group that is effective and efficient;
    3. Materially – with tools and weapons suited to the conditions.
    There is no virtue in self sacrifice, like the kamikaze pilots or today’s suicide bombers.

    As we speak, the Malays are politically divided as never before – due to the treasonous acts of Criminal Embezzler MO1 and his Greedy Spawn. And it ain’t strictly Octo’s fault, although the system he created was the catalyst.

    That is not to say that the Oppo has a chance in hell to win, unless the pull their knickers out from the jamban.

  3. The gang of kleptocrats presently in power are sponsoring neo-fascist groups in order to avoid being ousted by the people.

    I doubt that “nativism” is really that strong amongst Malay-Malaysians. A more challenging social problem in 1Malaysia is that of increasing religious extremism and intolerance.

  4. Take away all the academic jargon, all the political leaders throughout human history needed to say is simply, you have a problem?, well, I have the solution. Some, like Hitler, had a “final solution” Who wouldn’t support a politician who has a solution to all our problems?

    We all have experienced it on an individual basis. Like you go see a doctor with some illness, and we all felt a great sense of relief, and even joy, when the doctor says he has a cure on hand.

    The problem in present day Malaysia is that the “problem” is manufactured, and the “solution” is more deadly than the “problem”

  5. It is such a disappointment that yet again, Malaysia Day, the day of the birth of our nation has gone by unnoticed and without any fanfare.

    Why all the angst about Malay rights? If the Malays are so adamant in restoring their rights over that of the others, perhaps Malaysians may well consider dissolving the confederation and revert back to pre-independent status of Sabah, Sarawak, the Straits Settlement of Penang, Malacca and Labuan and the Federated Malay States where everyone can go their merry way and the Malays can claim all they want to keep Tanah Melayu all for themselves.

  6. Frankly, Malays better off understanding this – Tens of millions of German was wrong about the Nazis. Hundreds of millions of Chinese and with others, over a billion was wrong about Communism, hence 1.5billion Muslim can be wrong about their religion.

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