September 5, 2018
Post-Truth Politics of Bangkit Melayu (Rise the Malay)
How will Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad handle this Malay rebellion, which threatens race relations in Malaysia and national unity?
COMMENT | Tajuddin Abdul Rahman’s post-truth politics at the Himpunan Bangkit Melayu rally reeks of racism like a leaking sewer. Coming at a time when the nation is celebrating its 61st anniversary of Merdeka, or Independence, it is a gross insult to the sensibility of all fair-minded Malaysians, regardless of their ethnicity.
Tajuddin, 70, is a serial offender with a penchant for hate speech and unparliamentary behaviour. Incendiary hate speech has no place in civil society. Over time, this will only tear the social fabric of the nation apart if allowed to persist.
This rebel rouser is Pasir Salak MP and an UMNO supreme council member as well as former Deputy Minister for agriculture and agro-based industries in ousted Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s regime.
It certainly does not serve the Malay agenda in any significant manner. It’s about time Tajuddin is thrown into the slammer for his offensive behaviour. I have always argued that censorship should only be used in the rarest of circumstances. Tajuddin’s outburst is one of them. His racist outburst does not constitute free speech. It’s pure hate speech.
The post-truth politics of Tajuddin’s “Bangkit Melayu” is both mischievous and dangerous at the same time. In a recent article, Jacqueline Jones, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says:
“We live in perilous times for historians and others in fact-based disciplines. For some, truth is contingent on one’s gut feelings. Post-truth is defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion that appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Bangkit Melayu is all about post-truth politics of Tajuddin and the likes of him lurking in the dark corridors of UMNO and PAS, creatures of the past but very much alive. They have no place in this New Malaysia.
In an outburst on July 25 in the Dewan Rakyat or Lower House, he caused an uproar when he claimed that Malaysia’s history shows that the country was “Tanah Melayu” or Land of the Malays. The speaker of the House ignored his remarks and allowed him to continue.
This Tanah Melayu claim is not fact-driven. It’s just post-truth rhetoric or lies, as I had pointed out in my piece celebrating Merdeka. Tanah Melayu existed in the Malay language version of our 1957 Federal Constitution where the Federation of Malaya is known as Tanah Melayu.
However, we are now using the 1963 Constitution, where the enlarged nation-state is now known simply as Malaysia, both in English and Malay. Malaya is now known as Peninsular Malaysia, not Tanah Melayu anymore. Tajuddin is still stuck in 1957 like a broken record.
Again, at the Bangkit Melayu gathering, he declared to thunderous applause from the crowd eating out of his hand that he is a “Malay first and this is Land of the Malays”.But he’s not the only one. In his article in Mingguan Malaysia, the Sunday edition of Utusan Malaysia, Rais Yatim curiously refers to Peninsular Malaysia as Semenanjung Tanah Melayu, meaning the Malay peninsula, a geographical term and not one as prescribed in our Federal Constitution.
Rais is a former UMNO supreme council member, cabinet minister and cultural adviser in the former Najib administration. He has since joined the current ruling coalition, following the defeat of UMNO and BN in the recent general election.
Utusan Online highlighted the 10,000-strong gathering at the Bangkit Melayu rally in Pasir Salak as: “Memberi isyarat bahawa orang Melayu sedia untuk bangkit bagi mempertahankan hak istimewa, kedaulatan raja-raja dan agama Islam.” (Signalling that Malays are ready to rise up to defend (their) special rights, the sovereignty of the monarchy and Islam).”
It said that among those present, apart from Tajuddin, were Pemantau Malaysia Baru president Lokman Noor Adam, UMNO Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki and Umno’s secretary-general Annuar Musa. Also present were UMNO Puteri Chief Zahida Zarikh Khan and Perak UMNO liaison chief Saarani Mohamad. Spotted as well was Jamal Md Yunos, the notorious UMNO provocateur from Sungai Besar, Selangor.
Pouring oil onto fire
Let’s fact check just one of Tajuddin’s post-truth claims on the position of the constitutional monarchy. He worked the crowd up and alleged that DAP is the enemy of the Malays and that the Chinese-dominant component party, one of the four members of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, has an agenda to replace the monarchy and turn Malaysia into a republic like Singapore. “DAP musuh (enemy),” they screamed vociferously on cue from Tajuddin.
This is virtually impossible, according to an article by Rais in The Star in 2012, titled ‘Role of King enshrined in constitution’. He points out that the phrase “Supreme head of the Federation” under Article 32(1) of the Federal Constitution, in no uncertain or vague terms, places the King of the Federation of Malaysia as the supreme leader of the country.
Rais (photo) contends that “This pronouncement has been provided for since the operation of the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya 1957, following the recommendations of the Lord Reid Commission as the drafter of the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya.
“History is therefore clear that the post of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the manifestation of the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya (1957) and continued under the Constitution of the Federation of Malaysia (1963).”
How does one respond to Tajuddin’s post-truth politics of Melayu Bangkit? For me, this is a difficult response as I came to know Tajuddin the day after the racial massacre of May 13 in 1969. We were enrolled at the Universiti Malaya then as well as being members of UMSU or the students’ union council. Racism was already his stock-in-trade. However, he also had another side, the soft one, where he kept his racism to himself. That persona emerged whenever he joined us occasionally for a game of cards at the students’ union office.
Should I be angry with Tajuddin for his outbursts? That will surely not make me any better than him. So I look upwards for inspiration. And an accusing finger now points at me instead – “And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
Racism and religious bigotry have been embedded in our hearts for so long that we fail to notice the log in our own eyes. No amount of political or constitutional reforms or political analyses can change the way we pursue our brand of post-truth politics. If my brother refuses to change, perhaps I should be less preoccupied with the speck in his eye and remove the log that is in mine first.
Tajuddin comes from the Malay heartland that is Pasir Salak, along the Perak River. Its claim to fame is the assassination of the first British resident in that state, JWW. Birch in 1875. According to one account, this was the result of a conspiracy involving the local chiefs Dato Maharaja Lela and Sepuntum.
The British responded to Birch’s assassination by hanging the conspirators along with a military intervention during the Perak War. This is a watershed of Malay nationalism.
Today, Pasir Salak is also the name of the parliamentary constituency that Tajuddin represents. He is more than just a “jaguh kampung” or village champion. His constituents see him much in the light of a giant killer, not unlike Birch’s assassins. They have returned their MP for three straight terms. He has earned his speaking rights, hate speech or otherwise.
Tajuddin left Pasir Salak and came to Universiti Malaya in 1969 at a time when all almost all courses were taught in English, except for those in the Malay Studies Department where Anwar Ibrahim was then graduating.
The “orang putih” (white man) syndrome reared its ugly head. The UM Malay Language Society members decided to pour red paint over all signboards in English. And another cultural shock confronted students who came from the Malay heartland. Pork was consumed all over the campus. This was too much for them. Pork was then banned on campus.
Malays like Tajuddin may have reasons to be angry. But anger is not an answer to one’s dilemma. Neither is fighting anger with anger the solution. It’s akin to pouring oil onto a raging fire. Perhaps, if only I would open the window to my heart and be prepared for what I might see through it, I may just see a glimpse of a New Malaysia that I campaigned so hard for.
BOB TEOH is a media analyst.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.