Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang


February 19, 2017

Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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It was obvious that bigotry was never a one-way operation, that hatred bred hatred!”

– Isaac Asimov, ‘Pebble in the Sky’

COMMENT: Readers interested in what I write should consider this a companion piece to my article describing how non-Malay Malaysians (specifically) are a tolerant lot.

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Mahathir’s First Carma (Cari Makan) Journalist–A Kadir Jasin

De facto opposition leader and former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad casually mentioned last week that he was partly to blame for the demonisation of DAP. I suppose this went together with veteran journalist A Kadir Jasin’s admission that he was part of the brainwashing that went, and goes on, in UMNO. They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, but I doubt that the indoctrination of Malay youths will cease any time soon when the opposition is made up of Islamic groups determined to use Islam as a political tool.

I wrote the last part of the above paragraph after the opposition had suffered a setback in the by-election where the current UMNO grand poobah was supposed to receive a black eye but apparently, the opposition punched itself in the face. A reader had emailed and asked if the schadenfreude tasted good, especially since I had predicted the results.

I take no pleasure in any opposition defeat and neither do I take pleasure in a UMNO win. This is the bitter taste of having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Furthermore, when I say “evil”, do not get your panties in a twist because it is an expression and not a description of either political fronts. These days I cannot tell the difference between winning and losing when it comes to “saving Malaysia”.

As I have argued before, a country can recover from corruption scandals, but it rarely recovers from that type of Islam that neutralises the democratic imperative. In Malaysia, where race and religion are not mutually exclusive, the threat from Islamists is coupled with ethno-nationalism.

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The  First Malay Nationalist (or is it Racist?)

The de facto Opposition Leader is right when he says that he demonised DAP as DAP and other opposition parties had demonised him. However, the reality is that these political parties were not only demonising their political rivals, they were demonising entire communities.

So, when you want to win, and you demonise your political opponents, and by extension whole communities, the political terrain becomes a battleground for competing racial interests instead of ideological or policy ideas.

This is why I have always been sceptical of the opposition propaganda about voting across racial lines. In one of my numerous articles about race relations in this country, I wrote: “In addition, this idea that voting across racial lines as some sort of evidence of burgeoning multiracial solidarity is complete bunkum. The real test is when people vote across ethnic and religious lines in support of ideologies that run counter to the interests of their communities and by this, I mean egalitarian ideas that run afoul of constitutional sacred cows and social and religious dogma.”

While the former Prime Minister (and now de facto Opposition Leader) and the system contributed to Malay fear of DAP, the whole political system and voting patterns of Malaysians is also culpable for this sad state of affairs. UMNO succeeded because the majority of Malaysians voted for race-based parties. Racial preoccupations were the currency that sustained BN politics and still does.

The problem is that because we do not have an alternative, BN politics is the only game in town. Non-Malay oppositional voices and voters do not demand an alternative but rather that the system continues but in a more “fairer” manner.

DAP and MCA furiously battle for the Chinese vote. Meanwhile Malay-dominated so-called multicultural parties battle with UMNO and now PAS for the Malay vote. Until the former Prime Minister showed up, there was no central theme that united the Opposition.

While the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim and the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat discovered that populism does not necessarily mean racial or religious preoccupations when it comes to cobbling together a formidable coalition, the emergence of the former Prime Minister as the de facto opposition leader has given the current UMNO regime an opportunity to:

1) Revisit history.

2) Dredge up the financial scandals of the former Prime Minister.

3) Point out that their strategies for securing the Malay vote is based on his strategies that kept him in power for decades.

If anyone is wondering why questions of race always revolves around the Malay and Chinese dialectic, it is because… well, if you are going to ask this question, you have obviously not being paying attention.

All are participants in race game

When I argued that Malaysians were a tolerant lot, the thrust of the piece revolved around how systemic inequalities were a detriment to the non-Muslim population but I failed to emphasise how the non-Malay communities were active participants in the race game in this country.

Voting for race-based parties meant that we did not have to concern ourselves with egalitarian concepts that would have been the basis for a more democratic system. It was not that we were “immature” or “uneducated”, it was just easier to vote for a political hegemon that provided security and stability for decades but not the rights and responsibilities that are part and parcel of a functional democracy.

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UMNO’s Money Stealing Grand Poobah

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Tolerance may have been a one-way street, it was also the street where we stopped by the sidewalk and spat at the “Malays”. There is the other narrative of non-Malays engaging in subtle and overt racism, all the while supporting racial political parties that claimed inclusiveness.

The majority of us did this to ensure that our racial preoccupations were satisfied by a plutocrat class instead of demanding for an accountable and transparent government, but more importantly demanding for a principled opposition who fearlessly made their positions clear instead of championing communal causes under the guise of “multiracial/culturalism”.

The private sector was (is) dominated by Chinese polity who were perpetuating their own form of systemic inequalities and contextualising this reality as a response to the systemic inequality perpetrated by the UMNO Malay state.

While I think, there is generally “a live and let live” vibe between Malaysians, it would be a mistake to assume that this is some sort of national identity or some form of stable unity. I realise that this is political incorrect to say, but the hard truth is that while race relations have been manipulated by establishment (both UMNO and the Opposition), the reality is that there was always tensions between the various races of this country.

This is why talking about “race” in this country is such a demoralising endeavour. Appeals to emotion replace rational discourse. The fact that our constitution is compromised, the system itself is predicated on maintaining racial and religious superiority, makes any discussion about how the non-Malays react to such a system, their complicity in sustaining the system difficult to articulate.

The fault of UMNO and the Opposition is that nobody offered an alternative and Malaysians never expected anything better.

You know what the big difference is between the corruption scandals of UMNO back in the day and the one now is? The difference is that a vast majority of Malaysians kept voting UMNO-BN back then than they do now. This is a testament to not only the political strategies of Mahathir but also the apathy of the Malaysians. This of course is a boon for the Opposition because Mahathir seems to be the only person who can galvanise the opposition. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah: Understand Malaysia better through its History


February 14, 2017

HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah:  Understand Malaysia better through its History

COMMENT: HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah, the Oxford and Harvard-educated political economist, is to be congratulated for publishing a monumental book on Malaysia’s economic history.

One cannot dispute His Royal Highness’ view that understanding the country’s economic, political and socio-cultural history is important since it enables us to appreciate the progress we have achieved since Independence in 1957 due to the contributions of our diverse communities, and learn from our policy failures, and follies and frailties of our past leaders and administrators.

Our achievements have been spectacular by any measure  to earn the respect of the world. The developing world used to look up to us for our economic success. But in recent years, while we enjoy continued economic growth (in GDP terms), albeit modest by comparison with our past attainments, the management of our economy has been increasingly disappointing and depressing. The level of corruption is now the worst I have ever witnessed in my nearly 45 years of public, corporate, academic and civil society life.

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It is obvious to me at least that our present generation of UMNO-BN leaders have not learned the lessons of history especially why nations can and have failed because of corruption, abuse of power and sheer incompetence. HRH Sultan of Perak would, therefore, be well advised to remind Prime Minister Najib Razak of the consequences of poor governance. Preaching to the converted like me and others is inconsequential since we are not in power.

Finally, I must add my disappointment with this piece by Hanis Zainal. While publicizing HRH Sultan Nazrin’s book, she chose not acknowledge that scholars and academics like James Puthucheary, Agoes Salim, Lin See Yan, Rais Saniman, Junid Saham, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Edmund Terrence Gomez, Mohamed Ariff (formally with MIER),Kamal Salih (USM), Lim Teck Ghee, Johan  Saravanamuttu et.al have contributed immensely to our understanding of Malaysia’s political economy and history. They have, in fact, preceded HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah.–Din Merican

by Hanis Zainal@www.thestar.com.my

The key to understanding a country better is through its history, so it is logical to assume the key to studying a country’s economy is through studying its econo­mic history.

This was what Perak Ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah set out to achieve in Charting the Economy: Early 20th Century Malaya and Contemporary Malaysian Contrasts which was launched yesterday.

The book charts the country’s economic activities under colonial rule and contrasts it with the economic growth and development in contemporary Malaysia.

During the launch at a hotel here, Sultan Nazrin said that lessons learned from history carry “great relevance” for overcoming the economic challenges of modern-era Malaysia.

 “To better understand contemporary economic performance, it is necessary for us to go back into history to understand long-term trends,” he said.

In his book, Sultan Nazrin charts the changes – from an economy based largely on agriculture and mining in the past to one that is more diversified and broad today.

One of the most important lessons he learned in his study was of people’s contributions to the economy, said Sultan Nazrin.

“The truly remarkable economic and social transformation that Malaysia has experienced is due to the outstanding contributions made by all of our diverse communities working together.”

Quoting novelist Henri Fauconnier, who wrote the Soul of Malaya, Sultan Nazrin said the soul of Malaysia “is found in the country’s diverse people”.

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In his address, Harvard University’s Professor of Political Economy Prof Dwight Perkins noted the book’s importance to the economic literature of Malaysia.

Charting the Economy is published by Oxford University Press and retails at RM99 at all major bookshops in Malaysia.

 

History: Cambodia’s King Sihanouk and Zhou Enlai


February 11, 2017

Cambodia: King Sihanouk and Zhou Enlai

Note: All students of Cambodian History and Foreign Policy should read Charisma and Leadership–The Human Side of Great Leaders of the 20th Century by Prince Norodom Sihanouk with Dr. Bernard Krisher (Phnom Penh: The Cambodia Daily, 1990). Why? Leadership matters in today’s world, especially with the election on November 8, 2016 and the  inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017.

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His Majesty  King Norodom Sihanouk’s Impressions on Zhou Enlai appear on pp.45-66.  The Intellectual Cambodian Monarch Samdech Euv (Khmer: សម្តេចឪ)’s My War with The C.I.A (Baltimore:Penguin Book,1973) with Wilfred Burchett, and William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979) which deal with Cambodia-US Relations should are also on my recommended read list.–Din Merican
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Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai asked Deng Xiaoping and Ye Jianying to see Sihanouk and his family members off. Picture taken on September 9, 1975, Sihanouk (middle), his wife (left) and Deng Xiaoping traveled in a motorcade.

20 years friendship: Sihanouk and Zhou Enlai

http://english.cntv.cn/program/newsupdate/20121015/104851.shtml

Cambodia’s Samdech Euv (King-Father) Norodom Sihanouk’s friendship with China began with his first encounter with the then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, in 1955 at the Bandung Conference which was hosted by President Ahmed Sukarno of Indonesia. Their friendship lasted for more than two decades until Zhou Enlai’s death in 1976.

Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai met Norodom Sihanouk for the first time at the Bandung Conference on April  18, 1955.

In the morning, when most of the delegation was outside the venue waiting for the host, Indonesia’s first President  Ahmed Sukarno, Zhou Enlai met the 33-year-old Sihanouk, the then Cambodian Prime Minister.

Cheng Yuangong, Zhou Enlai’s FMR guard, said, “Premier Zhou was talking to other people when he found that Norodom Sihanouk was some seven meters away. Premier Zhou stepped up and began talking to him. Sihanouk was very touched by the Chinese Premier’s friendly move.”

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During the six-day conference, Zhou Enlai made a statement, applauding Cambodia’s fight for independence led by Norodom Sihanouk. He said China fully respected Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

During the conference, Zhou Enlai also gave a banquet for the Cambodian delegation. In Norodom Sihanouk’s memoirs, he called it an unforgettable invitation. Zhou Enlai’s welcome made him feel part of a brotherhood.

Ten months after the Bandung Conference, Norodom Sihanouk visited China for the first time. One month later, Zhou Enlai was invited to Cambodia. It was very rare in world diplomatic history for two countries to welcome delegations without establishing diplomatic ties.

In 1958, China and Cambodia formally established ambassador-level diplomatic relations. In 1970, Norodom Sihanouk was forced into exile in China when Lon Nol clique staged a coup d’ etat . China continued to support him, and he lived in Beijing for the next five years.

Zhou Enlai would never miss Sihanouk or his wife’s birthday unless he was on a visit abroad. In 1975, Sihanouk decided to return to Cambodia when the Lon Nol government was overthrown.

At that time, suffering from cancer, Zhou Enlai weighed just 30 kilograms. But he still insisted on making detailed arrangements for Sihanouk. The two old friends said their final goodbyes on August the 26th, 1975. 6 months later, Zhou Enlai died in Beijing. But Sihanouk’s friendship with China never wavered.

READ This:

https://cross-currents.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/e-journal/articles/jeldres_1.pdf

Tunku Abdul Rahman–What a Great Malaysian and Compassionate Leader Among Men


I, as a Foreign Service Officer, too remember Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman–What a Great Malaysian and Compassionate Leader Among Men

by Bernama

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February 8 ― Several well-known veteran figures recalled nostalgic moments with the country’s “Father of Independence” and its first prime minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, and his endearing traits in conjunction with Tunku’s 114th birthday today.

Penang Malay Association (Pemenang) President, Tan Sri Yussof Latiff, who knew Tunku since the latter took over the UMNO leadership from Datuk Onn Jaafar in 1951, said Tunku’s integrity was his most distinct personal trait.

“Tunku’s integrity had no compromise, could not be doubted or questioned.

Tunku was honest and sincere. When he took over the UMNO leadership, the party had no money, so Tunku sold his house in Penang to fund the running of UMNO, he told Bernama.

Besides that, Yussof who is now 86, said Tunku was like a father from whom people could seek “shelter” under his leadership, and this regard for Tunku was not just among the Malays but the non-Malays as well.

He said Tunku’s family and the staff at his residence were multiracial and multireligious.

“That was typically Tunku. His cook was a Malay, his driver an Indian and his domestic helper who washed the clothes and dishes was a Chinese.

“Tunku also adopted children, especially of Chinese descent, into the family. He raised five of them from small until they became adults and got married,” added Yussof.

He also regarded Tunku, who died in 1990 at age 87, as a gift from God to this country to lead the Malays and UMNO, then obtained independence for the country and was a leader for all the races.

In remembrance of Tunku’s birthday, Yussof said he had organised a gathering of the Penang state muhbibah consultative council comprising 16 ethnic bodies since 2003, while Feb 8 was made Unity Day for Penang.

“In discussions, Tunku was very open and could accept everything that was voiced out. Tunku Abdul Rahman was irreplaceable,” he said.

Former Inspector-General of Police, Tun Hanif Omar said he first got close to Tunku when he was a member of Tunku’s security detail for the protracted Maphilindo (Malaysia/Philippines/Indonesia) talks in Manila in June 1963.

“He was extremely simple, kind and warm and remained so throughout his life which was guided every day by the Quranic verses that he opened to at random every morning after Subuh prayer,” he said.

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Hanif said Tunku used to allow him the use of his beachfront home in Penang. “May Allah abundantly bless his soul and that of his late wife Tun Sharifah Rodziah,” he said.

Former director of Internal Security and Public Order, Royal Malaysian Police, Tan Sri Zaman Khan said he had fond memories of Tunku when he was the OCPD of Butterworth before the 1969 general election.

The former Prime Minister would come to Butterworth and stay at his small wooden bungalow at Telok Ayer Tawar where he used to hold meetings with Umno and the then Alliance.

Zaman Khan said when he was Penang chief police officer, his quarters was just a house away from Tunku’s.

He said he was advised by Tun Abdul Razak, who succeeded Tunku as prime minister, to keep Tunku company which he did usually after Isyak prayer. And almost every Thursday, Tunku would host local Umno heads for “chit chat sessions with lots of old stories”.

Former banker Dato’ Dr Rais Saniman said he had the honour of serving Tunku in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, when Tunku was Secretary-General of the then Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) soon after he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1970.

“Tunku had an idea with King Faisal to set up the Islamic Development Bank and I was directed by Tun Razak to go and join the international team of experts to set up and get the bank going,” he said.

And Dato’ Dr. Rais had this to say of Tunku: “I started with unease with Tunku but I ended up kissing his feet. He was warm and kind. “Open the first page of the Encyclopaedia of Democracy. He is on the first page. The greatest Malaysian.” ― Bernama

 

Look Back at Book Of A Lifetime: The Best and the Brightest


February 5, 2017

Look Back at Book Of A Lifetime: The Best and the Brightest, By David Halberstam

by Liaquat Ahamed

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-the-best-and-the-brightest-by-david-halberstam-1882262.html

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After college in England, I arrived in the US in the autumn of 1974 to go to graduate school. The war in Vietnam was no longer a bitter political issue on campuses. A few months after I arrived in the US, Saigon fell to the communists. I was not especially politically engaged.

Nevertheless, with the media full of graphic images of desperate Vietnamese scrambling to climb over the wall surrounding the US embassy and of marines dumping helicopters into the sea lest they fall into communist hands, one could not help talking about Vietnam. To understand these events, a friend recommended I read David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest, published a couple of years before to great acclaim. The book was a 700-page study of how the US came to be mired in the disastrous war in Vietnam.

It sounds unspeakably dull and ponderous; it was not. I found I could not put the book down. It had all the ingredients of a great novel: a tragic plot of almost Shakespearean proportions, a fascinating cast of characters, and some wonderful writing.

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The book is the story of the generation who arrived in Washington in 1960 with the Kennedy administration, one of the most talented groups to have held the levers of power in the country’s history: the best and the brightest. It describes how this band of men, for all their brilliance and idealism, led the country into the most disastrous war in its history out of a combination of arrogance and hubris.

Though The Best and the Brightest is ostensibly about policy, it is mostly about people. Halberstam had a storyteller’s talent for capturing people. He had a reporter’s eye for the little details, those vignettes, which transform a story and make it come alive. What better way, for example, to contrast the lethargy of the Eisenhower years with the energy of the Kennedy White House than to tell us that while the Eisenhower people played golf, the young men around Kennedy played squash to keep themselves fit. Halberstam had spent years covering the Vietnam conflict on the ground. He wrote like the war correspondent he was, in concrete, muscular prose. And yet the final result was much more than the story of the war; it was a history of almost epic sweep that managed to define a tumultuous era in the life of the country.

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In the intervening years, I have re-read the book a couple of times. I still find myself dazzled by the way Halberstam was able to weave together the various strands – the events, the people, the policy debates – into such a compelling narrative. My one regret is that I never got a chance to meet Halberstam himself (he died almost three years ago) to tell him how much his book had meant to me.

Liaquat Ahamed’s ‘Lords of Finance’ (Windmill Books) won the FT/ Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award

 

Scandal ridden UMNO Malay Leadership


February 3, 2017

Scandal ridden UMNO Malay Leadership

http://www.asiasentinel.com/society/malaysia-scholars-fault-umno/

Malay Scholars Find Fault in Malay Leaders

Malaysian Official No. 1–The Corrupt and Corruptor

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) presents itself as the guardian of Malay interests, culture and language. So what do the 1MDB and other scandals say about the fundamental problems of this long-dominant ruling party, the institutional arm of the Malay elite?

The disappearance of vast sums from the accounts of the state-backed 1MDB investment vehicle, the murder of a senior investigator, the murder by the Prime Minister’s security detail of a pregnant Mongolian translator/model and former girlfriend of Najib’s close associate, must say something about elite behavior.

They may be extreme events but by no means unique in Malaysian history over the past 40 years. What were then vast sums went down similar drains, more than one associated with Bank Bumiputra, including the murder in Hong Kong of an auditor doing his job too well. Plenty of other lesser financial scandals have emerged from specifically Malay, publicly-owned institutions supposedly created to benefit the rakyat but too often ATMs for the elite. They are mostly quickly forgiven and forgotten.

Rather than looking for a contemporary or political analysis of the causes of these various scandals, it is worth casting a glance back at how some well-known Malay intellectuals in the past saw their Malay leaders. Two examples, separated by 140 years, will have to suffice.

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The more recent, written in 1982, appears in Shaharuddin B Maaruf’s Concept of a Hero in Malay Society tracing the influences on the Malay elite from the epic of Hang Tuah to the later era where feudal loyalty was allied with a crass materialism. Some of the feudal traits exhibited by Hang Tuah (and by equivalents at the Javanese Majapahit court) included feats of drinking, gambling, hunting and lovemaking. Do they still dominate?

 Interestingly Shaharuddin singled out not a Malaysian but the martyred Philippine nationalist Jose Rizal and General Sudirman, Indonesia’s military leader in the war of independence, as the wider modern Malay world’s leaders as selfless, determined and principled. In contrast, he quoted the principal agent of British imperialism on the peninsula, Frank Swettenham, on the eagerness of the Malay rulers to accept British overlordship in return for position and income.
Image result for dr shaharuddin maarufA Contemporary UMNO Leader

Shaharuddin himself echoed other post-independence critics of the elite such as Syed Hussein Alatas, the Malay academician turned politician who became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya and a founder of Gerakan, a multi-ethnic, reformist party. Alatas wrote the Foreword to Shaharuddin’s book.

They both noted the conflict between the feudal values of the elite, seen in their devotion to hierarchy, show and dynasty, and the Islam it professed. Instead of acknowledging that Islam’s strength lay in the diversity of interpretation of the Koran, it insisted on a single one laid down by an intellectually bereft elite, more interested in the furtherance of narrow Malay racial interests than in religion. Personal loyalty to a leader also trumped laws and principles.

There was, wrote Shaharuddin “no genuine interest on the part of the Malay elite to foster the intellectual, humanitarian and scientific aspects of Islam … but only to organize Koran reading competitions” – a stark contrast to the days when Islam was at the forefront of intellectual and scientific advance.

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 Present Day Malay Heroin Rosmah ‘Birkin’ Mansor

Reading about the shopping sprees of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, of the spending of huge sums to join the celebrity crowd in New York, mansions in California, Hollywood movies and high-priced western paintings suggests that elite behavior has got even worse since Shaharuddin wrote more than a generation ago: “The spirit of indulgence leads it [the elite] to imitate the negative aspects of western culture while the scientific and intellectual tradition is discarded… Being indulgent and imitative, the Malay elite always seeks to identify itself with its western counterpart.”

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Nor was it just a problem of aping western ways. Another was the desire to be grandiose and showy. “They spend lavishly on buildings, cars, official functions and other expenditures for prestige.”

Worse still, “celebrity worship is widespread in Malay society” – as if foretelling the elite urge to be seen in the company of such trashy western celebrities as Paris Hilton.

Shaharuddin’s criticisms were however mild compared with those of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir 1796-1854) also known as Munshi Abdullah. He was a Melaka-born translator and teacher who worked for the British, notably with Stamford Raffles at the time of the British takeover of Singapore. Abdullah was not a traitor to the Malays but one so appalled by the condition of the Malay states that he saw cooperation with the British as a way of improving the lot of the Malays through economic progress, the end of internecine conflict and the spread of education and knowledge.

An 1838 work following a visit to Kelantan, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan, had polite advice for Malay rulers. But his better known autobiographical work Hikayat Abdullah written in the 1840s was more scathing in its views of the monarchs.

“It is no light tyranny that has been exercised by the Malay rulers, apart from a few who were good. Women and children who caught their fancy have been abducted by force as though they were taking chickens, with no sort of fear of Allah and regard for his creatures. They have often murdered men whose offences in no way merited death. They have plundered the property of other men, killing the owners or dragging them off into captivity. If they owe money they refuse to pay it. They are very fond of gambling, cock-fighting, opium-eating and keeping a host of slaves. …There are many other disgraceful practices which I feel too ashamed to mention in this book. They keep young girls, sometimes more than a hundred, as concubines in the palace. They have relations with a girl once or twice then for the rest of her life she cannot marry another man…

“Was there not a time when half the world was under Malay dominion and rule? There are many books and records which tell of the rulers of olden times, how great and powerful they were, so rich and full of wisdom. Why have their lands been despoiled by Allah ere now and passed into foreign bondage.

…Even in my own time there have been several Malay principalities which have come to ruin. Some have reverted to jungle where the elephant and tiger roam, because of the cruel injustices of their rulers and chiefs; not merely distant places but, for example, Selangor, Perak, Kedah as well as Padang, Muar, Batu Pahat and Kesang and many others like them. Once they were rich and flourishing states with a large population. Now they are states only in name. …

“Many are the places and lands which have been destroyed by the depredations of the young scions of the ruling house whose rapacious hands can no longer be tolerated by the people. Other races, the English, the Indians, the Arabs, the Chinese do not conduct themselves in the manner I have described. Only the Malays. Among all the other races the ruler’s children are expected to be well educated and very intelligent… If the Malay ruler do not keep their own children under control, how can they themselves exercise authority over the people? As it is under Malay rule ordinary people cannot lift up their heads and enjoy themselves… Another failing commonly found among Malays is their inability to change or modernise their idea or to produce anything new. They utterly refuse to abandon superstitions of the past…”

And so on. Abdullah used many more pages to denounce the rulers and attitudes of the Malay rulers and state of society of his time.

There seems a continuous theme from the 1820s until today. It might be argued that both Abdullah and Alatas were not really Malays. Abdullah was of Tamil Muslim origin, Alatas of Yemeni ancestry and born in Bogor. But the notion of a pure Malay race is a fiction to which the ancestries of Prime Ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman, Hussein Onn and Mahathir Mohamed attest. No one doubted the mastery of Malay language and culture possessed by Abdullah and Alatas, nor their standing as modernist Muslims with enquiring minds. Are there any such figures in Malaysia today?

(Translation of Hikayat Abdullah by A.H. Hill. Concept of a Hero in Malay Society by Shaharuddin b. Maaruf, Eastern Universities Press, 1984)