Let’s talk privilege

JANUARY 3 — I was one of the many Malay-Muslims who signed the online petition, #iam26. Like my fellow Malaysians, I am tired of the malice, bigotry and hatred that I see in the media and in so-called polite conversations. I have attended a few forums organised by local educational institutions that, too, promoted racist vitriol.

However, I am discomfited by this: The reek of elitism.

I am in no way denouncing the former civil servants’ professional lineage. Some of the names are familiar, as from time to time they appeared in the media. It is good to see people who once served this country and its government with great pride and integrity make a stand.

But as fellow columnist Zurairi AR pointed out, “Much of the criticism stemmed from the fact that most of the 25, being senior-ranking former officials, are speaking from a vantage of privilege. Almost all of them possess honorary titles of some sort: There were those with Tan Sri, Datuk Seri, and many more with Datuk.

“Hailing from a different social class from common Malays, a higher one that is, then the 25 have the advantage of making such calls without fear of censure, or even the Sedition Act that seems to be slapped on anybody who talks bad about the status quo.

“Being well-off with the perks of such positions, the 25 also have the luxury to not be worried about those issues, especially when they do not have to worry as much about putting food on the table and the rising cost of living.”

Feudalism

Perhaps it started with upcoming public critic Tariq Ismail’s article, which defended the 25 civil servants. Sharp, hard-hitting and heartfelt, Tariq, founder of Aura Merdeka and its many offshoots, said it as it is.

“At this point, it seems that only esteemed Malays of the aristocracy can help the Malays — not bigots like you.”

When I came to that sentence, I groaned, oh dear. This is not going to sit well with the grassroots Malays and middle-class professional Malays. (Read my previous articles, The Handbag Theories which were published last year in MMO).

I am not going to fault Tariq for expressing this. He has every right to say so. And I laud him for creating Aura Merdeka; likewise the many Malaysians who have taken to social media to stand up for whatever they believe in.

According to the writer, the majority of Malaysians may not enjoy seeing Malaysia being split up by racism and religious ideologies, but they are not the liberal elite. ― Reuters pic
According to the writer, the majority of Malaysians may not enjoy seeing Malaysia being split up by racism and religious ideologies, but they are not the liberal elite. ― Reuters pic

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We have to realise one thing: The Malays cheering on the civil servants and #iam26, and non-Muslim/Malay Malaysians are a minority. The rest of Malay(sia) who (may) not support this movement are the majority. They may not enjoy seeing Malaysia being split up by racism and religious ideologies, but they are not the liberal elite.

Who are we representing?

It was fascinating to observe discussions on social media and in emails. While everyone agreed that right-wing organisations must be stemmed, they admitted that the elitism portrayed rankled them somewhat.

“Nobody is denying their privilege, but does my father, a teacher, play no part in nation-building?” a friend asked.

What is true is that Perkasa’s Malay watch does not represent all Malays. But neither do the views of the 25 prominent Malays and their supporters.

A friend and I had a short email discussion over this. She was not comfortable with my column’s topic.

“… I think the rest of the (non) liberal elite Malays may agree more than people give them credit for. It’s just that Perkasa is better in putting into a language that makes sense to them, whereas the lofty (and very English!) language of the liberal elite is just as condescending and patronising as how we view the privileged elite. You know what Malaysia needs, a good sociologist working on Malay community, both urban and rural.”

I echo my friend’s thoughts: What then do the rest of Malays want? Maybe it’s because we are not sure ourselves? No one has truly asked them.

I welcome your thoughts on class, privilege and the fight for Malaysia. Let’s try to have a conversation.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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