SEPTEMBER 12 — It’s almost natural for self-anointed experts to tell Malays what they need to do or think.
Yes, oh yes, it’s that season again, with the mega-rally for Umno-PAS unity capped with a charter this weekend — bring water and masks, damn the haze — complementing the ongoing Malay-first product campaign and the saga of Zakir Naik as a nomadic leader of prayers.
I’m all for opinions; everyone is entitled to speak about any persons or groups, regardless if they share any traits or abhor them, rather.
However, it is callous to speak on behalf of persons or groups, on the basis of shared traits. As in to say, “These are what all Malays feel, think and want collectively because I too am Malay.”
Meaning, no one person gets to represent the Malays. It’s a bit insulting to Malays — or any groups of people — if anyone gets to.
Pooling 15 million people and reducing them to five or six observational points. With a limited number of people allowed to determine this reductionist process and ordain it to be accepted by the rest.
Opinions by the lads, past and present
Before throwing Joseph Conrad into the fray, other than Dina Zaman’s I am Muslim, there is scant reference to how Malay women see themselves and the community, when it comes to political discourse on Malays.
Women are writing, speaking and engaging on the matter, it’s just that platforms where nationalism and nationhood are debated exclude them, mostly.
If that changes, and more women are involved, it might alter the way race discourses are conducted and more importantly, their outcomes.
So, back to the lads from the colonial age to now.
Richard Winstedt, Frank Swettenham, Hugh Clifford, Stamford Raffles and every other officer in the British Malaya Civil Service may have been the main blokes to put down to record thoughts about the natives and the land, which Malaysian historians thank them for, but surely their thoughts and notations need to be filtered.
How can members of the colonial office or their supporters place the natives other than below them, otherwise how is colonisation justified? In behaviour, aptitude and capacity.
To them, the narrative had to fit the policies, and not the other way around.
In the post-colonial period, corrections were necessary, but instead over-reactions dominated.
Curiously, like the British, they desire the narrative to fit the new policies.
Ever since, the Malays must appear as supreme masters of their fate. A concept which has massive drawbacks, not the least being unrealistic.
It reduces the naturalness and humanity of any people’s stories, and this is what cultural inheritance is, the continued adoption of a series of captivating stories.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman, thanks to film, lives in Tamil conversations but the heroism aside, the British East Indies Company comprehensively beat him in battle, chased him down, caught him in Pudukottai and then hanged him according to British laws.
It was not great for the rest of the Indian rulers, the last Moghul emperor died in exile in Myanmar.
As the Sick Man of Asia in the 19 century, Imperial China had foreign settlements imposed upon them by Western powers. The Middle Kingdom was embarrassed in the eye of the world, forced into subservience.
The past is the past, it is not to be ignored, dismissed or reinvented in order to restore confidence.
People like Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, from his days with the Malay Dilemma, have initiated race relations discussions on the defensive, especially the case of the Malays.
Mahathir’s posting Tak Bekerja last week only embellishes his carrot and stick strategy with the community.
Traditional British headmasters admonish young boys harshly to force probity from them.
Maybe, Mahathir remains a British master in modern Malaysia, bent on dragging out “presumed” efficacy from the Malays, whether they like it or not.
It has not gone down well with the young people. Generation Y and Z don’t appreciate grandpa laying down the weight of a race and its setbacks on them and expect them to pick up the cudgels.
They also can Google about who among the Malays have the largesse, the billions. Something about people in glass houses comes to mind.
In a Cheras mind
It’s tricky, speaking about Malays. My journey, that I can speak about.
As a toddler, I can’t imagine many Malays staying anywhere close to Jalan Timun where the Chinese settlement on the old Cheras road was. Now, there’s a large mall connected to a train station which connects to another mall.
Kampung Pandan’s divided on race, the Malay and Indian settlements. So, till I was eight, the Malays lived beside but not with us.
My primary school was mixed racially, as was my secondary school. But thanks to a certain quirk, for my fourth and fifth form, I was the only non-Malay in a class of 27.
It offers a certain perspective, but it does not bestow unique insight into the minds of all Malays.
My first weeks in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia knocked me off my perch. Malaysia comes at you at a 100-miles an hour, just like this dude from Terengganu who spots a skullcap everywhere but tackles you on the football pitch wishing you to lose your kneecaps.
Students ameliorate it by sticking to familiar or communal lines. I’m too sociable to respect well-kept lines, despite the hard knocks and rejections which I’m grateful for. It adds to the perspective.
Just when one gets ahead of oneself about Malaysia and his knowledge of it, I got stuck into political party and NGO work.
From Gerik to Pontian or Port Klang to Kuantan. It’s not the highways, but the classrooms, the majlis and meetings, or the private invites to a person’s home.
And I continue to learn.
Malays and Malaysia
The perspective I posit — a limited opinion — is that Malays are different, differentiated individually, as any people on the planet, let alone Malaysia.
Which means they want things for the same silly reasons you do for wanting things, and vice versa.
Conditioning and institutionalisation of policies have predisposed them to public expressions consistent to what is expected of them, because they are worked on far more than other Malaysians.
They say things they feel they are supposed to say. The level of their convictions to those things imposed on them may not be as deep as policy makers wish they were. In private, they speak differently.
There’s a playfulness and freedom they aspire to, and I identify with that.
The close association with family also means Malays understand work. The wellbeing of families is connected to the benefits from toil, therefore there is an intuitive appreciation of work.
But most joyous, and relatable to many Asian cultures, is a commitment to kindness. Not as reciprocation but as a commitment irrespective of how the kindness is met. That with enough kindness around, it can’t help but be replicated.
Sentimentalities aside, modern societies learn to deal with the individualism of its people. Otherwise, individuals won’t engage with society.
This is the greatest problem Malaysia faces today, the state and its opponents are at war, their supporters egg them on, while the rest of Malaysia, the largest chunk of Malays, are terminally disconnected.
Those in power and seeking power are bent on telling Malays what they need that they forget their intended listeners have removed the headphones. They like the memes though.
Which is why I’m not bothered about the next divisive mega-rally. Race and religion have a ceiling in politics.
That’s just one man from Cheras’ opinion.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.