Of citizenship, state building, liberalism and a new Moral Order
Yes, tolak Pakatan, but does Umno even know what and who is the future Malay?
Once upon a long, long time, the Malay was a Malay and he told stories of hantus and Java and made wayang. Then came the mullah and, now, the ubah.
From its beginnings, ethnicity – in another word, race – was central to defining Malaysian citizenship no matter how much the Constitution has attempted to gloss over this reality. Few other countries in the world are like this, not even America, never mind what local reporters write when they copy their BBC/ABC/Asia Sentinel western masters to say that America is a ‘melting pot’. It had begun as white and western, its native population exterminated, Anglo-Saxon culture ruled over daily lives, and English came to supersede all other languages.
With ethnicity, culture matters. And, here (as opposed to America) they are very distinct, half a dozen or more thrown together and then were flushed in with English law and overseen by institutions entirely western. As a result, justice became a morality of vengeance but this is cloaked in the language of fairness whereas in, say, Taiwan, justice is a matter of pay-back, tampered only occasionally with concepts of mercy. In contrast, Singapore, also Chinese, went the opposite direction: Lee Kuan Yew would turn it into another English town, not the pastoral kind but set in a steam of sweat and in a cloud of mosquitoes. Whichever way, the Chinese diaspora had it easy coping with foreign influences.
But not the Malays. This is in part because they were never a distinct group to begin with. For evidence to that, go back to the Constitution which defines Malays (hence, Malaysian citizenship) not on the principle of jus sanguinis, that is, right of blood. Malays had to struggle with importing then coping with two foreign cultures: Arabs through Islam on the one side, English on the other.
Few Malays, if any, could have imagine that the Arab side would triumph over the English today, 50, 60 years after independence. One consequence is this: Zaid Ibrahim (apologies to him) is a Malay very different from Hadi Awang or even Bung Mokhtar Radin. Zaid positions the Malay place in the sun in the English notion of fair-play and temperance, whereas Bung Mokhtar (and Ibrahim Ali) is all about Hail Melayu! Or in Zaid’s place, imagine Tunku Aziz or, better yet, Petra Kamarudin whose only solid claim to Malayness is Islam since his royal ancestry is only one half his lineage, while his preferred custom is western rather than Melayu, and the thinking in his language is 17th century old, suffused in Cartesian subjectivity instead of the Asian concepts of duality.
Little is published or documented about this ‘constitutional Malay’, his life, his past, what it is, or who they actually were prior to the Europeans. And this is partly because the idea of the Malay was, after all, a late, colonial creation and a legal invention. Perhaps it is this absence of a historiography that explains why Malays (Mahathir Mohamad most notorious of all) are at pains to claim Malaysian citizenship as equal to the indigenous inhabitants even though no Chinese or Indian had ever contested that claim: if the house is yours, it is yours.
Thanks now to PAS ascendancy (assisted by the DAP, egging the Chinese) and thanks to Anwar Ibrahim for kissing the feet of some Iranian mullah, the Malay identity, Malaysian citizenship by extension, is no longer hinged on who they once were. It is what they had become: an ummah.
With the arrival of Pakatan’s (disingenuous) ‘race-free’ politics, the last thread in the race-citizenship nexus has at last broken, shifting to religion instead, specifically Islam, and this then is used – solely and entirely – to dictate the terms of being Malay. Hudud, the A-word, the bible seizures (Hallelujah!), death and children abductions, and Abdul Hamid Mohamad – all of which have in combination and in their separate ways appear to question the rights of other Malaysians, hence their citizenship.
But what if those acts and events were intended, surreptitiously enacted then played up, to reassert and to reestablish the Malay identity claim so that even Indonesian Christians (one of who was charged for khalwat) would not be spared. If true, it raises the question: against who, if not the Malays, were those events being trolled out? As a lesson for some political bigwig, like how the Chinese is often thrown into ring for the sacrifice each time some Malay groups staged a Kelantan cock fight?
Spot the Malay
In November 2009, Najib Razak visited the South Sulawesi town of Makassar then said, “I feel like I am returning to my roots.” Najib might be reaffirming his roots of a so-called and a fictitious Nusantara but, in such a Sulawesi town, they go by names like Ichsan Limpo, wear clothes called bodo, get titles like Mappadulung Daeng Mattimung Karaeng — all very foreign to the Malays in the Indonesian island of Riau or Malaysia — and they call themselves people of the Gowa kingdom from which Najib is a royal descendant.
No other prime minister before him has been more forthright about their actual root-identity and that, in its turn, stirs question marks about the Malay claim to equal indigenous status. Mahathir, that piece of kutty, didn’t like it one bit. Ever so ready to spill his mouth about so many things, he makes little or no play about his South Asian (Tamil?) ancestry in order not to diminish his Malay credentials. But, in Najib, it comforts the pendatangs to know that their prime minister is really not much unlike them and that they share a a long, long history of kings, kingdoms, and customs descended from palace grounds. They also don’t share any desert history.
Viewed in the eyes of Malays, Najib’s home journey would have raised eyebrows because its inference would fundamentally affect the meaning of Malay and, after which, the notions of building a multicultural state on the backbone of a dominant Malay ‘race’. Would it signify policies that will make Malays and the Chinese equal one day? Can they? Will it be allowed? Are they even the same in their immigrant identities?
Neither Anwar nor Lim Kit Siang nor Hadi Awang nor Malaysiakini made things any easier for Najib, each taking turns to chew at his credentials to rule and then to spit at his live-and-let-live philosophical approach towards citizenship. Those men simply played democracy’s political game, completely oblivious and naive to the underlying reality that the adversarial ground rules used in the west shouldn’t – and couldn’t – be made applicable in Asia, Malaysia in particular, even if it’s for no reason other than to keep the peace. They were being liberals.
In the visit’s aftermath, then followed by Najib’s national policy (1Malaysia) initiatives to reconcile a fractious country, there has to be, surely, a re-examination of what it’s to be Malaysian. And if the Malay is indeed the existential core, the basis for Malaysia’s (or Malaya’s) creation and for establishing its statehood, and with which everything else is build around it, then any change in the Malay identity would, invariably, mean a shift in defining the terms of Malaysian citizenry. In another phrasing, change the Malay and you’ll change the Chinese in Malaysia and Malaysia changes.
This isn’t for the first time the idea of the Malay, that is, his existential identity, is shifting. It was, after all, never a fixed, inviolable notion from the beginning, unlike the Chinese or Indian. A Chinese is a Chinese no matter how much a man such as Ridhuan Tee may wish otherwise. One look at him and the answer is there. On the other hand, Kadir Jasin, the former journalist now electing himself to give state policy advise was once asked by his blog readers, which came first, the Malay or the Muslim in him, as if the two are distinct.
To satiate the existential angst among them, Kadir couldn’t just turn to the Constitution where the answers – religion, language and custom – when not banal are also not useful since the qualities of Malayness are so narrow and, worse, they aren’t ranked. After a period of silence, he gave the only answer possible, one that could stand up to scrutiny: he is Muslim first and foremost.
This seems like quite a shift in thinking, but that’s only because the question was rarely ever tackled before. For the Muslim Kadir to precede the Malay Kadir he would have to shove custom and language down one rung. But, more important than that, it makes the Malay almost as sacrosanct as his religion. Questioning the the Malay today is as blasphemous as questioning Islam: both are now inviolable. (Pity Zaid Ibrahim: each time he calls, critically, on the Malay he has to first issue an introductory caveat, an apology of sort.)
In this circumstance and in the re-working of Malay-Muslim identity, the biggest threat to Najib Razak’s political career comes not from Anwar nor from the Chinese turning to the DAP and away from MCA. It comes instead from Malays worried that, when the Malay character shifts in the ground beneath their feet, whether or not they still stay at the top of the pecking order. What would the like of Sakmongkol, Dyana Sofya, Haris Ibrahim bring to the future of the Malay identity? If there exist only Malaysians, all equal and so on, and if the Malay identity is so nebulous, so vulnerable to interpretation, how will the Malay end up? Once the political fights – PAS vs Umno, Malaysian Malay vs Malay First, liberal Malay vs ultra Malay – starts to rock the foundations of identity and assault the Malay soul and loyalty, where shall the Malay stand? What is he to do? In the end, when dust settles after the assault, is the Malay soul going to be intact? Is it worth anything? Is there even an indigenous Malay soul? Or, is it, in its nature, actually something else? Or Javanese?
Kampung life was, once upon a time, simpler when no questions are asked. It’s the Faustian dilemma: the more one knows, the closer you are to the devil.
From existential doubts such as these, it explains why organizations like Isma and Perkasa, and persons as different as Kadir Jasin, Abdul Hamid and Abdullah Zaik should talk so much about safeguarding Malay and Islam: the redefined Malay is no longer the kind of Malay Mahathir wrote about in his pseudo-sociological tract The Malay Dilemma. It explains why religious authorities routinely defy the state – since Malays don’t belong to Umno – then the civil government, the judiciary and the police because, at stake, is no more about what makes the Malay and the power and influence he wields over the Chinese and others. Those are a given, handed to them even before Umno’s existence. It is whether there is going to be a future for a Malay as an ethnic group, what that future looks like, and how much its power will deliver, to what purpose and to serve whom if not the Malay.
Kampung life gets complicated as it gets political.
After which, when politics from the city demand from the Malay a decision – whose side you are on, the Chinese or the Melayu, Tunku Abdul Rahman or Mahathir or Harun Idris? – Malays convulse into camps and camp for war. Muhyiddin Yassin warning of another May 13 had intended the message for the like of Najib and his transformation agenda, suggests Zaid Ibrahim and there Zaid was correct. When Malays break into warring camps, as it had happened during the May 13 days, one side invariably picks on the Chinese for the sacrificial slaughter.
So the DAP and its Malaysiakini minions, never knowing when to shut up, will capitalize on Muhyiddin’s faulty tongue to drive home its political slogans of an oppressed minority, now threatened with death and mutilation. They will hand over even more ammunition to one Malay camp to start the slaughter simply because the dead on the streets won’t be named P. Ramasamy for he is safely ensconced in Penang, but some poor sod of a shopkeeper or noodle hawker in Kampung Baru.
Above and below: Malays before and after transformation, but both are ignored or dismissed in the Hamid-Muhyiddin projection of the new Malay; no wayang, no aurat, no rock n roll, no more looking to the jungles and the sky, more prayers (think of Hannah ‘Lives for God’ Yeoh), more god, more power and more influence.
Abdul Hamid, the former Chief Justice, seems like an odd addition to the list of free thinking usurpers but not if one listens to how he, like Ibrahim Ali, douses the Malays in the same sanctimonious language as PAS mullahs and DAP apparatchiks would give to Islam – it is the Ramadhan month. Turning the Malay sacred is a work-in-progress.
But blasphemy is a Christian cultural invention, popularized today as a western liberal value which even British-educated intellectuals like Kua Kia Song term, mistakenly, as a ‘universal’ value. In legal form, blasphemy became sedition, landing persons like Karpal Singh in the dock. In the bully media pulpit of Malaysiakini, it is considered blasphemous – and racist as well – to label the child of a Chinese mother Chinese (Hannah Yeoh). Like Malay or like God neither of who can be spoken ill of, race has become a taboo-word. No different from Umno politics, Pakatan, because it is supposedly race-free, tills the Malaysian political soil in seeds of liberal standards.
Liberalism in Malaysia is neither an attitude nor a style of politics; it is moral dogma not unlike PAS Islamism or Hannah’s Christian evangelism. This explains why the DAP (or PKR) is as authoritarian (aside Norman Fernandez, Kua Kia Song, Lee Lam Thye, et al were also its victims) as is PAS, and they welcome the like of Hannah Yeoh, people schooled in and indoctrinated by Anglo-American liberalism where surveys after surveys show that 95 percent or something of its professors vote Democrats and not Republicans.
Both sides, Islamists and Pakatan liberals, sitting so well together, don’t make an aberration in Malaysian politics; they collaborate so well because their dogma are sourced from the same absolutism of religious intolerance, and because dissent against and views opposing the party (again, think Norman Fernandez) and their leadership are treated as blasphemy and is met with the same heavy-handedness as the law. In popular online culture this blasphemy and its liberal authoritarianism (for examples, see the comments section in Malaysiakini or Malaysian Insider) are tweeted and expressed in venomous, mocking terms and in a virulent, moral language: Evil! Evil! Evil! Racist! Bigots! Extremist!
These methods of intolerance against opposing views make Umno’s domineering ways pale in comparison.
Zaid Ibrahim or Tunku Aziz or Norman Fernandez were shown the door because they were as politically naive as they were deluded in their own perceptions of liberalism. They didn’t think that liberal contraptions like the free man or equal rights are as illusory as the place called heaven and such concepts were never, to begin with, grounded on the actual human conditions nor on reality but were plucked from the Abrahamic faiths instructed from the mountain top: ‘Thou shall obey the Lord God Jehovah and no other!’
But politics is about making trade-offs so that, if the neighbors don’t wish each other good morning, they at least won’t quarrel over Hannah’s dog shit found on the driveway; politics is an artistic enterprise. Since Pakatan’s arrival, its ubah politics has turned this humanistic endeavor – recall Barisan’s live-and-let live philosophical approaches – into an absolutist and morality bully pulpit platform so that it’s strongest effect on the human heart is felt not in the Chinese swing in votes. No, it has to be found among Malays themselves. Given all the foul things said about the government, their government (the Chinese presence in it, because they are just furniture, represents another Umno failure), Malays must have asked, Are we such a bad people?
Equal to its bullying postures (recall Anwar: ‘if you don’t change, we go to the streets’), liberal morality is so well policed only because its ideas were never regarded as worthy to be won on merit (neither Christianity nor Islam win adherents by appealing to humanity or reason). But they are instead bulldozed into your consciousness so that ad hominem attacks (poor Helen Ang) is typically their weapon of choice: Hell has known no fury but a liberal scorned. Here’s a typical Malayskini headline, reflecting this liberal bullying that’s heavy in moral tone and full of pious judgment: ‘How did Abdul Hamid came to be a top judge?’ It reads as if Abdul Hamid, having shown his hand and his prejudices, has blasphemed against a kind of moral order determined by the liberal editors of Malaysiakini.
There is no contradiction to liberalism to hear a Malay such as Abdul Hamid, speaking solely in favor of Malays and Muslims. He was, after all, cut from the same cloth as Hannah Yeoh’s (low class?) legal education in Australia, schooled and trained in English law, and a senior judge to boot.
One way to see their commonality is to picture Abdul Hamid alongside Dyana Sofya, DAP’s failed by-election candidate for Teluk Intan: two generations apart, with two seemingly different ideologies. Yet they employ the same language of political rights and of economic and social entitlements. That is to say, they till the same grounds, farm and harvest from the same field. Abdul Hamid is what Reuters or Bloomberg might call an ‘ultra’ Malay and Dyana a liberal Malay. But their differences are hardly fundamental. (Americans say, scratch the skin of a Democrat and a Republican, they’re the same.) Both or either must ultimately fall back on the Federal Constitution and the Penal Code, so that even if Isma (or PAS or Umno) want hudud they are merely acting on ground rules and on entitlement set out from the beginning by liberalism.
PAS mullahs are no less liberal for their Malay-Muslim only proposals and for the full flowering of Islam than Dyana for her anti-hudud legal position as a part of her (DAP) version of a new moral order. Where their differences lay, it is in speaking only to different subsets of ‘the People’; each, on their own terms, defining their version of what it is to be the future Malay. On the one side, the Malay is told they must fall back to Islam, the more hudud, the quicker the better because it’s the only way to sustain – or to regain – the past, political status quo and this had kept the peace, in the kampungs in particular. On the other hand, that is, Dyana’s but with script written by Lim Kit Siang, the status quo had turned Malay farm hands into factory pinheads; all are equal in law, yes, but equally poor; fret not Melayu! we have a new Messiah, his name, Anwar Ibrahim.
To call Isma ‘more dangerous’ than Perkasa, because the former employs Islam as a cover, Parit Buntar PAS MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa uses the same moral, ‘racist’ label as would the DAP and PKR on Umno and its minions. But, Mujahid omits to say that PAS also uses the same Islamic cover to wield power, and like Umno, employs ideological orthodoxy to police acceptable behaviour and conduct. Their methods, committed through Islamic agencies in particular, include open shaming (khalwat raids), public prosecutions, re-education (for apostates), abductions (children and the dead) and mass rallies. These might seemed shocking but those methods copy liberals in the west who, by harnessing offenses, against minorities especially, then dousing these grievances in their own morality, have leveled everything they touched.
Thus, when Hannah Yeoh or Lim Guan Eng returned from Australia, they would politicize every piece of indignation, cloak these in moralizing terms and direct mob responses to anywhere they dislike. Like Umno, like Nazi Germany and like Stalinists they mastered at creating enemies against whom anger would be harvested then used to pave the road to power. Since race is taboo in their new politics, Guan Eng would resort to religion so that, on one Wesak occasion, he went as far as urging Buddhists to side with Christians in order to rise up against Malay-Muslim power. Mujahid, by chastising Isma for using Islam, was simply reflecting Pakatan’s methods.
Like Guan Eng, Muhyiddin would invoke May 13 as a means to warn Najib not to be another Tunku Abdul Rahman: not enough Malay in him, not enough Islam, too much Bugis, and too much a friend of the Chinese, you see. Chinese in the MCA could see that piece of wayang – pointing to the mulberry while scolding the plum tree is a classic Chinese idiom – but not Kit Siang nor Steven Gan, they being liberals and Anglophiles that they are. Bananas, like KTemoc of Australia.
But it isn’t just politicians and liberals. Even more than Umno, Muhyiddin, Hamid and their pro-ketuanan bloggers (think Helen Ang), Ridhuan Tee especially exemplifies the shift from the citizenship-race connection into another nexus of citizenship and morality. That he is (was?) Chinese, and that he reflects the new Moral Order, and even the new kind of race-free politics and citizenship that migrates into Malayness, Pakatan is especially powerless to fight against. And, mostly, they’re speechless in their rebuttals towards Ridhuan. PAS rarely, if ever, say a thing against Tee for he epitomize what it is to be a Malaysian: masuk Melayu.
Citizenry is a western invention as a legal device for it to be made punishable, with death for treason, when the state is violated. In ancient China, notably during the Han and Tang eras, citizenry was never acquired, and held no meaning once the grain and salt taxes and military obligations were fulfilled. Insurrection is against the ruler not the state which, at the time, was subject to so many shifting military alliances that loyalty to the state made no sense. Today, Chinese citizenship is actually trust upon you but parents who break the one-child policy are content for the second or third child to live without the IC by not registering their births. Nobody has problems with that, for they are still Chinese, whether by citizenship or by ethnicity. With a payment – from each according to his ability – sympathetic county officials look the other way, arrest no one, but liberal, western reporters label such acts as corruption.
In all cases, statehood is still the highest expression of citizenry, that is, belonging to a country, a concept perfected by German philosophers since Friedrich Hegel.
Umno Malays: ‘You were poor, we gave you citizenship. Now, we made you rich, you don’t vote us.’
If this wasn’t convoluted illogic, it would be unreal, so unreal that Umno minions (Ahi Attan, Abdullah Zaik, Kadir Jasin) still can’t see why the party is paying so dearly for its failures. And the failures include the revolt happening within. Even some Malays see no sense in Umno - if 52 percent of the population didn’t vote Barisan, that would be a lot of Malays among them and not just ‘some’. Meanwhile, other Malays wonder: Are we such a bad people?
In Malaysia, citizenry (even for Malays) was conceived as a trade-off among the races. This is as if a Malay state had existed beforehand, since the beginning of time, and that such a state had preceded citizenship when it should have been the other way around. Recall that the word Malay is not defined in the Constitution on any physiological basis like one would give to a Chinese or a German or a Japanese. No; being Malay is an acquired thing, not born with.
This might explain why Ridhuan Tee, having acquired Malayness, is such a hotshot among Malay audiences especially since he has learned to say his prayers in an Arabic language and he could, simultaneously, kick the Chinese and then escape moral condemnation as racist. For Ibrahim Ali and Abdullah Zaik to say the same Tee-things about the Chinese, they were acting predictable like so many Umno people before them. But A-Tee is special; he is a new birth of the Malay.
If Malaysia is indeed a Malay state (it never was) then it was an invention, hammered together on the pinheads of legality and threats of punishment, for how else could the British extract themselves from a strip of peninsular they no longer want? When the British quit Hong Kong, it was needless to declare it a state. So, if they didn’t leave behind a ‘Malaya’, a working state, to what and to whom is independence given? And what populates it?
In the experiences and in the history of early Chinese there was never a cause to argue why it should matter to who independence is granted. Or in whose and in what name. This emperor or that ruler made no difference once they came down to asking for tax money and teenage boys to fight their wars.
But westernized Malays (think Mahathir and his fanboys like Ahirudin Attan and Kadir Jasin) would interpret the Chinese indifference to statehood as a sign of loyalty to the motherland and not as a gesture of deferring to the Malays in their demand for political dominance. As if that wasn’t enough, these kutty Malays would, in their English ways of thinking, extrapolate that indifference into a sign of disloyalty to Malaysia. It’s all very abstract – loyalty to Malaysia – but such attitudes in Mahathirism persists even today. So Chinese are disloyal towards what, exactly? But now they have said it plainly: The Malays did the Chinese a favor, giving them a country, a state (not land though which the Chinese must still pay for at a premium over market price) and yet they are not voting Umno or Barisan.
Such thinking reaffirms a critical point in post-independent Malaysian citizenship: Umno had never offered, Mahathir Mohamad least of all, a chance for the Chinese, Indians and Kadazandusuns to feel like citizens.
On the contrary, citizenship, since it was promulgated as an exchange, as a trade-off, and not for the purpose of state building it became a ready-made political weapon. Notorious for using it a bludgeoning tool are the Malay bloggers (Ahi Attan), failed, present and ex-journalists (Sheridan Mahavera), and religious officials and other mid-ranked officers who can’t tolerate a Chinese never subscribing to a masuk Melayu agenda.
In this context, the PAS offer of national belonging through its so-called welfare state and through the ‘PAS For All’ slogan has so little appeal. Its vision of statehood was not unlike Umno’s Ketuanan ideology; the differences were in their pretenses. PAS casts statehood purely in Islamic language and veils citizenship in terms of its religious, moral uprightness. It is, in effect, extending Umno’s form of sectarian government rather than working to craft a modern statehood that embraces all.
Umno’s style of sectarianism was camouflaged (by inducting MCA and MIC) in a cannibalized form of western democratic liberalism, whereas PAS (PKR and DAP by extension) does a repaint job, covering it up in religiosity for the benefit of its core Malay constituents. Recall how DAP and PKR minders use to apologize for PAS saying that religion is race-free and that, in moral terms, if you do nothing wrong, why fear hudud? The religious quality in this pretense, the lying, is so plain to see, it is no wonder Sabah and Sarawak should so readily reject PAS despite its overtures, now supported there by PKR and the DAP.
Malaysia’s moribund constitution, or whatever its left of it, is the only thread leaving the country hanging. That few people, including the police, give it a damn today is not happenstance in the present political environment: it was never, to begin with, used as a building block for constructing a country and statehood.
Wong Chin Huat (in ‘1946 When It All Went Wrong‘) argues that the constitution is the end-result of a negotiated deal between the Chinese and Malays, intended to slowly ‘melt’ Chinese into Malay. That’s saying about how it is to be a Malay person, not a Malaysian citizen. If Wong is right (but he is not), then the constitution is clearly a farce, a racist project of de-Sinization, and not a statement of statehood and citizenry. Wong’s inference is that the constitutional hold on statehood and on the making of the Malaysian is even far more tenuous than it already is.
In post Tunku Abdul Rahman years, especially during Mahathir’s tenure, citizenship held by Chinese is seen by many in Umno as a burden, a cost – sometime to bear and to tolerate under a narrow-minded racial governance regime. Consequently, its party apparatchiks, including among those of its present-day Chinese supporters (Helen Ang), speak periodically of citizenry only in reference to Umno and at other times in reference to a mythical social contract as if that were a thing greater than the Constitution, even superseding it.
The Constitution may define citizenship but that’s purely in administrative terms and never in the sense of citizenry in its active, participatory sense (voting and paying taxes being obvious cases). Shared language and customs may be even harder to forge, but were they necessary to begin with for a Malaysian to be Malaysian?
Once Umno insisted on hinging citizenship to a single, common identity rather than multiple identities it was, in effect, making yet more pretenses, denying the reality that Malaysia is a federalist state resting on a multiplex structure and a multicultural base. Where else in the modern world are there nine kings in a single kingdom? Where else in the world is there a state build on a hodgepodge of other independent states: Kingdom of Sarawak, the British North Borneo Company (i.e. Sabah), the Straits Settlements, the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States. It is remarkable Malaysia has even come this far, so the credit of national construction, given so far only to Malays, must be given as well to the Chinese and Indians and Kadazandusuns for been reticent about power and for acceding to Malay political demands.
Now, who, or which pendatang group, is being ungrateful?
More than even Malaysia’s federalist, multiplex structure, there is another, and deeper, existential reason to treat Malaysia as a plurality of nations and peoples and it is this: the Malays who constitute the citizenship core, that is, the core of its statehood, are themselves a multiple identity. Malays in Kelantan is one kind of a Malay, Najib a Bugis kind, Mahathir a kutty kind, Ridhuan a celup, Muhyiddin, PAS members are an Arabian kind, and so on.
If only the Malays will see this, then all the breast-beating about safeguarding the Malay would be unnecessary. Abdul Hamid could save his spittle to argue with his Allah why he should have a place in heaven. And Isma or PAS, both trying to collapse the Malay into a single version of an Arabian-styled mullah, would have to be disbanded. No audience, you see.
Instead, statehood is today as ambiguous as citizenship is tenuous. The first left open and left to make any which way one wants of the second. In combination it especially left Umno Malays to make of both anyway they like: only the Malay government give citizenship. One minister once call citizenship (he means it to the Chinese only) a ‘privilege’ – reaffirming the idea that citizenship came from a trade-off, as opposed to a jus sanguinis birth right adopted in much older states like Germany and China.
But this way of thinking and arguing shoots oneself in the mouth. It is to imply there are no Malays by birth or, if they exist, their citizenship aren’t automatic by right. This contradiction is a creation of Umno’s propaganda; what Umno gives Umno can also take away, an idea, a thinking and a practice that have come to characterize one of the core tenets of Malaysian sectarian governance. Small wonder the Chinese don’t feel like citizens, and yet they should be accused of being ungrateful. Pity the Chinese, returning one day, standing in queue at the airport immigration counter, that he should feel and wonder if he would be permitted by the Malay officer into the country. Apanama? Helen Kutty Ang? Is it even his country? But, the Malay immigration man is only doing what Umno has taught him for so long to perceive and to feel: the Chinese is only a pendatang unless his name is Ridhuan ‘Ultra Kiasu’ Tee.
We’re all Malaiyoos? Over your dead body, A-Tee!