By Yin, Letters from Ward 5
“Snubbed at home, Malaysian singer gets big break in U.S. and India” – Frankie D’Cruz (Free Malaysia Today 18th Sept. 2022).
When I read how Lyia Meta was snubbed by our government my reaction was “If she was a Malay she would have got all the money and help even if she did not ask for them” and she would not need to achieve half as much.
When I read about our World Champion Tower Runner, Soh Wai Ching not getting any recognition or help from our government, I thought “If he were a Malay he would be feted as a hero ”.
When I read about some Indian Malaysians reaching the top of Everest and the government did nothing, I thought “If they were Malay, they would have got money and titles.”
I am ashamed of myself for thinking along racial lines; but I don’t think I am the only one. This would have crossed the minds of most Non-Malays. This is the result of decades of social-conditioning from the Mahathir years onwards.
I come from a generation of Malaysians where race and religion did not loom large in our lives. Oh yes, we had our racial prejudices like every multi-racial society, but these were ironed out in the rough and tumble of our daily lives.
We children played with whoever we like without giving a second thought to our friend’s colour or religion. In school the person we sat with could be a Sikh or Malay or Chinese, no eye brows were raised. Our football heroes were Santokh Singh, Soh Chin Aun, Mokhtar Dahari.
My neighbours were Malays, Malay-Chinese, Indian Muslim, Indian, Ceylonese and Chinese in a block of twelve shophouses. The Malay and Indian boys spoke fluent Cantonese (just as I would expect a Chinese in Kota Bahru to speak fluent Kelantanese), we are a product of our environment.
We were proud Malayans (and later Malaysians). We were proud when our football team won the Merdeka Cup year after year. We were immensely proud when we won the Thomas Cup time after time, till it became almost monotonous. No one asked about the composition of our teams – we just knew they were the best Malaysians we have to represent us.
My Malay neighbours did not need the imam to tell them not consume food or drink in my house and no imams at that time made such pronouncements. They knew it was perfectly acceptable because we would be sensitive to their religious requirements. No mufti passed fatwas about celebrating non-Muslim festivals, they celebrated our festivals with us and us them. Malays sat with Indians and Chinese in kopitiams, each consuming what they like. No one was offended if you drank. The non-Malays were sensitive not to have pork at the table – there was no need for laws and regulations – common sense and discretion guided our actions. “Mandi Safar” was a fun time. Passing our Malay neighbour’s house we suddenly find buckets of water thrown at us. That was the start of a “water war” – we had such great fun.
The government of the day genuinely tried to foster national unity. I stood ramrod straight with my chest out whenever our national anthem was played and my eyes would go misty. I would defend the good name of Malaysia whenever an outsider criticised us. When abroad and someone called me a Chinese, I would correct him and say I am Malaysian.
We sang “satu bangsa dan satu negara, Malaysia berjaya . . .”
That was the Malaysia my generation knew – multi cultural, colourful, tolerant and happy.
My upbringing is not unique; every Malaysian of that generation would have a similar experience.
Those born before 1975 (the Baby Boomers) know what being Malaysian meant. We had only one citizenship “Malaysian”.The word “Bumiputra” does not exist in our constitution.
Then they drove a wedge between us. Powerful men, greedy, who would use race and religion to serve their selfish ends. They made some Bumiputras and others not.
Suatu bangsa merdeka yang kita impikan
Teresa jauh dari kenyataan
Kemarahan ku menjadi kepedihan
Bila kita dipisah-pishahkan
Jarak itu semakin berjauhan
Aku dapat gelaran ‘bumiputera’ dan kau bukan” (Usman Awang)
I am not relating this for syioksendiri or to tell you ‘grandfather’s stories’; my point is: If coming from a liberal, tolerant and inclusive society I can think like that – along racial lines – what chance have the Millennials got who were born into a Malaysia of Bumiputras and Non-Bumiputras. Educated within a system reinforcing Ketuananism and the defence of race and religion. Two generations have been subjected to this mental conditioning. The younger generation Malays were born thinking that it is the natural order to be ‘Tuan’ just as the younger generation Non-Malays think that being second class is also the natural order in our country.
But difficult as it is to get away from this mindset, I ask you to do some soul searching. Ask yourself how can it be that in 2022 there is still racial discrimination as a national policy in Malaysia when South Africa has done away with apartheid since 1974 and in most countries racial discrimination is outlawed, while in Malaysia racial discrimination is institutionalised and is the law.
Ask yourself how racial discrimination can be justified in the name of “affirmative action” One is based on needs, the other on race. The Mahathir years of racial discrimination (and those that followed) have not solved the problems of the Malay poor. It has only enriched the connected and influential Malays and Malay politicians at the expense of the Malay B40 and the Non-Malay poor.
You cannot solve a socio-economic problem by using a racial solution. Blaming the Non-Malays only detract from the government’s incompetence and corruption, but do little for the Malay poor.
Figure it out for yourself when they tell you your enemies are the Chinese and Indians who want to steal from you. Who are the thieves? Or that they want to convert Malays to Christianity. This has never happened. It is just fear mongering by racist politicians and religious zealots.
Non-Malays are not the cause of Malay problems. Dishonest Malay leaders who use the emotional triggers of race and religion are.
Your generation is more educated than mine. Many more have been to universities and many have studied overseas. It is up to you to explain to those less educated and exposed – the rural folk, that corruption under any circumstances is unacceptable but especially by the prime minister or leaders of the community.
Malays must change their feudal mindset. There is no such thing as “our leaders can do no wrong” – no one is above the law. We are not back in the days when rulers are demi-gods.
Tell the rural folk that money given out by the government is THE PEOPLE’S MONEY and not the personal money of politicians who hand it out especially during elections. Accepting such “bribes” does not mean you have to vote for the bribe-giver. Voting is by secret ballot, only you know who you voted for.
Cast off the feudal mentality that you should be grateful to elected representatives who do something in your kampong. They are elected to do just that and they are handsomely paid by you to do the work.
It is said that 40% of the seats in parliament is decided by the Malay Heartland. That is a very powerful lobby. The more educated Malay Millennials can make a generational change to the Malay Mindset for the betterment of the future generations. Assure your kith and kin in the kampungs that there is nothing to fear from change, that the Malay way of life is not in danger as some politicians tell you.
Look at East Malaysia; are the Malays and the Natives anywhere near extinction or in any way disadvantaged? There is no PAS there; how many Malays have been converted to Christianity?
Look at Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysians of all races and religions live harmoniously together.
In East Malaysia racial and religious differences do not poison the relationship between the races unlike in Semananjung. They have chosen to emphasise their commonalities, embrace multi-culturalism rather than let racist politicians exploit their differences.
“When can we extinguish the ethnic differences which continue to madden us
How long allow the flames to be stoked
By those who are constantly two faced?
How long hand over the fate of our children without sin
And the generations to come, our heirs
To those who covet profit and power?
When can we erase the differences
Between the starving poor and the exceedingly rich
Between two social groups and stations
The promise to the people of what merdeka means?” Usman Awang
Millennials, GE15 will be decided by your generation, with the newly minted voters from Gen Z tipping the balance in a tight race.
I ask you to give ourselves the chance to heal the wounds inflicted by decades of injustice and unfairness caused by racial discrimination which has divided our country. Go back to the vision of our founding fathers of a united Malaysia. Go back to the time when we were All Malaysians and not Bumiputras and Non-Bumiputras. Take the road of national unity, give every citizen his rightful place in the sun. Work towards a progressive and inclusive Malaysia that can face all competitions. A prosperous Malaysia for our heirs to inherit.
I am not asking you to stop being Bumiputras, I am asking that ALL of US who are born here be made Bumiputras – that is not taking anything away from the Malays. It does not make sense that Indonesians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis freshly off the boat are made Bumiputras yet those of us who were born here – indeed, with our roots going back a few hundred years – are considered pendatangs.
Difficult as it may be to break the chains of decades of social conditioning, you must, for the sake of the future generation.
If you think the past is just that and will not return, take a trip back to the future, visit Sarawak and Sabah. They are what we were, and there is no reason why we cannot be again – an inclusive, multi-racial, multi-cultural Malaysia of Malaysians.
The Sultan of Perak (touted as the next Agong) in his address at the 6th World Islamic Conference declared himself a firm believer in the virtues and value of diversity. “Without multiculturalism, I believe that our world becomes infinitely poorer. Different backgrounds, different faiths, different ethnicities: we all have so much to gain and learn from one another”. Nazrin Shah.
This is exactly the opposite of what some Malay leaders are telling the Malays.
When all citizens enjoy the same rights, the same justice, the same treatment, and be known as one race, Bangsa Malaysia, our country will progress and prosper. Most of all we will be a happier nation.
Time has run on, my generation’s voice grows feeble but no less passionate than when we held the ideals of youth. You are the majority, your voice is strong and vibrant, we need your generation to carry the ideals and vision of the nation our founding fathers had for us sixty five years ago – a multi-racial, multi-cultural nation of many races but one people.
The future of Malaysia is in your hands, my dear Millennials.
(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)
By Yin, Letters from Ward 5, Tanjong Rambutan