The March to Tanah Melayu   

By Yin, Letters from Ward 5, T.R.

Socks, crosses, banning the sale of alcohol in convenience stores etc are distractions from a greater threat to the multi-racial nature of our country. It is a smoke screen to hide the true intent of chauvinistic Malay politicians.

The Elephant in The Room

It is time we talked about the elephant in the room – something we have been putting off but which we can no longer ignore. Our existence as a united multi-racial, multi-cultural nation of Malaysians as envisaged by our founding fathers is under threat from those who want to make it Tanah Melayu under Shariah law. 

The post Merdeka administration of Tunku was the only truly multi-racial government the country had. It is not just the composition of the government. Policies were made for the greater good of the country and not for one race or religion. There was a spirit of ‘give-and-take’ and there was goodwill among the races. Tunku genuinely tried to build a united multi-racial Malaya (and later Malaysia) but his detractors had other ideas and he was ousted.

Tunku: “You know Harun was one of those – Harun, Mahathir, Ghazali Shafie – who were all working with Razak to oust me.”  (K. Das and the Tunku Tapes – compiled and edited by Kua Kia Song).

We mixed more easily then. Every day was ‘open house’, not just at festivals. Maybe it was the broad education we had and the mixing of the different races at a young age – especially in Mission Schools. Islam was also not as intolerant of its adherents and others. There was no strict dress code, no religious police to ensure compliance to rules. This made it easier for Muslims and non- Muslims to intermingle.

Then came Mahathir’s Ketuanan Melayu. ‘Political Islam’ followed.

Now we don’t even sit in the same kopitiam much less at the same table anymore – the Malays and the Lain Lain. When we talk, it is superficial small talk – never about the elephant in the room, never what is in our heart. We pretend that all is well; that ‘Malaysia is Truly Asia’. Tourists may buy that tag-line but we know better.

In retrospect, UMNO leaders after Tunku worked against a multi-racial Malaysia as envisioned in 1957. Their dream was Tanah Melayu, a country where Malays are the owners and the others “guests” – here at the pleasure of the host race, with little say in how the country is run. This dream was shared by leaders of other Malay parties even if their strategies differed. Each tried to ‘out-Malay’ and ‘out-Islam’ the other.

The Road to Tanah Melayu

Putting the pieces together one can see a well thought out strategy to achieve Tanah Melayu.

A good farmer  first prepares the soil before he sows his seeds. Likewise a good politician and Mahathir was a politician par excellence. Malays were told how they are deprived of the fruits of ‘their own land’ by the rapacious Chinese and Indian immigrants. Even when offered citizenship in return for recognising the ‘special position’ of the Malays – a sort of ‘social contract’ – they broke the agreement.  Malays were warned ‘they would disappear like the Red Indians of America’. The idea that the Chinese and Indians were untrustworthy was planted in the Malay psyche.  The ground ready, the seeds of ‘Tanah Melayu’ was sowed.

Political Spins

  1. The most dangerous political spin that has gone largely unchallenged is that the Malays were generous in allowing the Non-Malays citizenship in 1957 in exchange for the Non-Malays accepting the ‘special position’ of the Malays with regard to Article 153 of the Constitution. This became the imaginary ‘Social Contract’ dredged up by Malay politicians whenever there was a dispute concerning their “special position” No documents were presented to support this claim because none exists.

This ‘special position’ refers to the socio-economic situation of the Malays vis a vis the Non-Malays in 1957. The ‘special privileges’ refers to the affirmative action policies formulated to lift their socio-economic level to that of the Chinese and Indians. It is not ‘special privileges’ in the sense of “racial entitlement”, that just because one is a Malay one is entitled to these ‘special privileges’ in perpetuity. If that were the case a time limitation clause of 15 years would not have been written into Article 153. Imagine the Chinese and Indian leaders condemning future generations of Chinese and Indians to second class citizenship. This affirmative action ‘special privileges’ was later extended to “when Malays have 30% of the GDP” – a target set by the government.

This target was reached by 2015 according to Dr Lim Teck Ghee which the government denied but would not reveal government data or its methodology when challenged. It would seem that the government intend Malay privileges to continue in perpetuity.

The socio-economic environment and demography of the country at that time:

At independence the “Malays were mainly rice growers and planters of coconuts and other agricultural produce. They also served in the army, police and civil service.

The Chinese were the mainstay of the tin mines, were market-gardeners, artisans, shopkeepers, contractors, clerks and financiers.

The Indians – beyond the rubber plantation; Indians were recruited for public works and railway. They were in the hospitals, police and the bureaucracy.”

The British were the colonial rulers. They also hold the major share of the economy – the big plantations and tin mines were British owned. The major trading houses and agencies were British.

The demography of Malaya in 1957 was:

 Malays – 3,125.500    Chinese – 2,333.800   Indians – 696.200   Others -123.300

(Total Malays – 3125.5   Total Non-Malays – 3153.3).

 At the time of independence Malays were in the minority (relative to the rest) even including large numbers of immigrants from Sumatra and Java especially during the first four decades of the 20th Century who were classified as Malays. In other words, the number of local Malays was even less than as stated  above. 

Can you imagine the British not granting citizenship to those Non-Malays who want it (whether the Malays liked it or not) when the economy depended on the[I1] m. Britain was just coming out of WW2 and colonies like Malaya were vital to the economy of Britain which still had a huge economic stake in Malaya even after 1957. Britain could not risk its cash cow when money was needed to rebuild a war-ravaged country.

 The British are realists. Without the Chinese and Indians the new nation of Malaya would not have been viable.

If the Chinese and Indians (who arrived in large numbers about the same time as the Javanese and Sumatrans in the early 1900s) were granted citizenship, so were the Sumatrans, Javanese and others who were not local born. So why the fuss about the Chinese and Indians getting citizenship?

 On a more practical level how could the new country function without the Chinese and Indians? Malays were averse to the back-breaking work and risks which the Chinese and Indians were prepared to undertake. That is why the British brought in the Chinese and Indians, to work the mines and rubber estates. They also constructed roads and railways and other infrastructure. They ran small businesses to service the community. There would not have been independence if this matter was not resolved because Malaya would not have been functional as an economy.

The Chinese and Indians are not here because of the generosity of the Malays; they are here because they served an economic purpose. They have paid for their citizenship with their blood, sweat and tears. There is no argument that the towns and infrastructure were built by them. They have given their lives fighting for the country, they have sweated to make the country prosperous. They owe no one anything; they have paid their way many times over . . . and are still doing! Even today, the minority Malaysians are carrying the majority according to Mahathir.

Hence acceptance of the ‘special position’ of the Malays by the Non-Malays is not in exchange for citizenship. Unfortunately, that like Goebel’s lies, told over years this narrative has taken on the guise of truth.

On the other hand, acceptance of the Malay ‘special position’ as per Article 153  which conceded to Malays certain ‘special privileges’ (time-limited) by the Chinese and Indians was necessary and pragmatic because without it the country would not work. It is impossible for half the population to be economically disadvantaged and not expect discontent. The Malays must be lifted up to the socio-economic level of the others. Article 153 is an ‘affirmative action’ legislation which the Non-Malays accepted. It is not a legislation for ‘Malay exclusivity’ which demanded privileges in perpetuity.

2. Indigeneity

Indigeneity as a basis for Malay claim to “special privileges” is a false claim. Fact is Malays are not indigenous to Malaya. They were early settlers on the land for sure. While ethnic Malays came from Rhiau and Deli in Sumatera others came from Java and other islands in the archipelago. What is the difference? except the Chinese came from China and the Indians from India.  We are all immigrants albeit some came earlier. The real indigenes are the Sengois, Semais, Jakuns, Negritos and other tribes, that is why they are called Orang Asli. In East Malaysia it would be the Dayaks, Kadazan-Dusuns, Muruts, Bidayuhs etc.

Also at the time of Merdeka many “Malays” are not ethnically Malays but Pakistanis, Indians etc who fit the constitutional definition of ‘Malay’ e.g. Mahathir Mohammed. These ‘celup Malays’ have even less claim to ‘special privileges’.

If the claim of indigeneity is the basis for ‘special privileges’ why are the Orang Asli at the bottom of the socio-economic heap?

It is worth reminding ourself that the international convention of citizenship does not allow for “special position” because of indigeneity. Once acquired, citizenship confers the same rights and responsibilities on all citizens. There are no different classes of citizenship based on colour or creed.

In short, the ‘special position’ of the Malays derives from its weaker economic position – not its claim to indigeneity,

Strategies for Tanah Melayu

Irrespective of the above, the purveyors of the dream persisted.

  1. From schools to mosques and government institutions the narrative for Tanah Melayu was spun. A ‘rewritten’ history skewed to emphasise the Malay position was taught in schools. The Biro Tata Negara diminished the contributions of the Non-Malays to nation building while exaggerating that of Malays. Mosques warned that Christians were out to convert Muslims. Every measure was taken to remove Christian symbols and practices, many Arabic words and phrases were forbidden to Non-Malays. All this in order not to confuse the Malays.
  2. Perhaps if everyone ‘masuk Melayu’ the issue of race (and religion) would be resolved. To this end the government introduced ‘the Malaysian Culture Policy 1971’ where only Malay, Islamic and Indigenous Cultures were recognised as ‘Malaysian’. Indian and Chinese cultures were not allowed in public. Children were not allowed to perform cultural dances of their respective race in school performances.

 The multi-racial, multi-cultural Malaysia as envisaged in 1957 would have vanished with one stroke of the pen except that the Chinese and Indians protested. Every Chinese Guild and Indian Association, Independent Vernacular Schools, Cultural Clubs etc rose in unison. MCA, MIC and Gerakan, subservient junior partners in the BN Government, had no choice but to speak up for their respective communities. DAP which had been calling for a Malaysian Malaysia could not resist the opportunity to score political points.

3. The rejection of the Malaysian Culture Policy did not blunt the push for Tanah Melayu. If one way failed, try another way. . .  In a master stroke, a Christian majority Sabah became a Muslim majority state overnight by the issuance of blue identity cards to illegal immigrant Muslim Filipinos  in the thousands.        

Sarawak saw what happened and took measures to protect itself from the Malay Islamic invasion.

4. Article 153 was hijacked by Malay leaders who ignored all provisions to protect the legitimate interests of the Non-Malays as required in the legislation. Chinese businesses were forced to close because their licences were not renewed. In other cases, Chinese businesses were forced to give up a substantial percentage of their shares to Malays. Government owned businesses like MAS were virtually given away and bought back at a loss or bailed out with public funds when they failed.

 A Malay mercantile class was created overnight what took the Chinese generations to build.

5. “Operasi Penuh Isi” an UMNO plan to fill all government positions with Malays was carried out. Government services were overwhelmingly Malays – way above their percentage of the population. Today the executive branch of government and government owned or linked companies are almost entirely Malay.

With banking, insurance, ports, imports of essentials, rice milling, energy, the automobile industry in the hands of Malays. Malays control a huge percentage if not the majority of the economy. With Malays controlling every lever of government and Malay making up the overwhelming majority of government employees, the Malay Agenda cannot fail.  Is Ismail Sabri’s declaration of a ‘Malay Government’  an announcement of the arrival of ‘Tanah Melayu’?

           Almost but not quite. Anwar Ibrahim still needed DAP and the other multi-racial parties in East Malaysia to keep him in power in the Unity Government against the ambitions of other Malay leaders.    

But Anwar is no less a racial and religious chauvinist. Despite his show of being a tolerant liberal Malay, his true colours emerge in less guarded moments. Jakim the department responsible for the development of Islam has a bigger budget than many ministries which served all sectors. Anwar has remained conspicuously silent in the face of protests by Non-Muslims across the country on the illegal conversion of Non-Malay minors. While he made it clear that under him affirmative action will be needs based yet rich Malays continue to enjoy special privileges while poor Non-Malays do not. He promised to help SMEs irrespective of race yet he did not open APs to Non-Malay companies like he did Malay SMEs.

Anwar is no less a Malay chauvinist than his former mentor Mahathir or any of the other Malay leaders. His Islamic credentials carried over from his ABIM days remain intact.

If the multi-racial Malaya/Malaysia we signed up for is to survive, the current state of affairs cannot remain unchallenged. The challenge has to come from all stakeholders –  Dayaks, Kadazan-Dusuns, Muruts – all Sarawakians and Sabahans – the Aslis, Chinese and Indians of Malaya but especially Malays who believe in and will fight for the Malaysia our fathers agreed on.

Are we witnessing the end of a dream and the beginning of a nightmare?

The Fat Lady has not sung.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

By Yin, Letters from Ward 5, The Happy Place, Tanjong Rambutan

Rebuilding Malaysia
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