Friday, February 13, 2009

Ketuanan Melayu? How about Keagungan Melayu? - Pt 1

“Ketuanan Melayu” is a lightning rod phrase attracting no shortage of passionate reactions - anger, loyalty, hatred, shock, etc. It has become a convenient rallying cry of many a politician and their agents and has caused deep divisions in the country, not just among Malay and non-Malay, but even among different segments of Malay society.

Many unpleasant demonstrations have been held, many ugly threats have been issued and many vicious words have been exchanged over this contentious issue, both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere.

The core contention of this issue seems to lie with the various connotations of just what “Ketuanan Melayu” is. The generally accepted essence of it (as can be gleaned from the frequent highlights in the Malay and non-Malay media) seem to be:

- That Malays hold a superior position in this country, by virtue of their race

- That Malays race is entitled to this superior position by virtue of being the dominant modern settlers of Malaysia

- This superior position applies to anything related to Malay heritage, including language, culture and Royalty

- That this superior position, and by extension, the extra privileges granted to the Malays, are an exclusive right and must not be challenged as it is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution

While to many, this line of thinking has powerful overtones of promoting a super-race, others would argue that this is merely the expression of the Malay Nationalist struggle. The exertion of the Malay agenda is an understandable reaction against the threat of the Malay identity being overwhelmed in the Malay's homeland.

(While I can appreciate this line of thought, how relevant such Nationalistic struggles still are within the context of Malaysia's stated aspiration to be a modern, globalised and multi-racial nation is a whole other debate that I will not tackle in this article.)

I would not hold it against those who are sincere in their beliefs and passionate about improving the lot of their race. Such persons' strength of conviction can and should be harnessed for the positive development of the Malay race.

Some people, however (mainly the more extreme politicians and their agents), would take the concept of "Ketuanan Melayu" even further:

- That all other races are ethnically/culturally inferior to the Malays

- That true national unity will be achieved by either expelling the non-Malays from the country or assimilating them as a Malay sub-group, with a pseudo-Malay identity

- If the above cannot be achieved, then the next best thing would be to emasculate the non-Malays and keep them on a tight leash

- The slightest disagreement with such a concept is regarded as attempts by anti-Malay forces against the validity of the Malay identity itself

For those who subscribe to such intolerant thinking, emotional outbursts over perceived threats to Ketuanan Melayu are understandable and predictable.

And to opportunistic politicians – both Malay and non-Malay – the hypersensitive nature of this segment of society provides an endless well of discontent to be exploited for their own ends. It's so easy for them to arouse suspicions and rally the masses to a common cause against the bogeyman – especially if they have installed themselves as the de facto leaders of such a movement.

To uplift the lot of Malays is certainly a worthy cause. It should be pursued vigorously until its stated claims are achieved (not just in financial statistics but in the overall development of Malay human capital). And "Ketuanan Melayu" – for better or for worse – has become a convenient catchphrase to express this Malay struggle. Unfortunately, it also burdened with all the attendant connotations – from the noble to the extreme.

For opportunistic politicians to hijack the legitimate struggle to regain the eminence of the Malays is disgusting, to say the least. To debase a noble cause and use it as a cover to grab and maintain power, to use it to obfuscate the masses while they grow rich, to prey upon the citizen's discontent in order to attain their petty ends, is a terrible disservice to the race and country (including the non-Malays).

For we cannot escape the fact that the Malays, as the dominant majority of Malaysia, are sorely needed to provide leadership for this nation. And by leadership, I do not mean installing loud and ruthless characters into positions of power. I mean REAL, positive, visionary Malay leadership that will take our country to the next level of development.

However, I fail to see how the way that Ketuanan Melayu is currently being bandied about can benefit the nation in any way.

The shrill cries for and against "Ketuanan Melayu" by low-class politicians hoping to attract attention and support will not bring us the national development we badly need. Installing such low-class politicians into positions of power (and they in turn installing their little Napoleons in various other positions) will logically create a low-class political culture, low-class political leadership and low-class policies.

This will spell the end of our nation!

As such, I would like to propose an alternative to the Ketuanan Melayu concept. And to distinguish it from the contentious phrase of “Ketuanan Melayu”, I would like to use another phrase – “Keagungan Melayu” (Malay Eminence).

In subsequent posts, I will try to explain more on this concept of "Keagungan Melayu" and how it can be another equally powerful rallying cry for the Malay cause - along the lines of "Malaysia Boleh!"