Monday, February 13, 2017

What It Means To Be Malay

The definition of Malay as a race in the constitution and hence the national economic policy has been and still is the fundamental source of  racial discrimination. In fact, in the way it is practiced, it is now a religious discrimination. We all know this is politics at its worst in this country. It may be about time that this explicit discrimination is removed from our national psyche.

It therefore gave me great joy to read this letter to the editor in the New Straits Times last week. For once, I feel that at last the NEP has produced enlightenment which can really be a light of hope for this nation of ours. I therefore copied that the letter below for you to read for yourself.

What It Means To Be Malay

by Dr. Sabariah Mohamed Salleh
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 
Bangi, Selangor

10 February 2017 

"According to Article 160 of the Constitution, a Malay is defined as someone who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks Malay and adheres to Malay customs. Therefore, I am constitutionally defined as a Malay. 

However, this does not erase the fact that my paternal grandfather, Pateh Akhir, was of Bugis descent and my maternal grandfather, Abu Bakar, was of Thai descent. 

To me, culture and cultural identity are interesting topics. When discussing cultural identity, people often look at a person’s history, ancestry and clothing as identifying markers. 

I remember sitting in my visual culture seminar, when I was doing my PhD in Vienna, Austria, when my lecturer, Professor Filitz, asked me: “What makes you a Malay?” 

Confidently, I said I spoke Bahasa Malaysia, wore baju kurung and celebrated Eid. 

He said: “Does this mean, by sitting here in my class, wearing a pair of jeans and Adidas sneakers, and speaking in English, you are not a Malay?” 

I was stumped. Growing up, I had always assumed that cultural denominators, like clothes and language, were elements that made us culturally distinct. 

To me, the basis of culture is made up of differences because we are assigned in a system that categorises us in groups, as exemplified by the racial categorisation that we adhere to when filling in forms and answering demographic questions. 

According to Filitz, this made me an essentialist. He said I had a utopian idea of what a Malay should be like, and that I had failed to realise that culture was constantly evolving. 

How was I sure that the concept of Malayness that I practised and believed in was the original Malay culture practised centuries ago?

“How can you put culture in a box?” Filitz said. 

That made me question myself. When getting dressed for work, I prefer suits than baju kurung. 

I express myself better in English. I am not well versed with the names of Malay kuih. Does that make me less Malay? 

Scholar Anthony Giddens said globalisation played a big role in how cultures were practised. He said new technologies and developments had encouraged people to venture out of their comfort zones to travel or immigrate. 

This increase in mobility makes it possible for cultural activities to be practised anywhere and for people to know cultures from around the world. 

Interestingly, nowadays, people do not have to travel to experience other cultures. 

The Internet and advanced technology have enabled people to offer recommendations for French cuisine in Paris, despite not being there. 

One can learn how to speak Korean from YouTube videos or experience Bhutan through an Instagram account. 

This virtual movement provides choices as to how people could construct their cultural identity. 

These options enable people to pick any style or personality they want and mix and match it to construct their identity. 

So, would it be possible for people to claim that they are purebred Malays, Chinese and Indians? 

I believe that cultural identity is immeasurable. For instance, no particular sect of Malay — Javanese, Bugis and Boyan— is more superior than the other. 

My limited knowledge of Malay syair or penchant for hot mocha and dim sum should not be a reflection of my level of Malayness. 

Stuart Hall aptly said cultural identity was fluid and constantly changing. 

Thus, as an individual, I can choose to adapt, change or omit any cultural element to construct my own cultural identity."


walla said...

The question we should all ask ourselves is why aren't there more Sabariah Salleh's?

Some will argue the government made a horrendous mistake when it initiated Malay-exclusive policies in a multiracial country. Others will say the mistake was actually the way it had defined the problem, namely solving for the Malays as it saw them then, and not as it should be, namely what the Malays must become in order to continue as a race into the future. Yet others will focus on the continuous angst of the Malays that everything they do has to be a reaction against the other races, particularly the Chinese, on the justification that the country belonged to the Malays first over and above the orang asli's, and others remain only immigrants although born, bred and benefactor of the land for longer than even the policy makers who themselves originated from other parts of the region.

Could it be why we are still asking what it means to be a Malay is a direct result of the aforementioned?

Indeed there were occasions when the government came out to perfunctorily recant how the Malays should treat the other races but all saw through the politically motivated tokenism because when the same diatribes recurred, they were stoked further without official condemnation and action, and that because the perps were actually working as proxies for the same regime on the wild notion balance should be struck against whatever complaints were mounted about the policies.

In such a situation how can trust and goodwill grow and without both how can any race thrive especially when more and more of all races are now beset with the very economic and social challenges that had originally prompted the policies? People will just go and do their own things, 6% aside.

walla said...

Today, where are our Malays? They are in the fields, in the government agencies and in the GLCs. All three are downright anorexic in productivity and bleeding debts that cannot be paid for another one hundred years, and since the problem is entrenched, the policies are continued for want of better solutions which would have mandated a total change to what Malayness must mean in order to solve the problems which have come home to roost after years of mismanagement and wild exuberance of a rentier existence constructed by some weed-stoned racial supremacy. They are just playing musical chairs with the debts and printing more currency notes when both actions will only reduce the value of the ringgit thereby increasing the size of the debts and sundering the economy and its investibility.

Furthermore, those of our Malays who are productive and enterprising have already left so that the policies to lift the Malay race by protecting parochial Malayness is in fact what is weakening the ability to lift them up without their leaving for better greens because what they see is not what should have been achieved.

After all, what it must mean to be a Malay must mean the Malay must abandon tribe and instead embrace talent. Not tribe, just talent.

walla said...

For every Sabariah Salleh who has seen and interacted with the world and returned with a more balanced mind, there are today at least ten others on this land who have gone awol with their senses.

It was not enough for the government to shore the self-confidence of our Malays on artificial short-cut stilts, they are now also to be controlled by a moral compact cooked and imposed by religious elites until polygamy is encouraged because 'there are not enough Muslims' and that said in a state already dead with drug addicts, abandoned families, and illegal logging as sole occupation.

Meanwhile if ten lashes are not enough, raise the pain to one hundred lashes so that perps can be reminded of the absolute compassion somewhere beneath the temporal punishment. What if the extra lashes kill the sinner before he can repent because these days life has been easier than those days of camel vintage? How can a sinner repent if he dies? As a deterrent only by light application of the extra lashes? Then the sinner survives and smugly goes out and tells others it's a cinch so that more can now do it with scant respect for official redress.

Do our Malay kids standing at traffic junctions bannering the RU355 rally have a single rational thought in their heads other than juvenile acceptance of a promise drilled and indoctrinated into their minds about the afterlife in stark contrast to their present vanilla lives?

It seems malayness today in Malaysia is defined by parochial and regressive racialism on the one hand, and unquestioning religious extremism on the other hand so that both Malay race and religion have converged under an umbrella organization for only the political survival of craven corrupt crooks and sly hypocritical snake-oil peddlers.

Maybe Alice should make her next Residentz sequel here. This has become zombie-land.

walla said...

Lastly, let no one suffer the delusion that courtly and courteous culture of Malayness is the exclusive domain of our Malays. But for the unjust suffering meted on their Malaysianness, other cultures no less draw every day as much as they can from the same well of compassion and courtesy.

The tragedy is that racial polarization has instead made the natural artificial to the extent the slightest perceived deviation is taken as hidden personal agenda when it could just have been a bad hair day. Lost is the implicit trust among brothers and sisters of different bloodlines which is what really defines the humanity of being a Malaysian over and above being a Malay who by dint of being majority in numbers drives how the others react despite their wisdom. What taints one taints all because the narrative has become a debilitating zero sum game of i win only if you lose.

The well-being and future of our Malays have been hijacked by political crooks and religious stooges. How can the true and real Malayness of our Malays ever again return that all including the non-Malays know they had?