Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others…”
– Ta-Nehisi Coates
A recent article by Bloomberg, about Malaysia’s bloated civil service being a headache for PM Najib Abdul Razak, begins with this:
“Malaysian Nor Mohamad loved her job with a major Western tech company. But she gave it up after two years, tired of bickering with her parents who felt she’d be better off in the public service.
“‘It’s boring but stable,’ said the master’s degree holder, who is in her thirties and asked not to be fully identified, citing government policy. ‘Even though I’m not so in love with the job, I’m thankful that in this economic situation there’s no bad impact to my career.’”
It is also an apt analogy of being a certain type of Malay in this country. This idea of giving up something unpredictable that you love for stability and security provided for by the Umno regime. The fact that this also means boredom, explains a lot when it comes to the systemic dysfunctions plaguing the civil service.
To be clear, I am not saying that every single person in the Malaysian civil service shares this sentiment but we are kidding ourselves if we think that this is not a prevalent sentiment. For every civil servant who does his or her job with enthusiasm and dedication, we have many people who treat their position as a birthright and engages in the kind of petty power trips that have come to characterise the Malaysian civil service.
However, this article is not about the Malaysian civil service but rather the idea that ‘Malays’ should always kiss the hand that feeds them. Every ‘Malay’ politician is acutely aware that championing the ‘Malay’ cause does not mean emancipating the Malay community but rather enslaving them. Of course, nobody thinks they are enslaving their community but carrying out so-called favourable policies meant to protect their community from the ‘other’.
The reality is that all these policies have done – religiously, sociologically, economically or ideologically – is to instil a sense of independence in the non-Malay community and dependence in the Malay polity. I would argue (and have) that there is not really a sense of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ in the general Malay community but rather a ‘ketuanan Umno’ that has been the dominant expression of ‘Malay’ nationalism.
The kleptocrat-in-chief’s attack against his Malay political rivals, claiming that working with the so-called ‘anti-Malay’ DAP meant undermining ‘Malay’ rights and Islam, was met with the predictable rebuttal that this new party, Bersatu, was all about protecting ‘Malay’ rights, Islam and paying lip service to the others.
I do not really have a problem with this because the opposition has been doing this for some time now but I am just surprised that after all these years no Malay politician is willing to bite the bullet and at least try something radical even if it means failing. Whatever your opinion on jailed political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim, he did just that; he created a coalition of disparate interests that changed the Malaysian political landscape.
The new old myth
However, little has changed with the ouster of former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin from the corridors of Umno power. Four years ago in an article about the Umno man’s burden, I honed in on the former deputy prime minister, who at the time was busy galvanising Malay support.
“Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s clarion call for Malaysians, specifically Malay-Muslims, to unite under the BN banner is problematic for a variety of reasons but he is absolutely right when he reminds non-Malay Malaysians to be cognisant of the fact that ‘future of the nation depended on Malay/Muslim unity’. I have, more or less, put forward a similar argument in my ‘Malay matters in the nation’s future’ piece.”
These days the former deputy prime minster is doing the same thing. Speaking of the massive corruption taking place under the kleptocrat-in-chief, he said, “What has happened to such a large sum of money? Was it given to the Malays? The answer is certainly not.”
This is an extremely strange thing to say. Would it have been acceptable if the money was given to the “Malays”? Who would these “Malays” be? Someone like Nor Mohamad, sitting bored in her government office and the thousand like her? Is there a systemic way in which ill-gotten gains are transferred to the “Malays”?
This is not to say that I think that the efforts of the former deputy prime minster should not be supported. This is not about the fracturing of the Malay community but rather the fracturing of the Umno community. This is why Najib’s establishment hacks are coming out in droves attempting to discredit the Najib refuseniks and misguided opposition supporting pundits attempting to carry water for the very people who got us into this mess in the first place.
It is all very complicated but democracy is always messy. What the split in Umno has created is an opportunity for Umno dissidents to build alliances with the opposition. My opinion is that this is a good thing, but then again I have never been an opposition über alles supporter.
However, it is unfortunate that as usual Malay politicians give the impression that the Malay community is solely defined by what Umno dictates. This is all about the perpetuation of myths as I attempted to explain in an earlier article.
“This post-Merdeka Umno ‘myth’ and the myopic belief that Umno and Umno alone should lead the Malay community is something of a doubled-edged sword. This bears some resemblance to the (neo) conservative Straussian principle of the creation of ‘myths’ as a form of societal cohesiveness and the political relevance of BN is much like the ANC of South Africa, which for years was coasting on its own myths but presently riddled with corruption and is on perilous ground where discriminate voters are concerned.
“Najib said those who did not learn from history would be destined to repeat the same mistake, thus he pointed out that loyalty was key to the struggles to protect the nation and champion the cause of the people.”
This is the new old myth that is disseminated amongst the Umno elite who in turn propagate it to the grassroots and ultimately the rural vote banks of Umno.
It is new because this time, the ‘other’ are Umno Malays who have rejected – for whatever reasons, Najib’s rule – and old because these narratives of the Malay community under siege, is the propaganda that Umno has used over its long watch.
Ultimately, like many others before me, have warned during our professional tenure and now in private civilian life, eventually there will be a reckoning in the Malay community. The opposition, Umno traitors and anyone who does not support the Umno hegemon will be cast as the scapegoats, but the reality is that eventually those that kiss the hands that feed them end up biting those very same hands.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.