AT the rate things are going, a Malay leader could soon be cast out by his own party for defending equality, fairness and rule of law for all Malaysians.
It is sadly expected in Malaysia that non-Malays who point out problems inherent in the notion of ketuanan Melayu will be publicly attacked by certain Malay leaders. The loudest in leading these attacks are usually Umno leaders, probably by virtue of their dominance within the Barisan Nasional (BN) ruling coalition.
Most recently, Gerakan Wanita chief Datuk Tan Lian Hoe was subjected to such public attacks, including in Parliament. The vilification was targeted at her speech during Gerakan’s annual national delegates conference in mid-October 2008, about the origins of the Malay.
Datuk Zaid Ibrahim is now in the crosshairs. That a Malay leader is being called a traitor for questioning an ideology that presupposes Malay superiority indicates just how much is at stake.
Thus far, Zaid has been asked to apologise to the Malays for challenging the “rights of Malay supremacy.” Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar has called Zaid a traitor to his own community for threatening and negating the history of the Malay struggle. These views have been echoed by other Umno leaders including youth chief hopeful Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and outgoing youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.
Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim even went as far as to ask Zaid to bertaubat or repent for his “extreme views.” “Jika tidak, Zaid perlu keluar dari rumpun bangsa Melayu,” Shahidan was quoted as saying in Utusan Malaysia.
This is no different from Umno leaders asking, both in Parliament and in their general assembly, non-Malays, who question the way the country is being governed, to get out.
If we are to take the calls for Zaid to apologise at face value, it would seem that the former minister in the prime minister’s department was deeply erroneous in his ways. And that somehow, he insulted and showed disrespect to the Malays when he questioned the idea of ketuanan Melayu.
But what exactly did Zaid say in his speech at the Lawasia Conference on 31 Oct 2008?
Equality for all
At the crux of Zaid’s argument that the ketuanan Melayu model has failed is a question he rightfully asks all Malaysians to consider: “At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves what it is that will allow us to protect all Malaysians, including the Malays?”
He argues that the “social contract” envisioned by our founding leaders was the “guarantee of equality and the promise of the Rule of Law.” But that social contract, he observes, was unilaterally restructured by Umno in the 1980s.
“The essence of its reconstructed meaning was this: that Malaysia is primarily the home of the Malays, and that the non-Malays should acknowledge that primacy by showing deference to the Malays and Malay issues….This marked the advent of ketuanan Melayu or, in English, Malay supremacy. Affirmative action and special status became a matter of privilege by reference to race rather than need, and questioning this new status quo was not to be tolerated.”
Zaid’s observations are spot on as proven by the attacks he is now facing from within Umno. But he has stood his ground because his position is a clear, rational and fair assessment of the current politics practised in this country.
Zaid says the BN government must abandon its reworked and flawed concept of the “social contract” which promotes Malay superiority over other Malaysians. It was, and still is, he says, “impossible to reconcile the principles of equality and civil rights of the people of this country with the primacy of one group over all others.”
A social contract that employs ketuanan Melayu is a failure because it resorts “to a political culture of promoting fear and division amongst the people.” It should be replaced with a form of democracy that recognises and respects the rights and dignity of all citizens, as was promised by the nation’s original social contract.
And so what exactly is Zaid being asked to apologise for?
Speaking up for equality
For questioning a politically constructed notion of racial superiority that divides Malaysians instead of uniting us? For pointing out that Umno’s version of the social contract only serves those who rule? For asking that all Malaysians be treated equally and that every citizen’s rights be respected?
On the flip side of the same coin, what does it say about the Umno leaders who have called for Zaid to bertaubat, apologise, and leave the Malay race? That they subscribe to the notion of Malay supremacy, which in countries such as Germany would be considered no different from fascism? That they don’t believe in all Malaysians deserving equal treatment and respect?
But we shouldn’t be too surprised at the reactions to Zaid’s position. It is those who have the deepest vested interests in sustaining a system that benefits them who would be the first to quash contesting voices such as Tan’s and Zaid’s. Especially when they have been in power for half a century.
And that just means the rest of us, who have a vested interest in a Malaysia that is just and fair for all, must speak up. For if we don’t, it will be supremacist notions that will dictate the way all Malaysians are governed in the years to come.
“Racial supremacy” and “superiority” are bad words in Jacqueline Ann Surin‘s vocabulary. She believes there is only one race — the human race — and all other races are artificially constructed in the interest of those in power.