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The problem with Malay unity


ONE of the exhortations to Malay Malaysian voters as the general election looms is to vote the party that will ensure “Malay unity”. Politicians and at least one member of royalty have called on Malay voters to put Malay unity above all else when they go to the polls.

And because Malay Malaysians are also constitutionally meant to be Muslims, there has been unsurprisingly another aspect of this public service announcement. Vote the party that will ensure Muslim unity and the cohesion of the ummah. And to Umno and PAS, the two parties that represent Malays and Muslims respectively: consider a merger so that Malay-Muslim unity can be secured.

But does Malay unity exist to begin with? Does Muslim solidarity? Was either ever present historically or currently in Malaysia? And when politicians, academics and royalty start to promote Malay and Muslim unity, are they peddling an ideal for the nation or a dangerous myth for the masses?

The historical development of the construct of race in Malaya, thanks to the British.
Click on table for bigger view.

What unity?

The presumption behind Malay and Muslim unity is that either or both groups are monolithic entities. Further, that every member of the group shares the same historical roots, cultural identity, political and economic aspirations, and religious beliefs. After all, if either or both groups didn’t have enough of a cohesive identity and shared sense of ideals, then talking about uniting would be like asking water and oil to combine into one.

To begin with, are the Malays really culturally and historically similar to each other? The series of Found in Malaysia interviews tell us that many of the foremost Malay Malaysian personalities have different lineages. In brief, the Malays we interviewed had the following ancestries: Orang Asli, Javanese, Thai, ChineseJapaneseAustralian, Bugis, Arab and European. And because the notion of the “Malay” is a political construct that was initiated by the British, and continues to be a construct perpetuated by the current powers that be, the definition of Malay can shift from state to state.

Many of the Malay Malaysian personalities interviewed in Found in Malaysia were of different ancestries.

What about political unity? Did the Malays in Umno unite when Tunku Abdul Rahman expelled Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad from Umno? Or how about when Dr Mahathir, then a Datuk Seri, expelled Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the party and from government?

And then there’s the notion of Muslim unity. What kind of Muslim are the politicians and other talking heads speaking about when they espouse “Muslim unity”?  Again, the notion assumes that the Muslim world is one single block without variations in beliefs and identity. And yet we know this to be patently untrue.

The fact is, there are at least five major schools of thought in Islam – Ja’fari, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali – and a number of other minority schools of thought such as Zaydi and Isma’ili. Religious practices also differ between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The official and legal brand of Islam in Malaysia is the Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i school of thought. But that doesn’t mean that other interpretations of Islam like that practised by the Ahmadiyah don’t exist, even if they are banned.

One other evidence that Islam’s adherents are not a singular block of unvarying believers is the fact that laws about Islam across the Muslim world differ, whether it’s about apostasy, family lawhudud or the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims.

What does this all mean? It means that when politicians and royalty like Raja Nazrin Shah speak about Malay or Muslim unity, they’re perpetuating a myth. There is diversity and disparity not just in Malays’ and Muslims’ political views, but throughout the Malay and the Muslim world. And this isn’t true just today. It’s historically true as well – just look at the different kinds of political leanings Malay Malaysians had in the past.

Why unite?

That’s not to say that some Malays and some Muslims cannot unite in the true sense of the word. They can when there is a solid cause which draws people together because of a shared ideal. But when unity is called for solely on the basis of one’s racial or religious identity as a Malay or Muslim, the basis for that unity is founded on shifting sands. Since there are so many kinds of Malays and quite a few types of Muslims, what kind of Malay or what kind of Islam are the adherents of unity advocating for?

My uneasiness with calls to vote a particular way or to merge parties for the sake of Malay or Muslim unity stems from the underlying, and often unstated, purpose of such encouragement. What are Malays and Muslims supposed to be uniting for and/or against?

Implicit in the call for unity is the need to armour up against non-Malays and non-Muslims. If the Malays don’t unite, the argument goes, non-Malay Malaysians will politically and economically overwhelm the Malays, no matter that the majority of our population are Malays and that Malays hold power in nearly all arms of government. And if Muslims don’t unite, the threat from non-Muslims, Christians in particular, will strengthen to Islam’s detriment.

And so, the rallying cry for Malay or Muslim unity can actually be heard as a clarion call for pitting Malaysians against one another. Hence, advocating for Malay or Muslim unity is really a call for disunity and distrust in Malaysia, where Malays and Muslims should only think about their own interest at the expense of other citizens.

Even more troubling for me is that the way to go is apparently to vote Umno or to merge with Umno. Yes, vote in, or merge, with the party that wants “ketuanan Melayu”, has not closed the gap between rich and poor Malays, is rife with money politics, and is trying to deny non-Muslims their right to worship using “Allah”. And yes, PAS needs to merge with the party that kicked it out of the Barisan Nasional in 1977 and whose politicians have been persecuted by the Umno-led government through the years.

How can any advice that is based on a myth, promotes disunity in multiracial and multireligious Malaysia, and advances the interest of a corrupt and authoritarian party be good? Of course, it’s left to be seen just who will take up such misdirected counsel. On my part, I would rather vote for a politician or a party that argues truth based on facts, has the interest of all Malaysians at heart, and that promotes equality, fairness, justice, prudence, transparency and accountability.

It’s true that because I’m not Malay and not Muslim, it’s not me that the politicians and some members of royalty are beseeching to. But honestly, one doesn’t have to be a non-Malay or a non-Muslim to know and want what’s best for our incredible nation.

Jacqueline Ann Surin wonders why Malay or Muslim unity isn’t the force at work when Umno experiences internal splits and demonises and attacks PAS, and when the Umno-led government persecutes Muslims or denies them their constitutional rights.

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98 Responses to “The problem with Malay unity”

  1. ellese says:

    Dear Jacqueline,

    I’m sorry to say that this is one of the most ridiculous spins from you. I have more harsh words to call this write-up but I am refraining here. It’s absolutely shallow.

    First. There is absolutely nothing wrong for a particular ethnic group to call for unity for a group. It’s fine for the Kadazan Dusun or Iban or Bajau or for that matter, any other overseas ethnic group like Red Indians ke or the Irish ke or the Aboriginies ke, to call for unity. People try to unite based on common values. It matters not whether there’s a history of unity. Thus, it’s fair for me to call all of my family members to unite though some uncles don’t see eye to eye. History of unity has never stopped or been a precondition for people to call for unity. This is a shallow argument. It’s like saying we Malaysians should not unite because we never had history of unity. Even since Merdeka, we never united based on being Malaysian first. That’s how ridiculous Jacqueline’s argument is. Full of contradictions and shallow logic; shooting herself in the foot. She must keep her hatred in check.

    Secondly, being Malay has never been purely about lineage. In the constitution we promise to uphold, one becomes Malay because one professes Islam and practises Malay culture. Everybody knows this from day one. Malays have been open, tolerant and accepting. They can even accept Chinese or Indians as Malays so long as they profess Islam and practise customs like talking in Malay and respecting the sultans. There is even the term “masuk Melayu”. Even Jacqueline can be one especially if she wears a tudung. No one will question her lineage. Just like many converts from Omar Yoke Ling to Chinese punching bag Ridhuan Tee. Those who have been particular about lineage seems to be the non-Malays in particular, the Chinese. Funny really since its a non-issue. We always embrace the converts as one of us.

    And for goodness sake. No political parties now support putting Malaysians above race. Take DAP for instance. They support from day one until now, the racist education policy of segregating our young based on race. They perpetuate racial prejudices and chauvinistic attitudes among the people. Our kids are denied being friends with other races in schools. My children’s class has no Chinese. And please, there is no law in Malaysia that denies the right to mother tongue. You can learn yourself lah. But no country in the world now that I can recall, effectively uses public funds and machinery to pursue an apartheid policy of segregating our kids based on race. Malaysia does this to the detriment of being Malaysians first and DAP is at the forefront of this to obtain Chinese unity for political support. I can go on and on providing examples.

    Please provide intelligent discourse at The Nut Graph. The Nut Graph has built that reputation. Don’t import shallow […] discourse and spin here. It’s embarrassing The Nut Graph.

    • HuaYong says:


      Do you think Malay unity or Chinese unity is supposed to be our way forward? If you ponder deeper, don’t you think Malay or Chinese unity and the one-school concept is contradicting each other? I find it odd to have all sorts of unity in a one-school environment. If that is the case, would it be better if we attended separate schools and promoted our respective unity as we wish to? To bring in Chinese or DAP into the discussion doesn’t help to justify your stand. It just means we are equally wrong. I ask because I often thought your urge for one-school is because of some values we share.

      I opine that unity is a sort of political rhetoric. It serves to forge unity among certain people when facing threats from foreigners, and in our case, a different race. Just take a look at the historical evolution of “Chinese”. The Qing reformer Kang & Liang proposed the idea of a yellow race, which was to unite the various inhabitants of China with a sense of nationalism sharing the same lineage to compete against the “white race”. Sun Yet Sen believed that ending the Qing polity was the only option left and therefore he used the term “Han Chinese” to initiate a revolution that helped to differentiate the revolt from the Manchu regime despite knowing that the majority officer is no more Manchu, apart from the emperor and his family.

      During the communist era, class struggle substituted race/ethnic struggle but with the advance of more racial and eugenic theories, the communist regime classifies the people into various races, the Han and 56 minorities ethnic groups. However, the so-called Han is not a single race/ethnic. It is actually an assortment of different races/ethnic groups that share similar culture and language, pretty similar to the political construct of the Malay race but without the religion criteria, and their politics now is unity in diversity. Thus the Chinese are particular about lineage and Malay unity is more likely due to politics.

    • JW Tan says:

      That’s ridiculous. Malay unity has always been about uniting a group in response to perceived threats (economic or otherwise) from groups who are ‘not Malay’. It matters little whether or not the group is open or closed. The group is a subset of Malaysians. That’s wrong.

      This is one of the reasons why our racist society self-perpetuates. If the Malay community needs unity, then the Chinese community believes they need unity in response, and so one way they go about that is to create their own parallel education system. The concept and pursuit of ‘Malay unity’ is itself a cause of your bugbear of ‘racist education’. It’s all interlinked.

      Rather than being part of the problem, and trying to emerge from the rugby scrum with your Malay privileges intact, how about you think about solutions? Like good education for all? Freedom of religion? Equality for all citizens? Let’s talk about how to instil some unity for Malaysians.

      • idris says:

        “If the Malay community needs unity, then the Chinese community believes they need unity in response, and so one way they go about that is to create their own parallel education system.”

        What a pathetic justification for Chinese schools. […]

        “The concept and pursuit of ‘Malay unity’ is itself a cause of your bugbear of ‘racist education’.”

        I wonder if you can back this up. […]

        • JW Tan says:

          Please do not confuse my statement of reasons and causes with my agreement with them. Otherwise you’re wilfully misunderstanding me to create a strawman […].

          I agree the whole thing is pathetic, and I refuse to be part of it by trying to protect any group’s privileges. But designing good solutions involves understanding the reasons.

          • idris says:

            So you can’t back up the second statement? Or you’re simply not bothered to? Seems to me you avoided this completely.

            Do enlighten me/us. Please.

            And no, I did not confuse your statement of reasons and causes with your agreement with them. Please do not confuse my disagreement of your order of reason and cause with me thinking you agree with them. Otherwise you’re wilfully misunderstanding me to create a straw [person] […].

          • JW Tan says:

            There’s no sinister reason why Chinese people want to preserve Chinese education. There’s no simple story either. Everything I’ve posted about this topic, I glean from conversations with Chinese educators, I speak from someone with a personal stake in Chinese education in Malaysia. Try talking to the Dong Jiao Zong. The Malaysian government rarely does.

        • Alvin says:

          I believe the Chinese schools pre 1980s was the Chinese community’s aspiration to preserve their identity, culture, and the importance of the Chinese language in facilitating communication, commerce and learning among other things. It is also true that the Mandarin language had a role as a common and uniting lingua franca among the various dialects as it has evolved then in China and Taiwan is supported and emulated in Malaysia.

          Post the 1980s, with the emergence of China economically, the importance of Chinese language education has escalated. The popularity of sekolah kebangsaan among Chinese parents had deteriorated to almost zero level. This has been made worse by the deteriorating in standard, syllabus and teaching staff of the sekolah kebangsaan with the policy of the UMNO Government.

          So Idris your argument that the Chinese school system is the Chinese community’s response to the Malay community’s needs for unity is indeed a very contracted view and projects your sense of hatred, lack of understanding and narrow-mindedness.

          • idris says:

            You really should read what people write, properly, before making accusations like this one:

            “So Idris your argument that the Chinese school system is the Chinese community’s response to the Malay community’s needs for unity is indeed a very contracted view and projects your sense of hatred, lack of understanding and narrow-mindedness.”

            I wasn’t the one who argued this point. JW Tan was the one who said this. Your unsubstantiated accusation projects your sense of hatred, lack of understanding and narrow-mindedness.

          • JW Tan says:

            That’s true, it’s my view. I think that the rise of ethnic Malay nationalism is one cause of the hardening of ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian communities to the provision of vernacular education. But it’s not the only reason.

    • Better My says:

      I find Jacqueline Ann Surin has merits in her argument on the myths of Malay unity, as expressed dismally in Malaysia, when most of the Malays are led so astray by its so-called unity.

      You don’t hear self-interested political calls by politicians for British unity in the UK, white unity in USA, or white Aussie unity in Australia in contemporary times. Do we want to follow this proven model of developed countries or continue to create this false Malay unity at the future expense of the Malay?

      Different Malays having different ideas on how to run the country is perfectly normal, just as any citizen in UK/USA/Australia would have. It is not a stab at the so-called Malay unity which can’t be expressed in terms of improving the Malay lot.

      It is the Malay putting their hands up with better ideas than other Malays or others to improve their fellow Malays, Chinese, Indians and others that count heaps more than the futility of the phrase “Malay unity”.

      Jacqueline Ann Surin has carefully put this together and expressed this well.

    • Celia says:

      Being a Muslim doesn’t make you a Malay. Probably only in your dictionary, it does!!

  2. LTSVP says:

    “Until the philosophy which hold one race
    Superior and another inferior
    Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
    Everywhere is war, me say war.”
    — Bob Marley

  3. JW Tan says:

    The value of unity to the integrity of a country is overrated. Part of its value is also knowing when NOT to be united, where diversity of opinion adds to strength. Politicians always have an incentive to overemphasise unity, because this delivers the votes that in turn deliver them into office.

    Malay unity, as a useful sociological, ethical and patriotic construct, is dead in the water. However, it is useful to politicians who would exploit such feelings for their own ends. Malaysian unity, on the other hand, is in exactly the opposite position. Our politicians actively discourage it, because by pandering to vested interests, and splitting those who would oppose them, they keep getting voted back in.

  4. T-Boy says:

    Jacqueline’s argument falls flat the minute the assumption is that defining who is Malay is via “blood”, and that “unity” and “solidarity” implies homogeneity. Attacking the bigoted aspects of Malay solidarity and unity via disputing its authenticity and “real”-ness can backfire, because let’s face it — this country is constructed and fractious. The problem with Malay unity is how we define “unity”, not how we define “Malay”.

    Someone who deconstructs one ethnicity’s unity and solidarity cannot then turn around and say, “Now that we’ve demolished that delusion, please follow me to this bright future with my set of delusions, which are obviously more correct.”

    Don’t come to me, after pointing out how Mahathir’s ancestors are from Kerala and Muslims can’t agree on basic things, that we should band together as Malaysians, because then I can point you to the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1858 and the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 and then ask you why I should follow you on what is clearly a constructed, delusional and illusory grouping.

  5. kaytee says:

    Using the term ‘Malay-Muslim unity’ in the Malaysian context is, to borrow a religious term (me being an atheist), blasphemy against the nation because as Jacqueline wrote, it is a call to pit Malaysians against Malaysians.

    While Perkasa is the front for UMNO to farm out its politically-driven racism, and Ridhuan Tee Abdullah its poster boy, there have been disturbing evidence of this in PAS as well. Recently, we learned of the terrible mindset of Nik Mazian Nik Mohamad (PAS ADUN for Gaal, Kelantan).

    No doubt the UMNO-controlled media might have spun his PAS-centric statement, but there have already been indications of uni-ethnic proclivity rather than Islamic cultivation in his party.

    While seeking to mine the darker side of the Malay psyche with the seditious call of ‘Malay-Muslim unity’, it ironically diminishes their confidence and general mental well-being.

    If we are prepared to humble ourselves and take a look at our Indonesian neighbour, we would find their founding leaders recognised the diversity in the Indonesian people and commendably aimed to unify them, at least aspirationally, with their national motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which translated from old Javanese, means ‘Unity in diversity’. Here, the call of ‘unity’ is directed towards unifying all Indonesians, regardless of ethnicity, creed, colour or religion, totally unlike the UMNO clarion call.

    If we were to trace the Indonesian motto into antiquity, we would discover the term originated from the Majapahit epic poem ‘Sutasoma’ which offered reconciliation and promoted tolerance between the two prevailing religions in Java at that time, namely, Buddhism and Hinduism, with the doctrinal belief that although the religions were diverse, both were truthful to Dharma (a social structure with its principles being Truth, Love, Fortitude and Non-violence), and thus there should exist no duality in Truth.

    Indeed, by comparison or more correctly, by contrast, the UMNO ‘Malay-Muslim unity’ is an obscenity.

  6. ellese says:

    I just can’t believe some people. It’s amazing how one can support an argument that Malays cannot unite because there’s no history of unity but can accept the call for Malaysians to unite when there’s no history of unity either. Hebat betul our logic.

    I cannot understand why it’s objectionable only if Malays unite. We have many associations which are clan or lineage-based like persatuan Hakka or Chinese chambers of commerce which are in essence a unison of various clans, lineage or race. Why is this not problematic?

    I have an issue with many people like this coz they are selective. After this the spin will be it’s wrong to call for Muslim unity. But Christians call for unity on the Allah issue takpe pula.

    They think we don’t see this.

    PS. Dear HY, sorry for the delay. As usual thought-provoking. One school is still a must. But even in school, I’m ok about having Chinese class or religious class. The togetherness and empathy will be the boundary. We recognise each race. As I said, we’re like a rainbow recognising each distinct color. Need to elaborate. Away now and will write later probably at my blog. We need to go deeper.

    • JW Tan says:

      There is no logical equivalent between Malaysia and the Malay community in this instance. Malaysia is a country, and Malays are an ethnic group. If you buy into the idea of a country, then the country should have some level of unity, although not too much.

      As for clan associations, these are not nakedly political. I don’t hear my clan exhorting me to vote one way or another for their preferred candidate. If they did, I’d ignore them. By the way, if I adopted a child of a different race, they’d qualify for membership in my clan association as well.

      The Chinese chambers of commerce are different. Some of them are more political. That’s wrong. So let’s drop the ‘Chinese’ element and just have chambers of commerce.

  7. Yen says:

    All the arguments will be fruitless without a viable / practical solution, and I think most of the rational Malaysians have it on heads, which is the reconstruction of the Federal Constitution, for a better Malaysia. The people of Iceland made it, why not Malaysians? This may be a radical thought, but Rome was not constructed within a day.

  8. andre das says:

    Of course what was left out is that the call for Malay unity came about only at a time when UMNO had lost so much support from the Malays. When UMNO was ruling the roost, there was no such rhetoric. Only Tok Guru Nik Aziz truly understands and remembers this and unfortunately UMNO knows “Melayu mudah lupa!”.

  9. Flag of Truth says:

    Lol.. I am in general happy to know that other people are still interested in the Malay unity issue. The Malays now are not like the Malays in the pre-colonial era, where they were passive enough and willing to let other people to do whatever they wanted including compromising Malay interest. The way I see it, the Malays are still fighting over certain issues but whenever it comes to religious and other Malay agendas, you will find them united behind one banner. That is why I do not worry about whoever will win in the coming general election. Whether BN or Pakatan Rakyat, the Malay will always be the dominant/important group to deal with.

  10. kaytee says:

    In Malaysia’s multi-ethnic society, making clarion calls on Muslim-Malay unity would be, as Jacqueline averred, akin to battle cries to pit Muslim Malaysians against non-Muslim Malaysians – a most irresponsible, reckless and lamentable political campaign, but one thought by UMNO to be necessary for its survival.

    The current Sabah disaster, especially for 8 families of killed policemen, has been a most tragic example of the outcome of such political irresponsibility and recklessness.

    Thus far, UMNO’s Malay unity has been all about how PAS should swarm over to the Mothership (both PAS and PKR were splinter groups of UMNO) to ensure UMNO emerges victorious in GE-13, purportedly as the Muslim bastion against evil encroachment by Christians and other non-Muslims.

    Instead, why doesn’t UMNO shows its sincerity in its Muslim unity proposal first, by not contesting in every seat in PAS-led state governments in Kelantan and Kedah, and in PAS-held seats in other states. In fact UMNO should also extend similar gestures of Muslim unity to PKR Malay candidates as well, as testimony to its earnestness in forging Muslim unity.

    Meanwhile I urge DAP to show Malaysian unity by voicing its absolute support for our Armed Forces and Police in their current security campaign in Sabah. May they be safe! And may they return home safely to their families.

    Dirgahayu Malaysia!

  11. Aero says:

    In a way, this piece of writing can only be justified as a way to undermine efforts to instill the dignity of the Malay ethnicity. Now what is wrong with instilling racial awareness and unity to the very people who linger along the same ethnicity? There’s a line between being racial and racist, and the latter only thrives among people who go about ranting and grumbling on other ethnicity’s call for standing “united” or such. Being proud and staying united within an ethnicity does not mean you are making a war cry to other ethnicities. It only means that that certain set of people should come around and stay dynamic in overcoming today’s modern challenges.

    Do you hear anyone making a fuss about hundreds of Chinese-based societies in Malaysia? I don’t think I have, and nobody ever complains about it. Just because it is coming from a party that champions that very race, does not mean they are propagating hatred towards other race. People have their own way to be proud of their lineage or ethnicity, so let them be. Unless it’s a clear cut threat against other races in Malaysia, then you have your case.

    Let’s face the fact: Race and ethnicity will never be wiped out from the face of the earth, and is here to stay until some miracle [person] figures out how to standardize skin colours, languages or culture across the globe. Go figure.

    • JW Tan says:

      Of course race exists, no point trying to deny that. But discriminating on the basis of race is wrong. Please don’t deny that either. That’s a pretty basic tenet of ethics.

      So, when you equate Malay unity, a political construct designed to deliver votes to keep a ethno-religious political elite in power, to something like a Chinese clan association, designed to keep an extended family in touch with each other, you are drawing a very broad equivalence. It’s just not the same thing.

  12. ellese says:

    I think Andre and other races are mudah lupa. The call for Malay unity ni dah lama since Merdeka lagi. In fact, longer than that if you just look at some peribahasa. It’s because of Malay unity that Malaysia was born. Bersatu teguh bercerai roboh was not born post-57, lah.

    The issue has never been about Malay unity. We’ve allowed other races to unite based on clan, race and lineage. I admit its not perfect. We’ve allowed and condoned each race to unite even to the detriment of others. Like the establishment of Chinese business chambers in 1904. We’ve condoned the perpetuation of race-based business practices to the exclusion of the other races. Until now it’s the same. The same with our segregated education policy based on race.

    What bothers me are those who suddenly forget our social cohesion points and argue hypocritically on a one-sided basis. We need to change a lot of things if we move away from our social cohesion point. We can’t argue that Malay unity is wrong but support the unity of other races.

    This is a similar argument over and over. If you want to take away the special rights of the Malays you must also take all rights of other races like race-based segregated education rights. Our constitution provides entrenched and institutionalised Malay unity. There is a head for all Malay unity. It’s the sultan, who has avowed and pledged this since prior to Merdeka.

    Put things into perspective. Don’t just buy into the silly, shallow logic of Jacqueline that Malays cannot unite becoz there’s no history of unity but other races ok pula.

    • neptunian says:

      Ugh! There are 11 Sultans if you include the YDP. So who is the Sultan for the unity? – the Agong is a federation concoction.

      There was no Malaya or Malaysia before the British decided to group some separate Sultanates together… Perhaps the Government is right in re-writing history. Make Malaya exist from the 2000 years ago!

    • JW Tan says:

      Fine, but let’s do it properly. No more Ketuanan Melayu, Malay special status rubbish. No more Islam at the heart of our self-contradictory constitution. All students to learn Bahasa Malaysia, English and one of Mandarin or Tamil. No more race-based political parties.

      It’s a great vision. If only more bought into it.

      • idris says:

        I find this very agreeable, with some conditions of which I will state one here. One core language for all Malaysians. I don’t care what it is. That isn’t the case now, regardless of the fact that Bahasa Malaysia is (supposedly I would like to say) being taught in all schools and at most levels. Not some mother tongue priority rubbish which is the reality at the moment.

        • JW Tan says:

          Here’s some food for thought – a student does not necessarily need to learn ‘one core language’ to feel a stake in our nation. Mandarin medium schools will probably continue to exist in Malaysia, albeit privately, for a very long time. They’ll become no different from the Lycee Francais, if more prevalent.

          And there is nothing wrong with this, as long as they are not supported by government funding. There is some merit in insisting that all private schools teach some sort of core curriculum, which should include reasonably good standards of English and Bahasa Malaysia, not to mention science, maths, history, geography etc. Good thing too – apply this to all the madrasahs as well please.

      • idris says:

        I just remembered something. Actually a lot of Malays I know really like this idea, and would buy into it – only if the non-Malays are willing to give up their demands for vernacular schools and mother tongue education and all that rubbish.

        We all know they won’t do this. And so the Malays will insist on their Ketuanan Melayu and Malay special status rubbish.

        It seems clear to me which party wants to have their cake and eat it too.

        • HuaYong says:


          Easier said than done. [What] you talk about is either academic or knowledge. Many Chinese [Malaysians] I know criticize the separate school but each and every one of them send their kids to Chinese school.

          Think, only through simultaneous action could one gain knowledge, and we have to unify (since unity is the theme here) both knowledge and action to achieve the objective, thus we have to ask ourselves what will motivate the non-Malay [Malaysians] to forego vernacular schools, and what will motivate the Malay [Malaysians] to give up the special status. Simply calling both rubbish could only get rubbish results.

          • idris says:

            No idea what you are trying to say. Easier said than done? I didn’t know, thanks for pointing this out.
            Simply calling both rubbish could only get rubbish results? Ok, whatever.

            “[What] you talk about is either academic or knowledge.”
            “Think, only through simultaneous action could one gain knowledge,…”

            This level of argument (sophistry?) is well beyond me. Sorry, but could you please use Simple english perhaps?

            That said, if things stay the same I fully intend to send my kids to a chinese school, too. Let them learn a bit of their ‘great’ culture and language. But more importantly, I don’t want them to go through the same sh*t I went through (still going through actually, sometimes) – being treated like a ‘second class’ citizen by those who claim to be treated like ‘second class’ citizens. I’ve said this before here, somewhere.

          • Celia says:

            I believe some Malays do send their children to Chinese schools as well. Probably for better education!

        • JW Tan says:

          I’d like to see it tried. I, for one, am happy if government supported vernacular education is abolished, as long as vernacular languages are taught to the same standard in Sekolah Kebangsaan. That means it has to be taught to a standard better than the SKs currently teach English.

          My message all along is the same. Fix the abysmal standard of national education in Malaysia, and the proliferation of private education and parallel education systems will reduce.

          If, by ‘one core language’ you mean that students learn only that one language to [a] fluent level, then I’m afraid you’re sacrificing our students’ futures for a rather silly political ideal.

          • neptunian says:

            I have found it rather dificult to explain to some close minded people the idea of Chinese [Malaysian] parents sending their kids to “chinese” schools and “private” schools.

            Education is viewed as the most important aspect upbringing and an assurance of a decent future by the Chinese – anywhere in the world – If the national schools provide the same quality standard as the other schools, Chinese [Malaysian] parents will send their kids to those schools. Chinese and private schools are expensive, most parents struggle with and stress [over] their finances, just to educate their kids.

            If the [others] carry the same attitude, they would not need the crutches provide by the Govt!

            BTW, I still find it hard to justify giving 7% discount to a Bumiputra to purchase a $4 million house. Can you?

          • idris says:

            If, by ‘one core language’ you mean that students learn only that one language to [a] fluent level, then I’m afraid you’re sacrificing our students’ futures for a rather silly political ideal.

            I forgot for a moment that you think poorly of the intelligence of others (or at least my intelligence).

          • JW Tan says:

            Idris, those are your own words and your own opinion. I don’t always understand what you write clearly, so I make an assumption and reply on that basis. If you feel this reflects my opinion on your intelligence, then grow a thicker skin.

            I’d be more interested in what you mean by ‘one core language’. If my assumption is incorrect, please correct it.

  13. JW Tan says:

    The consequences of calling for racial unity in a specific ethnic group against their fellow citizens tend to be dire. Here are some examples which come easily to mind:

    * Rwandan genocide – catalysed by calls for ethnic unity of Hutus against Tutsis, resulting in the formation of the Interahamwe militia

    * Apartheid regime in South Africa – imposed and maintained by ‘white unity’ in the face of a politicised ‘threat’ from ‘blacks’ and ‘coloureds’.

    * Sri Lankan civil war – Ethnic Sinhalese government vs ethnic Tamil terrorists who both relied on the rhetoric of racial unity to marshal enough resources to fight a war that brutalised a country for nearly 3 decades.

    * Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans – Serbs, Croats and Bosnians all banded together in response to a few charismatic warmongers preaching ‘racial unity’, and ended up committing lots of atrocities to each other.

    These conflicts are still not done. Each flare-up lays the seeds for the next flare-up.

  14. Flag of Truth says:

    # Neptunian

    I think you better check your facts before making any statement here. It is embarassing for a Malaysian who does not even know how many Sultans there are in Malaysia. When the British came to this region, the Malay peninsular is known as Tanah Melayu and the British acknowledge this because the Malay (deutro and proto Malay) have been here for ages. And before the British and other western colonialists, the Malays were united under the Malacca and Sri Wijaya empires.

    I can see that certain individuals or groups are uneasy with the Malay unity issue. We Malays and Muslims will always be the main factor in the shaping of politics (and soon if Allah permits, of society and the economy) in Malaysia. A strong and united Malay/Muslim [force] is not a threat to other people.

    • JW Tan says:

      What, precisely, do you think Malays / Muslims are being asked to unite against? It’s their fellow citizens. And this is not a threat to them?

      That’s a naive view, and goes against all the sabre rattling that UMNO political leaders are prone to. If Malay unity is not a threat, why wave a keris?

      • Flag of Truth says:

        JW Tan..

        So why are you afraid if the Malay [Malaysians] want to be united?. 🙂 A united Malay is good for this nation 🙂

        • JW Tan says:

          No, it’s terrible for the nation. Calling for Malay unity is the first step on the road that led to the genocide in Rwanda, the civil war in Sri Lanka, the Syrian civil war, the mess that is Zimbabwe. I can’t believe you can say any of those countries benefited from having one set of citizens ‘unite’ against another set. The only good thing is that there is still time to turn aside.

          A united Malaysia is a good thing. A united Malay community, against their fellow Malaysians, is not. If you cannot agree with this, then the implication is that you do not think non-Malay Malaysians should be Malaysian in the first place. Admit it if so, it’s more honest, and it’s easier to parse your comments.

        • Wave33 says:


          It is flag red now. United is a positive word and it brings strength. United Airlines 93 incident saw the heroes of united passengers against a small united group of terrorists. Those United passengers really prevented further loss of lives.

          If you [are] talking about united Malays, against what [is there] to be united? I can understand when BN calls upon us to be united in [the] Lahad Datu incident. Malaysia has been intruded, we need to protect our motherland and stay united. I beg to differ when Sulus call themselves to be united. United against what? If Christians call Catholics and Protestants to be united, what do you think it is for? Same goes for Muslims. United for what?

          There was a call for the allied troops to be united for a cause in WWII? What was it called for?

          A united Malaysian is good for this nation.

          United is a positive word, so is jihad.

  15. stewoolf says:

    It is odd that no analysis is found in the local media on Muslims’ attacking army personnel in southern Thailand. According to a short commentary by BBC: The attacks came out of nowhere. No organisation. Nobody claimed responsibility. Even Muslim staff at Thai national schools were assaulted and murdered. By Thai Malay Muslims. Risking their lives for no apparent politcal motives.

    Somehow, this seems to tie up to an argument presented by Clive Kessler in an article I read in The Malaysian Insider on the “Allah” issue. It is NOT about religion, he argued. It is UNIQUELY Malay, the Malayness.

    Once in my younger days when my Kadazan and Filipino friends were speaking in their native languages side by side, I noticed their accents were similar. Or almost exactly identical to the Malays’. The human genome project proved that my intuition were right. The twenty six tribes of Taiwan aborigines, the Iban-Dayak and Kadazan-Dusun of Borneo, the Suluk, Bajau, and others of the Philippines, the proto and modern Malays of the Malaya Peninsular, shared a common Polynesia-Malay parenthood.

    Thousand of years of dominating this region coined “nusantara”, until the coming of Portugese and coerced conversion to Catholicism of the Filipino when the rest were converting to Islam en masse five centuries ago and subsequent subservience to the colonial Western powers, produces this uniquely Malay mindset that is neurotic and ultra-sensitive about their Malay identity.

    Nothing, even banning proselytisation to Malay-Muslims in the constitution, can allay fears of conversion with the Christian employing the “Allah” expression. Measures deemed racist in these modern days of political correctness, are justified and rationalised.

    Absolutely, there is nothing wrong with Malay unity. But united for WHAT?? When the Chinese are “united” to build Chinese schools, non-Chinese donations and students, they are most welcome. Something is seriouly wrong when others cannot join in these Malay/Muslim unity efforts.

  16. kaytee says:

    Chinese vernacular education would have become extinct in the early ’60s if not for “wonderful” UMNO, though not in the tolerant manner you might now be picturing them to have been – for more, please read two of my several pieces on the subject:




  17. ellese says:

    I cannot believe we’re having this debate again.

    There is absolutely no justification why anyone can support having a segregated education policy based on race. The demand for this right is not new and since merdeka and had nothing to do with [the] education policy than when we were under the good English syllabus. If you want to learn [your] mother tounge no one will stop you. But it’s different if you promote [an] education system to segregate our young based on race. This is racist. You may not be aware of it but the effect of it is that you deprive my kids of having Chinese [Malaysian] friends. You deprive them of growing, understanding, laughing and empathising with each other. My children don’t have as many non Malay [Malaysian] friends like I did. Why? Because of this individualistic, chauvinistic attitude [that] you’re better than the rest. My life prevails over all else. I still send my children to sekolah kebangsaan just to show it makes no difference. I do this as I have a different philosophy on education but my point is that she is still one of the top students in Malaysia where she was offered a place by the top number one school in Malaysia, The point is not about my kid but its that even in SK you can still excel.

    I […] utterly despise those who wants everyone to be Malaysian first but support programs to separate our children from a child until secondary school. I will call a spade a spade. Those who support this are as racist as those who support Malay rights. No different. Full stop.

    This right to vernacular schools was part of our bargaining when we formed Malaysia. If we really want everyone to be Malaysian, we must at least mix together. Appreciate the nuances, the difficulty and sensitivities of others. I’m a proponent of one school. We do not only abolish the vernacular school but also the religious and ethnic schools.

    Having said that I still believe we need not be like Indonesia where everybody assimilates. One language and identity: bangsa indonesia. The Chinese there were once prohibited to celebrate new year and some now know nuts about their culture. I think here we are like a rainbow. We can recognize each color but unite under Malaysia. Which means that the school can have classes and activities specific to each race like religious, mandarin or other specific classes. We can grow and recognize our culture but we know and respect others by growing together. The sum of values would in the long run move to an equilibrium unique to Malaysia. But without the one school, in 20 years time our children will still be arguing like we did. This is stupidity.

    • JW Tan says:

      I support the right of any student to learn Mandarin Chinese, one of the most important languages in the world in this day and age. In Malaysia, one of the best ways to do this is in a Chinese vernacular school. Of course the existence of Chinese vernacular schools supported by the government has costs, and is incompatible with our country’s need to build a more inclusive and less racist society.

      But there is no equally viable alternative for parents who wish their children to learn this language. This has nothing to do with thinking Chinese [Malaysian] people are somehow superior to Malay [Malaysian] people. Absent any concerns over heritage, culture etc, fluency in Mandarin Chinese is simply more useful than fluency in Bahasa Malaysia, as an economic asset. Fluency in both must be doubly valuable.

      I don’t believe we should keep our children from developing the skills they need to survive in today’s globalised world, just so that we can nation build. There’s got to be a better way to do it than the alternatives of allowing vernacular Chinese schools to continue, or banning them altogether.

      • Flag of Truth says:

        If Malaysia wants to achieve unity for all races then it MUST implement one education system for all. Using mandarin as the reason to justify the existence of vernacular school cannot be accepted.

        • Wave33 says:


          So is using Jawi in education not acceptable too?

          • Flag of Truth says:

            lol.. jawi is used in pendidikan islam.. which is a subject in [the] national education syllabus. What is it with you people? :). You are missing the point here. This is about vernacular school. In order to achieve national unity, we have to abolish all vernacular schools. What is wrong with having only one school for all?

          • JW Tan says:

            Nothing, except that the one school system is currently not fit for purpose. Abolish MARA colleges, madrasahs, religious schools and vernacular schools, and improve the Sekolah Kebangsaan to meet parental requirements.

        • JW Tan says:

          That will not work. In the first place, you’ll never stop parents from sending their children to private schools or colleges. In the second, I didn’t say that a requirement to learn Mandarin justifies the existence of vernacular education in its current government supported form. It is true, however, that a parental requirement that their children learn Mandarin means that vernacular education is favoured over Sekolah Kebangsaan.

          As always, the solution is obvious – change the Sekolah Kebangsaan so that it meets (and exceeds) the requirements of parents who currently send their children to vernacular schools. The language issue is not the only one.

        • Wave33 says:


          Is Agama school a vernacular school?

          • Flag of Truth says:


            In Malaysia, The Primary Sekolah Agama co-exists with the National Primary School System (Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan). Children can attend this school in the morning or afternoon (after attending their secondary school classes). The difference between this school and Chinese vernacular schools is Muslims still allow their children to attend the primary school and this doesn’t happen with the children attending the Chinese or Indian vernacular schools. Children are supposed to mix with each other since primary school.

          • JW Tan says:

            I’d say Sekolah Agama needs to go too. You want students to mix, let them mix in school. Don’t let them mix for 5 or 6 hours then take a subset off somewhere else to bond among themselves. Teach agama in Sekolah Kebangsaan, or not at all.

  18. ellese says:

    There you go again JW justifying racist policies based on individualistic chauvinistic views. Let me [go] through JW’s ridiculous assertion. What if all our ethnic groups like melanau bajau sikh iban kelabiy (and now sulus) etc etc all insists that they should have mother tounge education. Are we to say we fragment further our school system further? We have 30 to 50 more types of SJK? We segregate further our children by ethnicity and race? our country is the only country in the world who believes in mother tounge and cater to all types of mother tounge? This doesn’t make sense.

    This is the deceit by DAP. No one denies you the right to learn mother tounge. You do this privately lah. But we cannot support fragmenting our schools to cater to all ethnic groups. We cannot encourage our young to split further. Now if you argue we limit this to Chinese or Tamils, what makes them so superior than the mother tounge of other ethnic group? It’s still their mother tounge. So don’t be chauvinistic. Be Malaysian first. Realise this DAP supported policy is not only contrary to Malaysian first. It’s racist and chauvinistic. And so are you JW [if you support these policies]. Once you realise this then only you can appreciate our constitution.

    Don’t practice selective racism.

    • JW Tan says:

      No, just teach mother tongue in Sekolah Kebangsaan (but don’t call it mother tongue, just languages). And let’s be honest – many people will prefer to learn Mandarin Chinese and English over Melanau, Bajau or Murut. It’s just more useful.

      I am trilingual, and having worked outside Malaysia for more than a decade, I have used my fluency in Bahasa Malaysia precisely once. Mandarin and English, more times than I can count. I can tell you that many school systems favour learning multiple languages. In the country where I currently work, many schools offer English, French and Spanish as standard. I am able to register my children for a choice of Mandarin, German, Italian or Arabic as a fourth language. In the country where I spent part of my school life, I continued to learn English, Chinese and Malay, and was offered the choice of French, German or Japanese. So you are wrong when you say other education systems don’t offer languages on the pretext of nation building.

      I don’t see why all Malaysian students shouldn’t be offered the chance to learn as many languages as they can (even the lesser spoken ones in East Malaysia, if they so choose). None of this prevents them from learning Bahasa Malaysia and English.

      As for the private route – that’s silly as well. The poor quality of our education system is one reason why private tuition and private education are big businesses in Malaysia. And you are proposing making it worse? I thought you wanted our children to go to school unsegregated by race. I guess you don’t mind if they are segregated by wealth and socio-economic group.

    • JW Tan says:

      Setting it out clearly for you Ellese, if the SKs do not change to offer Mandarin Chinese, Tamil and other languages, our children will still continue to be segregated by race, whatever is done to vernacular schools. Most students in vernacular schools will simply transfer to private schools (placing yet another economic burden on their parents). What will be left will be a rump of poorer students who cannot afford to do so, yet are ill served by the SKs. Our SKs are pretty bad. That’s why clever Malay students go to MARA colleges.

    • JW Tan says:

      lastly, you’re being hypocritical by preaching that I should be Malaysian first while you yourself appear to be happy being Malay first.

      Ironically, I think of myself as Malaysian first. It’s never been a conflict for me.

  19. This is the flicker of a dying candle. Threatening, apparently bright, radiating heat and light but inspite of all of that it is the flicker of a dying candle. The fliker of a dying opposition rag in tatters.

    The fragmented mindset of a fragmented opposition demanding Malaysianess in all things and equality beginning from that default position of Malaysian and not Malay Chinese or India.

    A pathetic attempt at dividing the Malays into Kadazans and Ibans and Orang Asli (who she fails to say is a generic term for the various tribes of Malaysia’s most backward and rural people).

    If that be the case then whats wrong in having Indians, Chinese and Malays in separate parties within government which the country has had since independence as desired by its leaders at independence?

    One thing that Malaysia does not need more of is as ellese says are vernacular schools. It has produced no benefit to the nation as a whole. A point which is going to be debated by many.

    What the author also ignorantly denies by avoiding reference to is that the people of the region called the Malay Archipelago till recent years are anthropologically defined as Malays. That includes the Iban, Kadazan and the rest mentioned.

    The internationally accepted and drawn borders by the colonials are what we have all agreed to live by.

    Surin does not know the origin of her name or where she comes from and by that defect is unable to identify with those who can.

    • JW Tan says:

      Sorry, that’s pretty garbled.

      Do you object to the author’s point that there is no such thing as a consistently defined ‘Malay’ ethnic group? I would say you agree with it, based on that post.

      Or are you saying that the ‘Malay’ identity is used as a shibboleth to include and exclude certain citizens in order to corral a subset of voters? I would say this is closer to the truth, yet you seem to be saying that it should be expanded further, dropping other shibboleths like Islam, in order to include the East Malaysian ethnic groups. I’m certain that this would unacceptably dilute the ‘Malay’ identity that UMNO is striving to define.

  20. ellese says:

    Goodness JW, you’re still justifying an institutionalized racist policy of segregating our young by race. Why do you believe it’s right for you to support a system which denies my children to have NO non Malay friends? Should we not encourage our young to mix together? Then don’t justify this separatist policy. We try to make it work.

    I can put my children in private and boarding but chose not to. I have a different education philosophy. And you know what she was still offered a place by the top school in Malaysia (including private and boarding schools) over thousands others including those who studied in private schools.

    The point is not about my children. We must support one school system. We cannot call to have more fragmentation. Buffet made one simple assertion on US public schools. He opposed these private schools. You know why? Coz people have no stake in publicschools and won’t develop it.

    Those who fight to have vernacular school has nothing to do with our SK quality. When we obtained our independence we were under English system and yet these people want vernacular school. These supporters including DAP (I need to mention this coz of their cloak racism) are simply chauvinistic thinking their individualistic needs are above all else. In other words racist. Because of that many don’t have a stake in our school.

    You may not know this coz you’re ignorant. My children in SK have French classes organized by the school. They learn the French language and take recognized exams. I organized debating sessions for them to expose them with top debaters in Malaysia who have done well internationally. Point is you must have a stake like Buffet. Then you improve it. Don’t be chauvinistic. Don’t give excuses justifying racist policy.

  21. ellese says:

    Dear JW,

    I’ve reread your commentary. I have been discoloured by our past debate and I have written over what you wrote. To this i have to retract. I think we have consensus on one school system. On language it should not be an issue in SK because if we don’t have vernacular schools there’s enough teachers to teach the mother tounge. As I told you my children in SK school has even French language class. Hope to test her French in Paris soon.:-)

    • lex says:

      Hah…I was following the debate between ellese and JW. Omg, ellese, what took you so long to see that both you & JW have long agreed on this school topic. My heart was racing when you kept writing negative response back to JW when he has stated exactly what you were hoping for in earlier response…. Fuh~~

    • Celia says:

      Really didn’t know SK schools offered French classes! Since when?

  22. Wak says:

    JW Tan says:

    March 12, 2013 at 1:13 am

    What, precisely, do you think Malays / Muslims are being asked to unite against? It’s their fellow citizens. And this is not a threat to them?

    That’s a naive view, and goes against all the sabre rattling that UMNO political leaders are prone to. If Malay unity is not a threat, why wave a keris?

    Dear JW Tan,

    I am not [an] UMNO supporter or [of] any political parties in Malaysia either …

    As far as I remember (After 60 years of age ..) there are no PHYSICAL Threats as you said …..

    It’s seems that YOU ARE AFRAID OF MALAY UNITY … Chinese Unity (As per DAP believes) is okey kut….

    Have any others non-malay/muslim been killed by waving UMNO Keris so far ?

    Sometimes we have to be realistic and DO NOT WORRY [about] something that MIGHT (MIGHT NOT ..) happen in the future …


    • JW Tan says:

      I’m sorry, keris-waving accompanied by a statement of intent is a physical threat. If I threatened to shoot you with my shotgun, you would report me to the police. You wouldn’t wait till I actually shot you to take action, because (let me be blunt) that would be stupid.

      Malaysian voters are not stupid, so they react quite strongly to keris-waving. Some in the way I’d expect decent people to react, and others in quite different ways. But make no mistake, (almost) everyone understands Najib’s threats to be threats.

      Also, to set things straight, the DAP doesn’t go for Chinese unity. It happens to represent a large proportion of the Chinese community, but there’s little in its statements and aims that could not apply to other ethnicities as well. In fact, the DAP does a relatively poor job on the ethnic Chinese-specific issues that matter to me – like the learning of Mandarin Chinese, the role of clan, dialect group and family associations in Malaysian life etc.

      • Abdullah says:

        Isn’t it a well established sociological observation that at the roots of Chinese civilization are three great streams of religio-philosophical traditions namely: Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism? Aren’t dialect groups and clan associations in most part “carry-overs” from the historical demographics of the Chinese mainland?

        Many of my Chinese friends can’t even tell the four noble truths apart from the eightfold-path of deliverance from suffering which the Shakyamuni Gautama taught . . . let alone give a fair account of the intents and purposes of Confucius’ Analects; how many have contemplated the only surviving text of philosophical taoism – the Tao Te Ching ( but Chinese cultural today is rife with the practices of “popular taoism” which is really far from doing justice to the heights of Chinese thought and civilization . . . anyone can see that Chinese culture today is amalgamated with a thoroughgoing secular-economic mindset which stresses pragmatism over profundity, temporal gains above spiritual growth, etc.

        • lex says:

          Hi Abdullah,

          I have not followed what you have wrote before but i must agree with you on this point. Most Chinese [Malaysians] do not even know what was thought by Shakyamuni, Analects or Tao Te Ching and it is sad because only by knowing these, Chinese will learn to focus more on inner growth rather than secular-economic growth.
          But still Abdullah, the Chinese [Malaysian] people are a very flexible bunch, having been through thousands of years of war, killings & poverty. (no Chinese really experienced those themselves but through proverbs + culture + teachings + stories, modern Chinese will inadvertently teach their youngs). Chinese [Malaysians] have since became very practical (perhaps too practical, but who should judge?). If a parent can only put 2 meals on the table for today & will have to worry about meals for tomorrow & next week, why should they put their minds on praying, meditating, concern about what others say, worry about breaking the traditions, etc…? A simple truth is God will help those who help themselves. As long as you pick yourself up, have a plan & work hard, I don’t think any God will abandon you.
          Anyway, my point is it’s hard to focus on spiritual growth when life is tough. We only do that when things get easier.

          • Abdullah says:

            You’re quite right lex, hardship does take its toll on the spiritual resources of any individual, & my views are directed to the general audience, especially the affluent, certainly not towards the destitute as in your stated example. Perhaps I’m asking if there cannot be much more striving for “balance” in life between the goods of the worldly life, and the merits of the life in the hereafter by means of forsaking materialistic attachments?

            God will likely not help anyone who doesn’t choose to help himself [or herself] fairly and honestly. But the Most Merciful is closer to us than our jugular veins.

            But I’m surprised: is life really that tough for many Chinese Malaysians here? Pardon me, but in my experience, nurturing the spirit cannot be divorced from the outward seeking of life’s necessities. Defining what’s “necessary” is going to be subjective; we all need to take knowledge from the friend and helper who have traveled the path and brought their souls closer to the ineffable source that is God, where true happiness lies waiting to be received.

  23. Wak says:

    Dear Mr JW Tan,

    It’s seem that you are afraid of Malay / Muslims being United…

    After nearly 60 years after Merdeka …. is there a THREAT to others – Non-Malay / Muslim ?

    The current Malay / Muslim unity (Not that united really ..) has been TOLERANCE to others Non-Malay /Muslim so far … Do you agree ..?


  24. Abdullah says:

    The Wahhabi-educated people are ubiquitous in our society, which has led for many decades now to the degradation of Malay religious understanding and a fragmentation of its cultural identity.
    “Wahhabi” curriculums, most significantly at their university level, eradicate the study and application of logic (mantiq) in the jurisprudential sciences [which has been a mainstay of orthodox scholarship]: thus their habitual free and easy “legal pronouncements” (hukum) of all sorts in societal matters.
    “Wahhabi” curriculums also eradicate the study of the spiritual sciences of “the heart” which has been the distinguishing feature of the orthodox universally as well as the Malay ulama for hundreds of years, and the spiritual food of the saints of God (waliyullah): Nusantara history is rife with the stories and teachings of these saints [wahhabis do not recognize the genealogical fraternity of the saints which can be traced backwards all the way to the seal of heavenly revelations, Prophet Muhammad, peace an blessings be upon him]
    Wahhabism’s obdurate character has thus exposed the religion of Islam to the ideological attacks of materialistic secularism – subjective relativism and agnosticism.

    May our most Merciful Creator and Sustainer protect and guide us in the journey of our lives.

  25. Sunna Sutta says:

    “How can any advice that is based on a myth, promotes disunity in multiracial and multireligious Malaysia, and advances the interest of a corrupt and authoritarian party be good?”

    Jacqueline, in asking that question you erred in assuming that race and ethnicity based on myth are false concepts. There are crucial differences between race and ethnicity. Race refers to the physical appearance of a group of people, such as colour of skin, eye and hair, bone/jaw structure, etc. Ethnicity, on the other hand, are social constructs based on the sense of shared identity of a group in regard to nationality, culture, ancestry, language, religious beliefs, and myths of origin. For your information, there is no biological or scientific basis in the concept of race. As a result of bloody genocides carried out in the name of racial hatred, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 has adopted the use of the term, ‘ethnic group’ and abandoned the use of ‘race’. Unfortunately, this has not prevented ‘ethnic cleansing’ in recent human history.

    In the final analysis, origin or creation myths play a crucial role in creating a sense of ethnic belonging. Such myths are powerful defence mechanisms used by an ethnic group against perceived threats from other ethnic groups. To suggest that the Malay identity developed only during British colonial times is utterly false. It has even been commonly alleged that ‘Malay’ is a corruption of the word, ‘malaise’ used by the British to wickedly describe the natives. The Malay identity originated in the Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah, which were more of mythological than historical narratives. The legendary Hang Tuah was said to lamented, “Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia.”

    It does not matter at all that the myth of the Malay identity continued to evolve during colonial times until it was finally politically defined in the Constitution of Malaysia in 1957. However, I fully agree that the supremacist sense of Malay ethnicity is dangerous.

  26. Flag of Truth says:

    JW Tan..

    The vernacular schools must be closed in order for us to achieve unity.

    and one more thing.. what is it about the paranoia (with regards) of the keris waving act?.. I have always stressed that Malay [Malaysians] are the most tolerant of all people.. You don’t see any bloodshed just because one or two political figures waves their keris.. in fact, the act of unsheathing the keris has its own meaning in malay culture.

    • JW Tan says:

      Again, it would be stupid to to wait till someone died before speaking out.

      Besides, if Malay Malaysians were tolerant, then we wouldn’t see the ugly incidents in Shah Alam concerning cow heads and threats of violence. Or is this your version of the One True Scotsman fallacy?

      • Flag Of Truth says:

        JW Tan…You seem to miss the point. If we want to be considered as a Malaysian, we MUST be fluent in Bahasa Melayu which is the official language of the Federation of Malaysia. Let us take US as an example. It has so many immigrants coming from Europe but the official language is still ENGLISH and they adopt Anglo-American culture as their own culture.

        The Malaysian government never had any policy that prevents anyone from learning a certain language but it is not a wise decision to adopt more than one language as OUR official language. You must remember, language is a tool for unity.

        • JW Tan says:

          Actually, it’s not uncommon for people who live in the US to be fluent in both Spanish and English. There is no ‘official’ language in the US. In fact, politicians campaign in both Spanish and English. ‘Yes we can’ is (mis)translated as ‘Si, se puede’.

          Similarly, there’s no reason why Malaysians should not be multilingual. Language is only a tool for unity if you dumb down everyone to the same unskilled, uneducated level. Admittedly our education system is designed to do that quite well.

  27. ellese says:

    Please note the statement by JW that DAP is not about fighting Chinese right is wrong. DAP has always called for the concept of Malaysian first. But since merdeka they have always wanted to separate the Chinese from the rest pursuant to the so called dubious mother tounge education. It’s against the Malaysian first concept just to attract the Chinese [Malaysian] votes. These Malaysian first in fact to some means Chinese first. Thus you see their meetings being conducted in Chinese, their campaigns are in Chinese or the constituency where they want to contest are Chinese majority areas. How unclear can this be? You cannot separate our youngs based on race and expect them when adult to be non racial Malaysian first. A con to the highest degree.

    • JW Tan says:

      That’s ridiculous. Politicians are in the business of communicating, and to communicate effectively, one has to do it in language (literally, in this case) well understood by the target audience. I don’t expect to be represented by people who cannot communicate with me and are therefore less able to understand my issues. I’m sorry, but if a candidate wants my vote and speaks to me on, say, vernacular Chinese education in English, then my gut feeling is that they just don’t get it.

      I would much rather be represented by multi-lingual people who listen and communicate to the rakyat effectively than a linguistic chauvinist who advocates keeping Malaysians stupid and skill-less in the name of national unity.

      For all you people banging the drum on closing vernacular schools, let’s hear your opinion on MARA colleges and sekolah agama. To be consistent, you should want them closed down as well (as do I). Otherwise you’re part of the problem.

      • idris says:

        No problem – close them. Religious schools in particular, assuming they aren’t private at least.

        Why is this even a question?

    • JW Tan says:

      It’s telling (and a little sad) that when you think of Malaysians, you see them speaking Bahasa Melayu. To me, Malaysians have always been multi-lingual. In school I spoke to my ethnic Chinese friends in various dialects of Chinese, and I spoke to my Malay friends in Bahasa Melayu. I even learned enough Tamil to listen to the radio. Some of my Malay friends could speak pretty good Hokkien. Few of us ever kept these skills up long enough to make a difference though – I can’t remember any Tamil now.

      To me, Malaysians talking together means lots of languages being used at the same time. Like the scene from Yasmin Ahmad’s Sepet, where 4 people are at the dinner table talking in 4 different languages and they have no problem understanding each other. That’s how it used to be, but it’s no longer like that.

      • idris says:

        Yes, we are impressed. Good on you. Perhaps you happened to be in a unique situation.

        I haven’t seen any evidence to show that it was the norm at any time at all throughout Malaysia’s history (that isn’t to say it wasn’t the norm, of course). Maybe it was so when discussing very simple topics (in fact it still is sometimes – but only on mind-numbingly simple topics), but otherwise I don’t believe it ever was this way. Which in other words makes it trivial, superficial.

        That said – to my mind, Malaysians talking together simply means everyone understanding each other perfectly – at least as far as language is concerned (no need to be trite and talk about some words meaning different things to different people, even if they share the same mother tongue). Yes indeed. If A,B,C and D each speak four completely different languages at the same time yet all understand each other perfectly (ok, ok ‘perfectly’ if you prefer), even on difficult/complex topics, good. If there was an education system that could enable this, whatever it may be (even if it means a vernacular system or something similar to it), no problemo to my mind.

        I don’t think this is possible. Maybe in utopia. Thus, one core language. If I recall correctly you mentioned somewhere that you think this silly. Too bad for me, then.

        I think most Malaysians who can speak a language the majority cannot, cannot understand how it feels to be in the group yet out of the conversation. Certainly, I think you cannot, JWTan.

        • idris says:

          Ah, a short note. Stating the obvious I believe but anyway. One core language does not mean, or imply, the mastery of one language only. How else you choose to interpret what I mean by this is up to you and your bias.

          • JW Tan says:

            Idris, I agree that one core language does not necessarily mean one single language. However, in your previous comment, you stated that you believe fluency in multiple languages is not possible for a school system to instill. So, you do mean one single language when you say ‘one core language’.

            As someone who learnt multiple languages in school, I fully disagree. We need only look at Singapore and Holland (two easy examples) to see that it is possible.

        • JW Tan says:

          You’ve forgotten that most Malaysians who are fluent in Bahasa Malaysia and a ‘vernacular tongue’ started out fluent in that tongue first. So they do know exactly what it is like to be ostensibly part of a group and yet be out of the conversation. Yet their response is not to childishly cry and demand that everyone else change to suit their deficiency. It is to remedy their own skill gap. I highly recommend this course of action.

          I also reject the idea that my situation was particularly fortunate. I was in the same situation as thousands of other Malaysians. I simply took the view that (1) it is crass and rude to not learn how to communicate with others and insist that they learn to communicate with you and (2) by taking action on your own you ensure that you can never be excluded. I was told these things when I was 7 or 8-years-old. Clearly Malaysian parents have failed to communicate these truths since. Or maybe relatively few of them ever did, and there are even fewer nowadays. More’s the pity.

          • idris says:

            “You’ve forgotten that most Malaysians who are fluent in Bahasa Malaysia and a ‘vernacular tongue’ started out fluent in that tongue first. So they do know exactly what it is like to be ostensibly part of a group and yet be out of the conversation. ”

            No they don’t, not at all. It isn’t a case of me forgetting, if anything it’s you that has forgotten. […]

            Put simply – very, Very simply – think of the age at which such Malaysians reach the necessary level of fluency for reasonably effective communication with those who only know BM (or, for that matter, English). And, as you said to someone else, (you might want to) think carefully before you answer (else you won’t get a reply – as if that matters).

            “I simply took the view that (1) it is crass and rude to not learn how to communicate with others and insist that they learn to communicate with you and (2) by taking action on your own you ensure that you can never be excluded.”
            Sounds nice. So nice, in fact, that I agree with you. In fact I think you’d be surprised by the number of Malaysian parents who still teach this to their kids, some even before they get to 7 or 8 (oh yes). But things work differently in reality, I’ve discovered. As above, I don’t think it’s worth my time explaining this to you. You should already know.

          • idris says:

            And please note that there are other ways to show that “So they do know exactly what it is like to be ostensibly part of a group and yet be out of the conversation” is simply not true. I’ve mentioned them before, here in TNG.

          • JW Tan says:

            Idris, firstly, if you don’t feel your previous contributions on this topic are worth repeating or are relevant to this discussion, please allow me to agree with you.

            Secondly, either you do not have children or you do not pay much attention to them. Young children may not be able to speak a language to an adult level of fluency, but it still distresses them when their peers speak a language they don’t. My own three year old knows the difference between English and another language, and he gets upset when it happens. You shouldn’t disregard these experiences, especially since they are formative and influence people’s reactions to similar situations when they are older. So, let me state again – Malaysians who do not learn Bahasa Melayu first know exactly what it is like to ostensibly be part of a group and yet be excluded.

            Thirdly, you may sneer as much as you wish, but clearly your experiences were not mine. There was a time when Malaysians were neighbourly enough to learn how to communicate to each other in other languages. If you didn’t experience this, then I can only sympathise.

          • idris says:

            “Idris, firstly, if you don’t feel your previous contributions on this topic are worth repeating or are relevant to this discussion, please allow me to agree with you.”

            As expected, you would say such [a thing], and that TNG would let it through.

          • JW Tan says:

            For heaven’s sake. If you want to communicate, then write your comments in a fashion that satisfies moderation requirements yet still gets your point across. If you give plenty of coy hints but no substance, then I assume you have nothing to say, and that you do not wish to say anything.

            Also, if you wish to hurl sneers and insults, please don’t be outraged or surprised if some of it comes back your way. Don’t play the martyr – it’s unbecoming and childish.

          • idris says:

            This was expected, too.

      • Celia says:

        I spoke English at home while I learnt Malay in school & Hokkien from my Chinese neighbours, so I agree with you JW.

  28. Abdullah says:

    Salaams everyone,

    This video lecture by Dr Umar Faruq Abdullah may open the way for multi-racial Malaysians to a better understanding of divine shariah as it applies to specific societal settings:

    Malay virtues are at their best, the perennial human virtues of compassionate and justice, the cultivation of true courage and temperance and spiritual wisdom. The traditional Malay worldview is essentially the Sufi way of traversing the middle path between extremes.

    Dr Umar is an American scholar of classical Islam whose religious resources can be traced all the way back to the Prophet Muhammad – in contradistinction to the Wahhabi sectarianism of recent times. He is no stranger to English-speaking orthodox Islamic teachers in Malaysia.

    This is the essay he is referring to in the video: “Seek Knowledge in China: Thinking out of the Abrahamic Box”

    [For those unacquainted, to access the internet links above, first highlight the “link-address”, then right-click on mouse, and select “go to link-address” on the menu.]

  29. Sandokan says:

    Splitting up the Malays into Jawa, Bugis, Mamak etc is as disingenuous as splitting up the Chinese into Hokkiens, Hakkas, Cantonese etc and Indians into Tamils, Telegus, Malayalams etc.

    This only acknowledges their differences, while denying their entrenched similarities.

    It is as silly as saying there is no mathematics, only algebra, calculus, geometry etc.

    And Islam has always called itself ONE religion, in spite of the different schools.

    What a stupid article, by an ill-intentioned hag.

    • Adam says:


      If you do not understand the arguments put up by the writer and consider the writer ill-intentioned, we could accept that and try to enlighten you further. But to call the writer a hag is really uncalled for and it shows that you have indeed lost control of your feelings.

      To have unity is a good thing but if it is used to divide the people with the agenda to enrich certain individuals it is wrong and evil. Many have already commented on the issue, with kaytee giving the strongest of statement that “… by comparison or more correctly, by contrast, the UMNO ‘Malay-Muslim unity’ is an obscenity.” I could not disagree with that. To me, Malay-Muslim unity as promoted by ketuanan Melayu, is more of a contradiction in so many ways. It could be more easily justifiable to promote ketuanan Bumiputra instead.

      Let me illustrate the problem with certain unity calls by your own statement that “And Islam has always called itself ONE religion, in spite of the different schools”. The statement is correct in that Muslims of the different sects believe in one God and they all perform the Haj in Mecca. The problem is that they do not see eye to eye with one another to the extent that persecution takes place all the time and sometimes killing too.

      Hope you see my point and that of the writer too.

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