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Who wants a united Malaysia?

TM ad as featured in Berita Harian, August 2009
I DON’T know about anyone else, but I’m confused about whether our political leaders, from both the Barisan Nasional (BN) and the Pakatan Rakyat (PR), really want national unity as they claim.

Predictably, ever since the prime minister announced the ideals of 1Malaysia, we’ve had a spate of government announcements and corporate advertisements extolling the virtues of the 1Malaysia brand of unity. But long before the BN lost ground in March 2008 and dreamt up 1Malaysia, the opposition parties and civil society had already been talking about the need for a Malaysia that recognised merit and need, rather than race.

Still, the actions of some parties within both the BN and the PR coalitions have repeatedly been inconsistent with the principles that ensure national unity and mutual respect for one another’s cultures and rights. More alarmingly, since the March 2008 elections, these parties — notably Umno and PAS — have actually demonstrated a willingness and the intention to negate equal rights for all Malaysians.

In the BN corner

On 8 Aug 2009, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir was quoted as saying that Malaysians should not be required to state their race in forms except where required to gain special bumiputera privileges.

“I would highly encourage that such columns for race be removed [from these forms]. This is in line with the 1Malaysia concept,” he said after delivering a talk in Nibong Tebal.

The statement by the deputy international trade and industries minister, who is also Umno Youth exco member, is revealing. It tells us that maintaining artificial racial categorisations serves one purpose. It helps the BN government, especially Umno, uphold the privileging of one racial community over others, not based on need, but on arbitrary constructions of racial identity.

Compare Mukhriz’s suggestion with that of Project Irrelevant, a civil society initiative that urges Malaysians to answer “Bangsa Malaysia” when asked what race they were. Blogger and human rights activist Haris Ibrahim says that when Malaysians are asked to fill in their race and religion, the impact is actually one of “dividing and ‘communalising'” Malaysians.

So what is Mukriz’s proposal all about, then? His message about 1Malaysia is this: yes, we can have a united Malaysia, but only if one group of citizens is privileged over others based on the colonial definitions of what constitutes a particular race. Why should race be unimportant to Mukhriz except in situations involving special bumiputera privileges? Because Mukhriz’s — and by extension, Umno’s — 1Malaysia actually wants to continue keeping the different communities divided over opportunities, privileges and rights.

Mind you, he isn’t the only Umno leader who has been quick to adopt the slogan “1Malaysia” for the purposes of appearing to want national unity. Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, for one, was quoted as saying that he, like his grandfather Datuk Onn Jaafar, dreams of a united Malaysia. “I continue to dream of a united Malaysia and I continue to hold on to that dream,” he told a Melbourne Umno Club seminar titled Racial integration and its challenges in the Australian city on 9 Aug 2009.

Hishammuddin (File pic courtesy of
This former Umno Youth chief was the same politician who raised and waved the keris at both the 2006 and 2007 Umno general assembly in stubborn denial and rejection of other communities’ fears. Indeed, it would be safe to say that if not for the March 2008 trouncing by the electorate, Hishammuddin and other Umno Youth members would have continued to assert their brand of Malay supremacy.

And so, should we believe the new home minister when he asserts today that having a united Malaysia “is a [topic] that is very close to me personally” because he is the grandson of Onn, who wanted to open Umno to all races?

In both these examples, glib is what comes to mind when politicians’ claims are so clearly unsupported by their actions.

In the PR corner

Unfortunately for the electorate, the performance of some PR leaders hasn’t been that inspiring either. One classic example has been how Selangor PAS tried to push for the ban of alcohol sales in Muslim-majority areas in the state.

The whole of Malaysia, as it has already been pointed out by others, is a Muslim-majority area. By suggesting that Islamic prohibitions should inform public policy in Muslim-majority areas, isn’t Selangor PAS commissioner Datuk Dr Hassan Ali actually saying that Muslims have more rights than non-Muslims in such areas?

If we are to follow Hassan’s logic, what he really wants is for Muslim rights (the different interpretations about alcohol consumption aside) to take precedence over non-Muslims’. And it wouldn’t just be in Selangor, since Muslims make up more than 60% of the nation’s population.

If it were Hassan and PAS in power today, what would non-Muslims have to give up next in Malaysia? It is not unfathomable that pork sales and keeping pet dogs would also be banned in the interest of the majority.

Why unite?

(Pic by ba1969 /
To be fair, the same can also be said about Umno. After all, pork consumption and having pet dogs have all been made into “sensitive” issues under Umno rule as well.

Hassan may be couching the banning of alcohol as the need to “respect Muslim sensitivities”, just as Umno often defends and promotes “Malay Muslim sensitivities”; but we need to be aware of the principle underlying such rhetoric. What both Umno and PAS are saying is: in Malaysia, Malay Muslim rights will always be more legitimate and will always override non-Malay, non-Muslim rights. Why? Because they are the majority, while the rest of us the minority.

Is it any wonder then that both parties continue to flirt with each other over the idea of a unity government that would unite Malay Malaysian Muslims into an impregnable majority?

How does denying equal rights to minority groups of citizens promote national unity? How can Malaysians feel that they are 1Malaysia or Bangsa Malaysia or whatever else the slogan may be if some are made to feel that they need to constantly defer to the “sensitivities” of the majority?

In any relationship, it is hard to remain loyal and committed if one is constantly made to feel less important and less valued than the other. But more than that, it is hard to feel united as Malaysians if one group is constantly made to feel like it is on the brink of offending another. Indeed, happy relationships are not born from being subjected to inequality and manufactured “sensitivities”.

But inequality is exactly what Umno and PAS are offering the rakyat, no matter what the branding. Only fools would settle for anything less than equality. And one can only hope that Malaysia isn’t a nation of fools.

Jacqueline Ann Surin believes that citizens should have equal rights, and that any politician who tries to negate those rights should be shown the door.

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19 Responses to “Who wants a united Malaysia?”

  1. PM says:

    1Malaysia is all hot air and rhetoric when the DPM and ministers like Mukhriz are still openly espousing ketuanan Melayu.

    As for Hishammuddin, he is in the position of power to influence and change for a united Malaysia unlike his grandfather who did not have this opportunity then. However, if he continues to wave his keris or continue similar acts, he can continue his dream about a united Malaysia. Hopefully, his dream will not turn into a nightmare for all right-minded Malaysians regardless of race.

  2. Adam says:

    1Malaysia is just a slogan and empty inside. As we can see, whichever the political divide you come from, there is strong suspicions amongst the races, mainly created by the overzealous politicians. Politicians should ask themselves, are they asset or liability to Malaysia’s future generation.

  3. Antares says:

    Impressively eloquent and lucid, Jacqueline. There have been many excellent articles in The Nut Graph, making it an online journal well worth funding and preserving. If I were a rich man (deeda deedi dadoodadoo deedum) I’d be asking you for your banking details so I can transfer RM100,000 into your account.

  4. sumat says:

    No one know what 1Malaysia is, I doubt even Najib knows either. Don’t worry lah, the argument can be draged until the next elections and we can forget about it when BN is booted out then.

  5. Laic says:

    Our politicians are the most undignified and hypocritical lot that I have seen. Their claims on wanting to unify Malaysians are blatant bluffs. They are as crooked as their old time colonial masters and learnt that divide and rule would be to the best of their interest. They are a chip off their old colonial master’s block.

  6. Kunyit says:

    [..] The assumptions that you have made in the article make up about 50% of the article itself. Let me just clarify. The support for 1Malaysia from all Umno and BN members is a step toward a united Malaysia. And you must acknowledge that it is true. The suggestion by Datuk Mukhriz also is a good one to start of in that direction, but instead of looking at it [as a] glass half full, you continue to interpret and view (in your eyes) as half empty.

    PR? Three parties with differing objectives. Up to you guys to think about it.

  7. Subramanian says:

    The non-Malay [Malaysians] are simply being used by the Malay [Malaysian]-based political parties to win elections. Once they are in power, they simply discard them. I have given up all hope of 1Malaysia. To Umno and PAS (except a few), it has always been Malays and Muslim rights.

    They will never come to terms that Malaysia is for all and no one race will have more rights over the others.They will never believe in the concept of one God and one race i.e. human race. When will [humankind] ever learn to live peacefully and in harmony? Those who preach goodness must practise it!

  8. alvint7 says:

    Malaysian politics, an apartheid in disguise. Where else in the world when a democratic country still separates their citizens into, for example, bumiputra and non-bumiputra? What more to say [that] giving them different treatments is right. And when you question this issue, you will be [detained under the] ISA. How obvious this is NOT DEMOCRATIC.

  9. Main says:

    The term “united” in the Malaysian context has been held for a long time by the people themselves. Now it has been brought over to its limit of being accepted that is, all that [has been] said and will be said pictures a different view from what is being felt by almost all logical thinking Malaysians. Care to differ? Prepare to feel the damage.

  10. future says:

    1Malaysia is a long-term policy, in another 50 years time, perhaps the Malay [Malaysians] will constitute about 80% of the population. When that happens, what would the rest of the 20% hope to achieve even if all of the 20% voted opposition parties… Perhaps, rather than criticising 1Malaysia and BN, it’s better for the minority to get themselves populated, perhaps up to 50%, then they stand a good chance of asking for equality. Otherwise, they are all just barking at the wrong tree.. this includes the author..

  11. Well done, Jacqueline, a fine piece of writing of which I could not agree more. The Malay [Malaysian] politicians suffer from a disease of the mind which deprives them of the ability to understand what really is equality. Their version of equality is that their privileges are sacrosanct, that Islam is superior to all other religions and they are greater in number. Therefore, it is their right to be the dominating race and impose their values and their demands on the minority. With this kind of thinking and attitude, how can there be a united Malaysia?

  12. tom wong says:

    I advise DPM Muhyiddin Yassin to stop playing the race and religion cards because he is actually digging his own graveyard. By Umno tradition (well, should BN live to see the next PM transition), he may be the next PM serving the especially the mid to young generation who are exposed to the global community. He will not get the respect and cooperation from all races [if] he is a racist PM. Even a ketua kampung needs cooperation from every race. To Muhyiddin, I’m recording what you do and taking note of what you say and will put it into Malaysian history as well. Good luck to your divide and control strategy.

  13. Fikri Roslan says:

    I like the name “Jacqueline Ann Surin” and many other names alien to the people in this region. I am happy as it will reflect the diversity and international aspects of this country. It was said that during the Portuguese era in Malacca, a variety of languages were used/spoken by people of various ethnicities and nationalities. These people went back to their countries after the Portuguese left. However, it was Umno who created the problem [for] this country by granting citizenship to these economic-seeking immigrants. It is the responsibility of Umno, in my view therefore, to reinstall the original name of “Tanah Melayu” to the Semenanjung Malaysia, as well as to strengthen the special status of Malays as the pribumi [of] this contry.

    This country has its history and was not just established 52 years ago. This country has been here hundreds if not thousands of years ago governed by Malays living in this Malay archipelago. It hurts me alot — the statement “kita semua pendatang” by these new Malaysians. So at least, Umno must implement and enforce all articles in the federal constitution. Otherwise, we should review and assess the performance of these new Malaysians. Yes, we are sharing contribution to taxes but favouring Malay [Malaysians] in the implementation(?). Maybe we should also study the possible scenario where only Malays were citizens of this country. In this [scenario], we may have less problems [about] identity as Malaysians, as well as less problems related to the distribution of wealth in this country.

  14. The Watcher says:

    Hisham does not dream of a united Malaysia. He’s just dreaming.

  15. michael says:

    Religion is to make us good human beings. Money and politics screw up the good intention of any religion. So who is the devil political party that screws up the goodness of [humankind]?

  16. aka says:

    Well, I think there is more of a willingness from the PR side to shift to the center. For PAS, this will certainly take time. But looking at the cooperation that currently exists between DAP and PAS, (minus the occasional hiccups), I would put good money down on PAS moderating. Also leaders in DAP should realise this and allow PAS some time. Don’t expect changes to happen in a day.

  17. Joseph Chin says:

    Equality for all regardless of whether we’re non-Muslim bumiputeras or Muslim Malays-Indians-Chinese, then we can really be 1Malaysia, nothing less than that.

  18. Gayathry says:

    Kunyit: I disagree with you on the point about how to view Mukhriz’s statement. These are one off, ad hoc statements. Real changes come when there are overall institutional reforms. The reality is also that identification by ethnicity is one of the strongest political tools…I don’t think they will give it up so fast.

    PR? BN? They both need to be checked, and I think that’s what the writer is saying. What have BN and PR done to support citizens who truly believe in a united nation?

  19. dcyk says:

    1Malaysia? Let’s see them having a multiracial party first, instead of race-based parties. If they can have a multiracial party, then 1Malaysia can be realised in future (how far I don’t know). Lead by example 🙂

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