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.
MukhrizThe 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
theSun)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.
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.
The Nut Graph needs your support