We Kelantanese are not amenable to beating around bushes. We are not a pantun and seloka society. And we do not partake in gurindam and puisi to express our thoughts. We are simpler, more straightforward, more robust, with a clarity of thought and tenacity of purpose reflective of our history and existence as a frontline state against T’ai Buddhist expansionism. Our other half, the old Malay kingdom of Patani, was overrun and annexed in 1902, and today three million Malays there simmer under Thai occupation. Kelantan extricated itself in the nick of time in 1909. Otherwise, KijangMas would be posting as ศรกนกกระจง from กรุงเทพมหานคร.
Our 1,500 year history (from the era of the Ch’ih-tu and Langkasuka kingdoms) are dotted with epic battles for survival, with Kelantan-Patani warriors recorded in the historical annals of Burma, Siam, Cambodia, Champa, Vietnam and all the way down the Malay Peninsula and across to Java, Makasar and beyond. We are a martial race. Our survival as a people throughout 600 years of T’ai aggression was dependent on our capacity to meet these attacks head on, blow for blow, though at times we were outnumbered 5 to 1 on the battlefield. We couldn’t afford to beat around bushes and circumvent issues and hope the problems will go away. No, we face issues head on, albeit with political finesse and diplomatic panache only an old, socially cohesive race could muster.
Our Wayang Kulit invariably ends with epic battles transcending the bumi and kayangan between powerful forces of good and evil, where the Sri Rama ultimately prevails over a thoroughly vanquished enemy. Our stories are conclusive. Nothing is left to conjecture and interpretations, as in the case of convoluted cerpens. And this conclusiveness shaped our mindset -- as the children of the Sri Rama.
We are hardy, tenacious and self-reliant. That’s why the Kelantan-Patani tribe are found everywhere on earth, from California to London to Makkah and beyond. We are not amenable to self-pity or indulge in a fatalistic disposition. Traditionally, we did not partake in these luxuries as our collective energies were focused on the ceaseless invasions from the north. The weak and the unindustrious are long gone, having perished in battles and leaving no progenies to perpetuate their inadequacies. We couldn’t relate to the guilt and sadness-laden dramas and cerekaramas dished out by the West Coast Malay, what I term the Riau Malay. We view things as they are, although we say things with refined subtlety reflective of our old civilization. We hardly raise our voices. We don’t use hand gestures as props. We say what we need to say softly but assuredly in our idiom-rich vocabulary. And we mean what we say.
On this basis, I will address the issue of our country’s sick ailment – Racial Polarisation – in the way it should be addressed – with the frankness and granularity only a child of the Sri Rama could expound.
Why all this fuss about racism?
Malaysia is, by definition, a “racist” country. Yes. Stop kidding ourselves. We are all racists. In fact, Racism defines the dynamics of Malaysia’s socio-political framework. Our nation was forged via an incoherent rendition of pragmatic ethnocentrism that has been in a state of perpetual disequilibrium ever since. Indeed, this is the only country on earth in this day and age where racial distinction is institutionalized and, in a perverse legitimization of this incongruity, touted as a plus factor.
The authorities further affirmed this racial consciousness by proclaiming:
The tombstone in the Tourism Malaysia portal says it all:-
In the heart of Asia lies a land of many cultures, wonders and attractions. With a sparkling and lively melting pot of races and religious (sic) where Malays, Chinese, Indians and the many ethnic groups of Sabah and Sarawak live together in peace and harmony, Malaysia is truly a country that epitomises Asia.
Such a diversity of ethnic groups inevitably features a large number of spoken languages. The official local language is Bahasa Melayu, but then English is widely spoken as are a number of Chinese dialects. Various other languages are spoken and East Malaysia features several other indigenous languages.
With such obvious diversity, it is remarkable that racial tension is not a constant problem but clearly the gentleness and tolerance of the local population contributes to a real spirit of peace and harmony.
Who wrote this … I’m sorry to say … mythology?
Tell the truth la!
Long-winded corporate adverts to mark Merdeka, Hari Raya and assorted ethno-religious festivities are also littered with more fantasized scenarios of a multiracial, multicultural, multireligious and multi-whatever populace co-habitating tolerantly while celebrating their glorious diversity in a utopian land of opportunity for all.
Again, we beat around the bush, ignore the inconvenient truth, and kid ourselves with snazzy ads. And the longer we deceive ourselves with this multiracial fantasy, the harder it takes to build a cohesive, unified nation.
We Malaysians have lived in this fairytale for too long, and this blissful fantasy is now crumbling under the very weight of its own ludicrousness. Nobody really believed in this cosmopolitan utopia set against the backdrop of our complex ethnocentrist and messy social milieu.
As a start, we do not even have a proper common LANGUAGE. What is there to share if we can hardly communicate our mutual hopes and aspirations, with the linguistic connection between the racial divide bridged only via gross dilution of syntax and context, and with our true feelings often lost in translation somewhere.
Let me be frank here and express my thoughts in this quasi-common, compromised language of the masses:-
Mana ada ini macam lain tempat? Mana boleh lu cakap lain bahasa, gua cakap lain bahasa, itu orang pun cakap lain bahasa? Mana boleh semua orang keras kepala mau cakap sendiri punya bahasa? Ini negara Malaysia, kita kena cakap Bahasa Malaysia. Apasal susah sangat? Lu pergi Jepun lu kena cakap Jepun. Lu pergi China lu kena cakap Mandarin. Lu pergi England lu kena cakap Inggeris. Lu pergi Rusia lu kena cakap Rusia. Kita sama-sama duduk Malaysia lu tak mau cakap Bahasa Malaysia? Kenapa? Malaysia “special case” ka? Siapa cakap? Siapa bikin ini macam? Dalam semua-semua Negara dalam ini dunia, apasal Malaysia kena jadi “special case”? Untuk siapa? Lu atau gua?
Feel better now? Yes and No?
Never mind. Swallow that bitter pill, defy your tribal instinct to either revel or resist and read on.
Sadly, but you have to be a “racist” in Malaysia because Malaysia is touted as a “multiracial” country. There must be a perverted, kafkaesque logic in there somewhere. But it’s beyond me. From primary school, our children are implored to live harmoniously among the various “races” in our “multiracial” country. Racial awareness is hence institutionalized at a very young, impressionable age. This racial distinction is further reinforced by petty racial profiling and prejudices in media programming and commercial adverts.
By the time our children enter the Sekolah Menegah, they are already supra-ethnocentrists and intolerant of other races and this fact is for all to see in our segregated urban playgrounds and street corners. And by college-going age, these Racist Beings are already beyond redemption, spoiling for a fight at the sight of other racists of other ethnic groups. Why should we wonder then that our universities are hyper-polarised along ethnic lines, where the animosity among the dominant Malays and the ethnic minorities are so palpable, so granular.
We are somehow told to “take pride” of our “multi-racial, multi-cultural” country, as if this is a preferred trait in achieving cohesive statehood. Of course it is not the case. The constant reminding of our “multi-racial, multi-cultural” essence breeds further explicit consciousness of our “race,” and this has now permeated every facet of our lives 24/7. Should we then wonder why we have all become so utterly Racists? This hyper-ethnocentrism inevitably propagates further ethno-chauvinist tendencies, as each “race” outdo one another to stamp their racial identity in a grotesque manifestation of tribalism gone mad. Now imagine when this ethnic belligerence flare across a permutation of 40 ethnic, tribal and assorted suku kaums.
Even sports are caught up in this crippling racial imbroglio. Pay TV operator, Astro, somehow deemed it cute and proper to spin short promo clips of Malaysian Olympians talking in their “mother” tongues. Lee Chong Wei and other ethnic-Chinese Malaysian athletes uttered their hopes in Mandarin, likewise others spoke in Tamil and English. Only ethnic-Malay Olympians spoke in Bahasa Malaysia, as if the National Language has been relegated to be on par with the other languages and only applicable to the Malays. I’m sure many of us would be interested in Lee Chong Wei’s aspirations. But we will never know because he is speaking in the national language of China and not even the Hokkien or Cantonese of his household! So in effect, barely a fifth of Malaysians knew what the heck Lee Chong Wei and the ethnic-Chinese Malaysian Olympians were saying and seven percent or less could comprehend the Tamil utterances of the ethnic–Tamil athletes. Hence, is it really a wonder why Lee Chong Wei’s endeavour to Olympic Silver was not followed with the passion of the past by the nation and hardly celebrated upon his triumphal return? Why no open top motorcade processions in the kampungs di setiap pelusuk tanah air, like the 1992 Thomas Cup heroes? Because Mandarin-speaking Chong Wei was not regarded as “one of us” by the ubiquitous Malay masses out there?
What was Astro trying to prove?
I think it is scandalous. I’m sure no nation on earth would even contemplate staging this misguided, divisive charade. Have we ever heard Arnold Schwarzenegger utter anything in German? And he is not even American-born, having migrated from Austria. How about French footballer Robert Pirés talking Portuguese on French TV just because his parents were Portuguese immigrants? Or German soccer stars Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski speaking their "native" Polish on German TV? What about President Nicholas Sarkozy, a first generation Frenchman of Hungarian and Greek Jewish parentage? Any Hungarian or Greek pride in this diminutive man? Of course not. He is totally assimilated and is today the epitomy of Frenchness and leader of the Francophone World.
Where would Barrack Obama be if he insisted on conversing in his father’s native Swahili? Well, he wouldn’t be the U.S. president-elect for sure. The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, is the son of Indian immigrants. Do you think he got elected for his Hindi oratory skills in Cajun Country?
And here you have 3rd-4th generation Malaysians uttering messages for our Bangsa Malaysia TV audience in the national language of China and main language of India’s Tamil Nadu state.
Astro falls under what ministry? Mana Shabery Cheek? What about the MCMC? Or is this under Shaziman Mansor’s ministry? I would like someone up there to ask Astro’s Ralph Marshall and Rohana Rozhan why they deem this stunt as proper in the context of Malaysian nation building? Or have they outsourced their programming to a bunch of foreigners totally devoid of our national aspirations in their attempt to be creatively cute to justify their exorbitant fees?
At this rate, our march towards national integration under a singular, cohesive identity is bleak indeed.
Events such as the Olympics, where our athletes are supposed to represent the country as a cohesive, united nationalistic Malaysian Race -- as uttered in our battle hymn, “Satu Bangsa, Satu Negara, Malaysia Berjaya” – would require complete cohesion with a sense of shared destiny, not a patchwork of variegated ethnic groups, tribes and suku kaums whose only affinity with one another is their mutual contempt and suspicion.
Let me ask this question that I know is in the minds of the majority of Malaysians.
Why must Malaysia be compelled to account for every race, ethnic group and suku kaums under her flag in everything we do? Even in the sports teams we assemble? In tourism promotions? In government and corporate events?
Come on lah. This is a COUNTRY, not a loose association of races and tribes; not a collection of connoisseurs of foreign languages and costumes languishing in self-contained cocoons; not a tenuous conglomeration of estrange peoples.
This is not a half-way-house, a transit point – a rumah tumpangan -- for people to languish prior to their resettlement in their ultimate countries of choice one or two centuries after the arrival of their forefathers to these shores. Citizens of our blessed land must have a sense of permanence in this country. Citizenship and permanence go hand in hand. And these come with obligations. It is our obligation as permanent citizens of this country to strive for unity under a common Bangsa Malaysia identity underpinned by a common language, Bahasa Malaysia.
I've travelled far and wide and lived in many countries. Every country I've visited possess a strong sense of nationhood, a solid identity, a national philosophy, a national character. Of course, many are multi-ethnic as well, but their societies are forged by common values, a shared history, and a collective vision underpinned by a common dominant language. But sadly NOT in our beloved Malaysia. We have become a nation of ethnic ghettos and enclaves, a patchwork of estrange peoples languishing in a tense, stressful and simmering land.
This is NOT how you build a nation. There must a base of shared values and socio-cultural norms and a sense of shared destiny. Of course, we may be of different origins, but we cannot go forward as a nation via divergent, distinct paths in language, education, social norms and aspirations.
The Federation of Malaysia was not designed to host a collection of mini Kwangtungs, mini Tamil Nadus, mini Keralas and mini Punjabs superimposed on a flailing Malay canvas. And now we have to contend with an embryonic mini Surabaya, mini Kathmandu, mini Dakar, mini Saigon and mini Yangon, and soon mini Lagos and mini Nairobi.
Is this really tenable? Enough of this stupidity. Cukup lah!
If this model works, then nation states would be obsolete across the world. But human society does not evolve nor function this way. There must be conformity. There must be cohesion. There must be singularity of purpose that transcends parochial sentiments.
The 51-year Malaysian experiment to loosely weld a polygot of multiracial, multicultural, multi-whatever existence has been an utter failure. At this rate, we'll be a failed state, destroyed by the Rabid Racists and Anarchists with no real affinity to this land.
Countries have rules, countries have norms, countries have solid underlying bases that define their nationhood. And a common unifying language is always the cornerstone of this foundation. Plus a set of values, a national philosophy. Yes, we have the Rukunegara. Now, say the five tenets out loud to yourselves. Say it out loud in perfect, assertive Bahasa Malaysia. Can you or can’t you? If you can, bravo. Your stint at the Sekolah Kebangsaan was not in vain. If you can’t, take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Now you know what a confused, stateless pathetic loser looks like?
O.k., what does the Rukunegara really mean? Remember the fifth tenet, Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan? Have Malaysians exhibited sufficient kesopanan lately? How come being sopan (the antithesis of biadap and kurang ajar) seemed an excruciatingly elusive trait among many of us? Can we even comprehend the meaning of Keluhuran Perlembagaan? Or do we think it is chic, an in-thing, to bring into disrepute everything under our perlembagaan? See what happen to our lives when we have no common national ideology, national philosophy, national agenda, no sense of shared destiny and when we lack the necessary profound respect of our Negara and appreciation of our Rukunegara.
What happened to our cohesive, triumphal sports teams? Remember our football and hockey teams of the sixties, seventies and eighties? And our Thomas Cup winners of 1992? Recall how cohesive they were and how patriotic we were then? Remember our 1975 World Cup hockey team? We almost made it to the final if not for two heartbreak goals by ultimate champions India. Yes, we were perched on top of the world. Remember our Bangsa Malaysia hockey team of that period? Khairuddin Zainal the rock in goal, skipper Sri Shanmuganathan marshalling the defense with authority, and Poon Fook Loke the bane of opposing defenses. They were Anak Malaysia, they were Bangsa Malaysia, they were our Pasukan Kebangsaan! What’s the state of Malaysian hockey now? We cannot even make the cut to a crowded 12 team field in the Beijing Olympics. What happened to the Foo Keat Songs, Sarjit Singhs and M. Mahendrans of Malaysian hockey? How come Malays now dominate our hockey scene? Do we have to blame this on the NEP as well? I don’t recall any 70% quota on national representation? Has our Kementerian Belia dan Sukan given much thought on this phenomena? Is Ismail Ahmad Sabri a sportsman to begin with? At least Azalina Othman Said looked the part, with taekwando black belt, girlfriend and all.
Hockey was the domain of Tamil and Punjabi Malaysians. How come the offpsrings of the Sri Shans and the Sarjits don’t partake in hockey anymore? Perhaps that may explain this uneasy restlessness, a hopeless sense of having nothing to look forward to so pervasive in our Indian brothers. Is this one reason they are now so easily mobilised to fight for a cause they don’t quite understand and to take to the streets in large numbers just for the heck of it? Is this a way to dispense their unused youthful energy and to search for the elusive Indian Malaysian heroes and role models? Did the selfish racists of Hindraf took advantage and filled this gap? Have Waythamoorthy and Uthayakumar become the new Sri Shans and M. Mahendrans, the much-need perwiras for the Indian Malaysians, albeit for a twisted, divisive cause?
Now, how about football?
Did we view our football legends, Mokhtar Dahari, Soh Chin Aun, R. Arumugam and Santokh Singh, through race-tinted lenses? Of course not. They were members of the Bangsa Malaysia team that reigned supreme in Asia, even won the Bronze at the 1974 Teheran Asian Games and qualified for the 1972 and 1980 Olympics. Remember when Malaysian football dominated Southeast Asia and was superior to South Korea, Japan and the West Asian teams that are today regular attendees in World Cups?
Can we recall Chin Aun, Arumugam and Santokh talking on TV in any other language but Bahasa Malaysia? Of course not. They were proud members of Bangsa Malaysia, confidently speaking in one voice. Chin Aun – the Babaesque Malacca native -- was the unquestioned skipper, leader and libero for a decade. He was the Towkay. Remember? Would we ever have another ethnic-Chinese captain of the Malaysian football team? Heck no. Forget that question. Let’s make it simpler. Can anyone name one ethnic-Chinese player in our current pasukan kebangsaan? No? Remember when we had Chow Chee Keong or Lim Fung Kee or Wong Kam Fook in goal; Chin Aun in defense; Wong Choon Wah the midfield general; and Yip Chee Keong in attack – all on the same field for Malaysia at the same time? Later came the likes of Lim Chuan Chin, Ong Yu Tiang, James Wong, Wong Hung Nung, Lee Kin Hong, Chow Siew Yai, Khan Hung Meng, Tang Siew Seng and Lim Teong Kim. These were fantastic players, many good enough to pursue professional careers in foreign lands.
What happened since? The 21-member Malaysian team in the recent Merdeka Cup consists of 20 Malays and a lone ethnic-Tamil reserve. The ethnic-Chinese are nowhere to be seen.
Indeed, the Chinese have somehow stopped playing football as our playgrounds and football fields become segregated by ethnicity and language – a direct fallout of the segregation of schools. Football is an overwhelmingly Malay sport now, with a sprinkling of “kampung Tamils” to spice up the proceedings with their penchant for theatrics and overdribblings. In the glory years of the seventies, the multi-ethnic crowd at Merdeka Stadium would rally and root voraciously for our pasukan kebangsaan and heckle the opponent in Bahasa Malaysia, spiced with a potpourri of pidgin Malay street slang in banter. The Ahmads of Kg. Baru, the Ah Mengs of Pudu and the Krishnans of Brickfields would jump on their seats and hugged one another at the sight of yet another blistering Mokhtar Dahari goal set up by Choon Wah’s sublime cross. We were a cohesive group of 45,000 screaming and laughing members of Bangsa Malaysia at Merdeka Stadium. On many occasions, I was there as a member of this Bangsa Malaysia. I can vividly recall our 1977 KL SEA Games Dream Team that trashed then-Burma 9-1 and overpowered Thailand 2-0 in the final. In fact, I can still utter their names as they are etched in the collective memories of my generation.
Heck, I’ll say it now as they deserved to be remembered for posterity. This team of seven Malays (Jamal Nasir, Yahaya Jusoh, Abdah Alif, Shukor Salleh, Bakri Ibni, Isa Bakar and Mokhtar Dahari), two ethnic-Chinese (Soh Chin Aun and James Wong), an ethnic-Tamil (R. Arumugam) a Punjabi Sikh (Santokh Singh) and a Sarawak Dayak substitute (James Yaakub) were the embodiment of the Malaysian Race, the Bangsa Malaysia. These were the idols of Malaysian sports fans across the land. The Malaysian football team was our team, the Bangsa Malaysia team. At the neighbourhood padang, my gang took turns to mimic Arumugam in goal and Chin Aun as the libero and, of course, SuperMokh, Mokhtar Dahari. My buddy, Ow Chak Yoon would mimic the RTM running commentary as the rest of us scurry after the tattered football; his impersonation of Zulkarnaen Hassan in ecstasy over a Malaysian goal was uncanny, surreal, and reverberates in my ears whenever I look at old faded photographs of my classmates. Oh yes, every ethnic-Chinese in my Standard Six class wanted to be Mokhtar Dahari on the field. I always imagined I was the great Chin Aun, elegantly caressing the ball with imperious presence in the Malaysian backline. Race was never an issue. These football legends belonged to all of us Bangsa Malaysia, speaking in one voice, striving for the same goal.
Three decades later, our sports teams have degenerated into a collection of Mandarin, Tamil and English- and Manglish-speaking individuals, with Bahasa Malaysia uttered only by the Malays, and even that in mutually-unintelligible Kelantanese, Kedahan and assorted Borneo dialects. No wonder we have become minnows in team sports, where team mates could hardly communicate, let alone strategise. Our football team is now ranked 160 by FIFA, sandwiched between such powerhouses as Lesotho and St. Lucia. Where the heck is St. Lucia? Our hockey team has all but dissipated under the astroturf. Our badminton team is a shambles.
These are just a small sampling of the price we all pay for our lack of national unity, lack of national identity, lack of national cohesion.
I think it is utterly Scandalous. Kita semua sudah gila ka?
Is our fragmented social existence a tenable long-term proposition, not just in sports but in our daily affairs as a sovereign nation under one flag?
Is the people to blame? Do you blame the kucing when your lauk kena curi on the dinner table?
The government is the biggest culprit of all. Since the Pak Lah era, we are constantly bombarded by decrees reminding us that kita adalah negara berbilang bangsa and these various bangsas must hidup bersama dalam suasana harmoni dan aman damai sejahtera. Again, I sense a high degree of idiotic oxymoronist irony here. First the populace are incessantly reminded that they are different from one another. Then they are told to live together in peace and harmony. Hence, a confused populace are asked to co-exist amidst their distinctions. The human mind – indeed, the instinct of every creature created by God -- doesn’t work this way. We naturally search for commonalities, affinities and comfort zones of socio-cultural familiarity. We don't embrace alien cultures as a natural behaviourial trait. And these very distinctions are constantly unearthed and embellished by a government that concurrently implore us to unite. See the dichotomy? The utter contradiction? Why the need to constantly remind the people of their ethnic specificities? Why the need to reaffirm everyone’s ancestry and their mutual distinction, knowing full well that these elements are the very impediments to social cohesion?
How can the people unite when they are constantly reminded of their differences and encouraged to affirm their race in everything they do? Even the long-integrated groups such as the Malaccan and Penang Babas and Nyonyas have relapsed to being Chinese with a vengeance. Their refined 500-year culture, a truly Malaysian heritage, has been obliterated by their mimicry of the more recent arrivals and the culture of the Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese. That’s an irreplaceable heritage dissipating right in our midst and we are doing nothing about it.
This quest for diversity has become ridiculous. It’s just stupid! Bodoh!!!
Our neighbours Thailand and Indonesia are actually ethnically more heterogeneous than ourselves. But can you find a Thai tourism brochure promoting the country’s “multiracial” Chao Phraya T’ai, Krung Thep Chinese, Patani Malay, Mon, Khmer, Lao, Isaan, Lanna T’ai, Korat T’ai, Hilltribes and Sea Gypsy populace? No. They are all “Thais,” a new race concocted by Field Marshall Phibun Songkhram via his 1938 Thai Ratthaniyom decree where, under threat of severe penalties, every one of these ethnic groups must speak Thai (based on the Bangkok Siamese dialect), act Thai, be Thai and assume Thai names living in a unitary Ratcha Anachak Thai (ราชอาณาจักรไทย) guided by the principles of Chad Sassana Pramahakasat (Nation, Religion, the King).
No. Sorry but no.
Listen, “melting pot of races and religions” and “living together in peace and harmony” are mutually exclusive sociological conditions. The Homo sapiens sapiens – yes, lu dan gua – are social animals that are mentally calibrated to function optimally in a cohesive group defined by shared affinities. This later gave rise to tribes and races and nation-states of common societies. This is basic human nature. And when you fight human nature -- when you force feed these tribes on a diet of “living together in peace and harmony” with other tribes -- you will take the “human” out of the human and he/she will revert back to his/her basic animalistic instinct – the primal need to not only survive but to prevail and thrive at the expense of others. When all Malaysians are driven and dominated by this intrinsic primal instinct to survive and thrive at the expense of "the others," we then become a train wreck-in-waiting, hurtling uncontrollably into the crevasse of national anarchy and ruin.
If our multiracial, multi-everything prescription works, then nation states would be obsolete and the planet would be one big happy family, where the Germans and Spanish and Russians exist in a seamless polity; where the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese bow to the same flag of their amalgamated multicultural motherland; where the Persians, Kurds, Arabs and Turks ……. no? Of course not.
Why so susah one?
We already have Bahasa Malaysia and the Rukunegara. Mau apa lagi? Why so difficult? Mau wang ka? 10 sen for every Bahasa Malaysia word uttered in public? Do we need to be bribed or threatened to do what is essentially our obligation as citizens of this country? This is an outrage. What kind of people have some of us turned into? Sick little calculative hostile selfish monsters?
We don’t have to look far to find a tenable model of nationhood. Look at Kelantan. The Kelantanese populace – predominantly and overwhelmingly ethnic-Malays with a small but industrious ethnic-Chinese community as well as the Orang Asli and a smattering of T’ais -- regard themselves as Oghé Kelaté, cohesively united by a common, inclusive and pervasive Kelantanese dialect, outlook, self-image and culinary preference, where ethnicities are blurred by a strong sense of “Kelantan-ness.” A Kelantanese Malay would be more at home with his ethnic-Chinese compatriot than with a fellow Malay from, say, Perak or Johor. Likewise for the Kelantanese Chinese.
But this is not the case for the rest of the country.
Why? What went wrong?
In the West Coast states, many of the “Malays” themselves are descendants of fairly recent Nusantara migrants with minimal affinity to the land beyond the navigable riverbanks. Add to the cauldron the descendants of ethnic-Chinese mining coolies, Tamil labourers, Sikh policemen, Siamese itinerant farmers, and an eclectic sprinkling of Portuguese creoles and mestizos plus the myriad of Borneo suku kaums -- all of whom are pursuing an intolerant ethnocentric stance – and we, indeed, have a combustible pot of social anarchy and mayhem. This curdling cauldron, lacking in a unifying national identity or a sense of a common stake, is fast dismantling our sense of nationhood, a process that may be complete when it boils over at any moment.
The peculiar government strategy of reinforcing each and every ethnic group as unique in this country – further exacerbated by rabidly chauvinistic ethnic-based political parties appealing to the ever growing radical fringe of their communities – is breaking our national cohesiveness. We have reached a point where the races live in their own distinct parallel universe oblivious to the existence of the other groups unless out of sheer necessity, in which case their Worlds collide in a calamity of intolerance, contempt, suspicion and incompatibility.
Is this really a tenable model of nationhood? What is a “nation” anyway? Let me ask, can a nation survive when significant segments of its citizens steadfastly subscribe to the linguistic and cultural identity of other nations, hence creating pesky little embedded nations within a nation?
The plain vanilla Matnor, Kok Leong and Ragu plus the odd Kuldeep Singh that were my playmates on the bumpy primary school field of Section 11, PJ in the early 1970s, have now morphed into intolerant, barely recognizable ethno-chauvinist monstrosities curdling with anger and belligerence, waiting to “pounce” at the first sign of “Racism” by other ethnic groups while oblivious to the fact that they themselves are the uber racists.
Enough talk. How do Malaysia break out of this self-induced socio-toxicity?
Well, racism will be obliterated from the Malaysian consciousness only if Malaysia evolves into a homogeneous society defined by nationality, the proverbial and oft-quoted Bangsa Malaysia, the Malaysian race.
What then is the Malaysian race?
What language should a Malaysian speak?
What culture and mannerisms?
What shared values and philosophies?
What sense of shared identity?
What sense of shared destiny?
These are questions that must be addressed by our national leadership, taking into account the aspirations of the majority of the populace. Didn’t the Duli-Duli Yang Maha Mulia Raja-Raja Melayu envisioned a federation of Malay states yang di bentuk dalam arca Melayu, underpinned by adat-adat Melayu, speaking in one voice in Bahasa Melayu? While the rights of minorities and naturalised immigrants to practise their dialects and cultures within their own communities are safeguarded, it was never meant to be a national affair, to be perched on par with the Budaya Melayu berlandaskan Bahasa Melayu dan Agama Islam. No. The language, culture, image, norms, indeed, the national identity of Malaya is predominantly Melayu, and with the formation of Malaysia, incorporate the native cultures of the Borneo states as well. This stance must be enforced vigorously.
Start by enlightening the populace of this national identity framework. And refrain from blindly projecting non-native costumes and cultures from far away lands in our tourism promotional media. As for non-Malay and non-Borneo Bumiputra culture, recognise only what came together with the immigrants from China and India. What they carry on their backs upon arrival in Tanah Melayu would be recognised and they can partake in it in the privacy of their own communities. BUT, it is NOT our nation's duty -- by any stretch of either the imagination or the Constitution -- to go searching for "Chinese" and "Indian" cultural relics and costumes and dances in the original motherlands of these naturalised pendatangs and their descendants. Itu sudah lebih. Sudah tidak masuk akal. No Malaysian citizen should be in the business of importing cultural forms of foreign nations into our Tanah Air and "passing them off" as part of our Malaysian heritage. That is treachery of the highest order. Arnold Swarzenegger has not gone back to Austria to bring his ancestral yodeling music form to Kah-lifornia. And Louisiana's Bobby Jindal is more American than the Americans, not more Indian than the Indians as in some cases among Indian Malaysians.
But wait, do I sense some resistance here? Why? You flaunt your Malaysian citizenship as a matter of hak and you use this hak to the hilt even to the detriment of others BUT you despise all tenets of Malaysian nationhood, not least Bahasa Malaysia as the single, unifying language? So you want HAK without the TANGGUNGJAWAB? Is this part of the Social Contract forged by our founding fathers? I'll be a rich man indeed if I can have such an unconscionable contract in my business affairs.
Why shouldn’t this new Bangsa Malaysia speak Bahasa Malaysia, the national language of Malaysia as enshrined in the Constitution, as the primary language at home, work and play? Why not? Why the reluctance, even abhorrence to do so among some? Remember the line in the stirring patriotic song: “… Satu Bangsa, Satu Bahasa, Malaysia Berjaya.” This was penned in the early 1960s. What happened since? Over 40 years on and a considerable chunk of Malaysians refuse to learn to speak or even acknowledge Bahasa Malaysia as the language of Malaysia, as the single common factor that can bind us as a “race,” as the fundamental platform to nurture and propagate common values underpinning our vision of a Bangsa Malaysia. After 51 years of statehood, many third and fourth generation Malaysians speak Bahasa Malaysia not much better than the Bangla and Nepali migrant workers, at times even worst. And a great many others refuse to utter a single word, almost as a perverse form of protest over nothing.
It’s the same closer to home. Thailand is case in point. In the 1930s, ethnic-Chinese make up over 30% of then-Siam’s population. They were vigorously assimilated under Field Marshal Phibun Songkhram’s Thai Ratthaniyom (Thai Customs) Decree of 1938, where their ethnicity was abolished; anyone speaking Chinese in public would be smacked by a 10-ft bamboo stick by the Thai Culture Police; Chinese schools and newspapers were closed; chopsticks were banned; and the Chinese were compelled to adopt Thai names. Within one generation, the Chinese of Thailand was totally assimilated into Thai society to the point where Thais with Chinese blood will today argue with you to the death to prove that they are “Thai” and not Chinese. Ex-PMs Taksin Shinawatra, Chuan Leekpai, Banharn Silpa-Archa and Thanin Kraivichen are all of Chinese origin. But they are true Thais to the core, with no knowledge of the Chinese language or much awareness of their Chinese heritage. Indonesia of course undertook the same process. Batavia in the 1800s was one big Chinatown governed by the Dutch. Nowadays, those claiming “Tiongkok” ancestry number only about 2-3% of the Indonesian population, with the rest totally assimilated into the huge pool of humanity. All assumed Indonesian names. Some years back, when I was in a meeting with senior officials of an Indonesian conglomerate, I made the mistake of asking one of their VPs whether he was Chinese. This very Chinese looking guy (a sort of Ong Tee Keat-look alike) rose up, banged the table and proclaimed: “Ia bapak, memang nenek moyang saya orang Tionghua. Tapi saya anak Indonesia sejati. Jika perlu, Darah saya akan di jadikan warna merah buat bendera Republik Indonesia tercinta!” He went on to mumble some choice words in Javanese with his pribumi colleagues. Myself and the Malaysian team were flabbergasted!
But back home in our Tanah Air, I just don’t understand how these born and bred full-blooded Malaysians carrying MyCards that proudly proclaim their status as Warganegaras speak Bahasa Malaysia like they just arrived off the tongkang from Fukien or Tamil Nadu. Some refused to utter a single word, almost as a sign of protest and silent disobedience. I don’t think I’ve ever heard parliamentarian Loh Gwo Burne or squash star Nicol David or F-1 dropout Alex Yoong or business magnate Tony Fernandes utter a decent sentence in Bahasa Malaysia on TV. So why cry foul when simpleton politicians like Ahmad Ismail label the non-Malays pendatangs? How could he (or myself and others) differentiate these non-Bahasa Malaysia speaking descendants of pendatangs from the more recent pendatangs, who admirably would quickly grasp the National Language out of sheer necessity and a sense of praticality unclouded by blind chauvinism stoked by selfish politicians?
Why this social aberration almost umatched anywhere else on earth?
Is it because Bahasa Malaysia is actually Bahasa Melayu, the Malay language? Does this imply that some Malaysians are disputing the status of Bahasa Malaysia as Malaysia’s national language and lingua franca on account of it being the language of the ethnic-Malays? Has the “Racist” card reared its ugly head again? Who’s the “racist” now? Do we then have to adopt a neutral language, a colonial language such as English, or perhaps concoct a Malaysian Esperanto as the national language just to appease these “Racists”? Do we need to go to such great lengths just because a segment of our populace are actually “Racists” and would not accept Bahasa Malaysia as the country’s unifying national language and lingua franca even as they go around shouting “Malaysian Malaysia” to their constituents? What Malaysian Malaysia creature are we talking about here? A Malaysian Malaysia speaking the language of British Malaya? A Mandarin-speaking Malaysian Malaysia? A Tamil-speaking Malaysian Malaysia? A Malaysian Malaysia of Pasar Borong Selayang pidgin Malay speakers?
Who are the “Racists” now?
Sorry, but no nation state will survive long without a single unifying language, without a classless ubiquitous lingua franca for the masses. The English language united America’s “hordes of huddled masses” into productive citizens that built a Superpower although Americans of British Ancestry account for less than a third of the population. English also shaped a prosperous Australia. Spanish and Portuguese formed the cohesive basis for the heterogeneous and hybridized nations of Latin America. On the other hand, when two or more languages compete for supremacy, trouble looms. Canada’s Quebec reels from the divisive impasse between her French and English speakers, with font sizes of bilingual signboards becoming political tools of chauvinists and bigots. Multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural Yugoslavia is now history, dismembered by a devastating civil war marked by unimaginable ethnic-based atrocities. Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese and Tamils are irreconcilable and the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda co-exist in a state of impending calamity.
We Malaysians must choose the correct path towards nation building in light of these incontrovertible precedents.
I must say that opponents of Bahasa Malaysia are nothing more than ignorant chauvinists and bigots. They cannot comprehend the historical and socio-political significance of the language in the region far beyond the borders of Malaysia. Malay (where Bahasa Malaysia came from) has for over a millennium been the unquestioned lingua franca of the Nusantara, the Malay Archipelago, of which the modern nation of Malaysia is but a fragment. In fact, Bahasa Melayu in its earliest written form matched the embryonic Khmer script in terms of antiquity and predated Javanese, Burmese, Thai and most other major languages of the region, with the first documented Malay language inscription dating back to 683 AD found on a stele at Kedukan Bukit near Palembang. That’s over 1,300 years ago. So don’t be fooled by slick anti-Malay propagandists who claim Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia is a young language unsuitable for a globalised world, whatever that jargon means.
From Aceh to Patani to the Sulu Sea, from Jakarta to Surabaya to the Lesser Sunda Islands, from Pontianak to Brunei to Mindanao, from Makassar to Manado to Ambon and to the furthest eastern reaches of the Spice Islands, Bahasa Melayu is the language of commerce, literature and administration. Evey port of call will invariably have a variant of Malay – Melayu Betawi, Melayu Makassar, Melayu Manado, Melayu Kuching, Melayu Palembang, Melayu Medan, Melayu Bengkulu, Melayu Patani, Melayu Ambon, Melayu Kupang, Melayu Singgora, Melayu Lampung, Melayu Brunei, Melayu Banjarmasin, Melayu Langkat and Melayu Asahan although the inhabitants of many of these polities are not ethnic-Malays. The Malay language was the unifying factor of the Nusantara. And today, one can go to Aceh and Patani and the Sulu archipelago and to Manado to Timor and all the way to the darkest jungles of Indonesian Papua – a region wider than Europe or North America -- and will still be able to communicate in a common Malay tongue. Such is the influence of the language.
Remember, trade and political treaties between the European maritime powers and the myriad of polities from Ayutthaya/Siam to the Nusantara kingdoms to Taiwan were mostly in Malay. Indeed, all the hikayats of the region, from the Hikayat Raja-Raja Pasai (1390) of Aceh to the Taj al-Salatin (1600s) and the Hikayat Patani (1600s) to the Tuhfat al-Nafis (1800s) are all in Malay, although the native tongues of their places of origin are hardly intelligible to the average Johor-Riau Malay speaker of that era.
It is, hence, not surprising that the nation of Indonesia, where ethnic-Malays are dwarfed by the Javanese and Sundanese and many other pribumis, adopted Malay as the basis for “Bahasa Indonesia” or the “Indonesian Language.” The landmark Sumpah Pemuda declaration of the guiding principles of Indonesian nationhood on October 28, 1928 by young nationalists proclaimed Malay as Bahasa Indonesia, the Bahasa Persatuan or language of unity for the then Dutch East Indies. Imagine if chauvinist elements insisted on Baso Jawo as the national language of Indonesia? That sprawling nation might not even exist today.
Indeed, the adoption of a single dominant language, the Malay language, has been the most important unifying factor among Indonesia’s 300-odd race, tribes and suku-kaums of 235 million strewn over 17,500 islands. Bahasa Indonesia is also the element that gave the ethnic-Chinese Indonesians equal footing with their pribumi countrymen, where they have no linguistic handicap and no sense of interactive inferiority in their daily affairs. Indeed, it is impossible to differentiate the pribumis and the Tionghua, ethnic-Chinese Indonesians, on account of language or accent, a phenomenon matched in the Malaysian context only in Kelantan and the old Baba community in Malacca.
But for the rest of Malaysia? No. The chauvinist, self-centered and short-sighted political leaders of the ethnic minorities have made language a captive of their drive to steadfastly maintain their communities’ ethnic and cultural specificities, thus reducing this segment of Malaysian society into hostile and belligerent little communal islands and enclaves in a Malay ocean. They view Bahasa Malaysia as the language of the Malays. And since hatred for the Malays is a key component of their chauvinism and bigotry, indeed the relevance and very survival of their political parties, it has become necessary to hate and disown the National Language as well. Yes, the better-educated among them would argue for the importance of English as the international language of commerce and education, but in actual fact these racists are bent on elevating other foreign languages – including Mandarin, the national language of China and not the native language of the ethnic-Chinese citizens of Malaysia – to countervail the status of Bahasa Malaysia in this country. The provocative decision by the DAP government of Penang to erect multilingual signages in that state is a manifestation of this divisive racist agenda. Try this stunt anywhere else on earth and see what happens.
Listen people, this is Malaysia where the national language is Bahasa Malaysia. You know deep down that being Mandarin- or Tamil-literate, combined with a weak grasp of the National Language, would create handicaps in your life here, and would further dilute your sense of belonging to this nation. But no. Your minds have been programmed by chauvinist politicians and community bigots to reinforce your ethnic and linguistic identity that you know would be to your own detriment. So why complain when the inevitable happens, when you feel “foreign” in the country of your birth? Could Chinese, Indian or for that matter Malay immigrants to the U.S., Britain or Australia insist on having their own vernacular education in the host country and expect to progress in subsequent professional and economic endeavours? Of course not. It would be stupid as they would be out of the system, indeed, ostracized by the host society. But why do this in Malaysia? And to expect a different reaction, an alternative result and no adverse repercussion is absurd.
As long as the minority races of this country refuse to play ball with the majority -- beginning with an honest effort to master the National Language; to comprehend and respect the dominant culture and norms; to recognise the key instruments and manifestations of nationhood -- they will never be truly accepted as a part of this nation. The number of generations here is not important. What they have become is the key factor. This is Natural Justice, the Law of the Jungle if you will. This is the case for any nation on earth, and Malaysia is no exception.
As a nation, as part of the Satu Bangsa, Satu Bahasa and Satu Bangsa, Satu Negara mantras of the early 1960s, we need to relook at our nation building approach. We need to recalibrate the trajectory of our sense of nationhood, to prevent our nation from hurtling into the black hole of destruction.
After 51 years of nationhood, the nation’s leadership must not beat around anymore bushes. We have ran out of bushes to beat. We must seriously arrest the degenerative decline right now. Begin by stop highlighting our racial differences. Stop saying we are a multiracial, multicultural, multireligious nation. Stop reminding ourselves to be tolerant of other races, and to live harmoniously in our multiracial society. Stop talking race at every turn. Indeed, ban racial and ethnic classification and identification! We are Bangsa Malaysia, we speak Bahasa Malaysia. But remember, the Arca of this Bangsa Malaysia is the Orang Melayu, the founding fathers of the nation states dotting this Tanah Melayu plus the pribumis of the Borneo states. This unequivocal identity shall be the solid foundation of our nationhood.
Fundamentally, a member of the Bangsa Malaysia should speak the national language of the Federation, Bahasa Malaysia, fluently and as a primary language; be fully versed with adat-adat and tatasusila orang Melayu and other Bumiputras of the Federation; demonstrates respect and deference to Islam as the official religion of the Federation and exhibit traits and mannerisms acceptable to the Malays and other Bumiputras. Non-Malay members of this Bangsa Malaysia may speak in their own dialects in private and may practise their own cultures and religions in the private confines of their community. Also, Budaya Malaysia is based on the budaya of the Malays and other Bumiputras of the Federation – in their various representations.
When will we achieve this raceless paradigm? It is in the hands of each and every one of us. The sooner we embrace the above prescriptions, the sooner we will forge this Bangsa Malaysia.
Yes, the journey towards cohesive nationhood for the Bangsa Malaysia would be perilous indeed. It is not easy to unravel a half-century of segregation and differentiation. But we need to start now. We need to sow the seeds of unity and social cohesion for the next generation.
Only when we have a truly unified Bangsa Malaysia speaking in one language, amenable to Malaysian cultural norms, and with a cohesive Malaysian mindset will we as a nation be able to look beyond the NEP, beyond Malay privileges, beyond safeguarding Malay Rights as we are now all anak Bangsa Malaysia in the arca of the Malays and other Bumiputras of this blessed land.
Measures must be conceived and implemented to forge this Bangsa Malaysia society. Perhaps more assertive measures must be implemented. We cannot, as a proud sovereign nation, go on like this. We just cannot.
Lets discuss this openly, from our hearts, for the love of our Tanah Air tercinta.