We Were Robbed of Malaysia

Written by Farish A. Noor   
Friday, 17 August 2007

(NOTE: This article first appeared in Off The Edge, Issue 32, August 2007)

I came across this article by Farish A. Noor in his blog, The Other Malaysia and thought that many would share the same sentiments as him. After 50 years of independence, how far have we actually arrived at building a more united and cohesive nation? He struck a chord in me when he said What was the point of trying my darnest to piece together pieces of Baba-Nyonya peranakan art, when racist ethno-nationalists continue to harp on and on about racial purity and the dominance of their tribe?” Please do read Farish’s article because its relevance to the Bangsa Malaysia issue is something to reflect upon particularly during this month.

This being the August issue, I felt compelled to write a laudatory paean to Malaysia and all things Malaysian. Marooned as I am in rainy Berlin at the moment, my heart-strings were pulled by the warmer climes of Malaysia, where indeed the grass is greener (even if the air is hazier). But as I sat down to type these words, I could not help but reflect on the loss of so many things I cherish and hold dear.

I am an academic who delves in history and political science. Apart from that I happen to nurse a penchant for antiques related to Malaysia. Over the past twenty years that I have spent in Europe, I have trawled around all the great antique bazaars and flea markets of Europe in a desperate attempt to recover the country I left, only to find that my Sisiphean efforts have come to naught. Like that ill-fated Corinthian; every map I found, every postcard I retrieved, every little artefact I discovered was soon overwhelmed by the tide of bilious poison that passes as political discourse in this country. What was the point of trying my darnest to piece together pieces of Baba-Nyonya peranakan art, when racist ethno-nationalists continue to harp on and on about racial purity and the dominance of their tribe? What was the point of emphasising the marginal voices of hybrid individuals when the dominant politics of the country remained fixed by the hegemonising discourse of racial difference?

The forlorn outcome of this impossible quest was brought home to me during my recent visit to Lembah Bujang in the company of Lois Lane who thankfully did the driving, thereby ensuring that we did not end up in Thailand by accident. As we walked amongst the ruins of these once-great monuments of our ancient past, we wondered how many Malaysians have even heard of the place or visited it. Furthermore the re-location of all these pre-Islamic monuments from their original habitus to one fixed and confined space seemed to suggest the feverish need to somehow corral our history, as if the Hindu-Buddhist era of the Malaysian Peninsula can be compressed into a space no bigger than a hockey field.

Is this what Malaysia has become? Has the compartmentalising logic of racial and religious politics finally succeeded in dividing Malaysian society once and for all; and what will be the fate of those who dare to transgress these ideological frontiers? We have all witnessed the sad fate of Lina Joy and Massosai Revathi, who have been caught up in the legal imbroglio that is the direct result of Malaysia’s twin legal systems and the attempts to impose Islamic law on them.

When I cast a glance at my collection of Malaysiana, I wonder to myself: Where is this country? Does it still exist? Who took Malaysia away from us?

They have robbed us of our country, that country called Malaysia. It began in the late 1960s when Tunku Abdul Rahman upped the stakes in the Islamisation race after UMNO’s poor showing at the 1969 elections. Then in the 1970s Malaysia was reduced even more when Anwar Ibrahim and his gang began to harp on about Malay rights and the Malay language, while furthering their own exclusive religio-political agenda. This was the time when the hotbloods of the Islamist camp began their own ‘moral policing’ on campus, breaking into dormitories and warning Malay-Muslim students not to behave immorally in the company of the dreaded kafirs. Then it was further intensified in the 1980s when Mahathir stepped on the accelerator and Malaysia’s Islamisation programme took off in earnest, leading to the introduction of ‘Islamic values’ at work, the rise of the Shariah courts and the emergence of the ‘faith rehabilitation centres’ where fellow citizens like Revathi have been interned. Today we witness the pathetic spectacle of yet another attempt to smuggle religion into the public political domain, under the cloak of a ‘civilisational Islam’ that oddly enough has no problems living with repressive laws like the Internal Security Act…

 790372819_087082fd76_o.jpg   But perhaps the most worrying thing of all is the evident intolerance that has become so dangerously normalised in this country of ours: The Youth Wing of UMNO have no worries about putting up banners warning others ‘Not to try our patience’; oblivious of the fact that for five decades it is we Malaysians who have had to be patient with the amateur theatricals of UMNO Youth in the first place. Non-Muslims have been warned not to ‘try the patience’ of Muslim demagogues, despite the fact that for half a century now it is they, the Muslim conservatives, who have been trying our patience by imposing their sectarian and exclusive worldview on the nation as a whole. Malaysians have been told not to keep dogs as pets, not to play music too loud, not to serve pork in public restaurants, not to dress provocatively, not to question or demand – by those whose comfort zone is inviolable and for whom the agenda of Ketuanan Melayu-Islam is sacrosanct. Where is the Malaysian Constitution in the midst of all this, and whatever happened to the idea that this nation-state is the common home of all Malaysians, of all races and creeds?

Lest we forget – and we should not – this is our homeland, our nation, our country. It belongs to all of us, all Malaysians, on the basis of a shared common universal citizenship that makes us equal. The concessions that were made to the ethno-nationalists in the past have borne fruit and we now see the disastrous impact on nation-building: After decades of promoting an exclusive communitarian approach to the national language issue, we have finally come to realise that our national language is Bahasa Malaysia, and not Bahasa Melayu after all.

How much more damage can this young nation take, before the Malaysian project unravels before our eyes? Already reports indicate that the liberal sector of the country is abandoning ship in droves, seeking other lands where the freedom to think and speak is granted without fear of a racist backlash in turn. Yet the soap-box orators and jaguh kampungs we count as our leaders in this country continue to speak a language of blood and belonging that is essentialist, divisive and ultimately detrimental to the idea of Malaysia itself.

With all this in mind, I cannot for the life of me find reason to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Malaysia, for in all honestly I do not even recognise my Malaysia any longer. Worst still, I cannot even answer the question of whether Malaysia will still exist in 50 years time. They, the politicians, have robbed our country from us, and they continue to do so, still. Damn them, all.

3 Responses to We Were Robbed of Malaysia

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    Many thanks -Rick

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