Apparently, the only reason I can get away with criticising both Malays and Muslims is that I am Malay and Muslim myself. This is what many non-Malays and non-Muslims in Malaysia tell me. They say that it is my position of privilege that allows me to say what I say and not get in trouble.
Okay, I have to admit that what they say has truth in it. However, that doesn’t mean I have to like the fact that this is the situation in Malaysia.
Why can’t we, as Malaysians, criticise our fellow Malaysians constructively and positively without fear of backlash and accusations of racism? Why are Malaysians always so defensive when it comes to race and religion?
Several years ago, my film director friend Liew Seng Tat released a comedy and satire film in the cinema called Lelaki Harapan Dunia. It is about a small Malay village where the locals are trying to relocate house for a wedding only to find out that the house is haunted when in actual fact, a homeless African immigrant was squatting in it.
It was a really good film, and I would rank it as one of the best Malaysian films of the decade. The film was invited to be shown at countless international film festivals and received awards and nominations from all around the world. It is safe to say that everyone thought it was a brilliant movie, and they liked it a lot.
However, in Malaysia, the response towards the movie was different. It didn’t do too well in the box office. In fact, there was a movement by local Malay filmmakers calling for a boycott of the film because they believed that since Liew was a Chinese-Malaysian, he had no right in telling stories about Malays and Muslims in the country. I guess it doesn’t matter to them that we are all fellow Malaysians.
Although Lelaki Harapan Dunia was sort of vindicated when it won the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Story awards at the 27th Festival Filem Malaysia, it still shows that Malaysian society is very entrenched in racism and racially polarised. And to me, this is something that makes me very sad and at times, very angry too.
I truly believe that this is all due to how Malaysians have been indoctrinated by our politics to always hate other races. The brand of racial politics that was imposed on us from independence in 1957 has pitted the Malays against the Chinese, the Chinese against the Malays, the Malays against Indians…well, just pick any combination of it.
All the races are just too concerned, or shall I say too afraid, of losing their rights in the country that they are always on the defence. So they form political parties that are based on race. The fact that Malays make up 60 percent of the population and that they have been given special privileges makes the situation even more volatile.
Sixty years of this can have very detrimental effects on a country and its society. And even after the Malaysia Baharu elections of 2018, we still cannot shake away the effects. We may believe that it is a “new” Malaysia but in actual fact, we’re haven’t really changed much politically.
For sixty years, the one thing that was holding Malaysia back from changing the government was the fact that the Malays were in power and that their special privileges were protected. It didn’t matter if corruption was a huge problem or anything else really.
There just wasn’t any other viable option in the opposition that could assure them that – even if all the problems such as corruption would be solved – their privileges would still be protected.
At the end of the day, it took a former prime minister who used to lead the Malay-based party that ruled the government for sixty years to form another Malay-based party – this time in the opposition, and make a promise to the Malays that their special privileges would not be taken away – to bring about a change in the government.
I mean, all the other parties in the new coalition aren’t any better anyway. There is one party who claims to be multiracial but is just filled with Chinese members (and so are all their senior party leaders). In fact, they even hold events in Mandarin. Then there is another party who claims to also be multiracial, but all their internal fighting is related to Malay and Muslim issues (like the sinfulness of sex scandals!).
There is also another party that broke away from a Muslim based party that is no longer a part of the coalition (and by being Muslim-based, what it really means is that it is Malay-based). But they are quite a mosquito in the coalition so they, for the most parts, have been pretty quiet and just enjoying the ride.
Now the former administration (who are now the opposition) is just in disarray. Two of these parties, the Malay-based one and the Muslim-based one are now playing best friends because they know that their survival depends on winning the support of the Malay majority. All this while the two opposition parties that aren’t Malay-based are pretty much not befriending those two at all.
All this creates a “new” Malaysia that isn’t exactly new. More than a year has gone by, and the issues that we face as a country are still the same. Aside from corruption (which is just too damn universal), all the other problems that we have regarding the economy, education, social disparity, employment, and much more still boils down to racial and religious inequality.
Thinking about things like this can get one quite pessimistic about the state of the nation. Why can’t all of us just see ourselves as Malaysians? What can be done to improve the situation? Can anything even be done at all? Whose responsibility is it to make the situation right? Are the Malays to be blamed because they are the more powerful majority? Are the other minority races to be blamed because they don’t want to assimilate?
I don’t like being pessimistic and neither do I like criticising and ranting without actually having anything constructive to offer. I’m trying to rack my brain to end this article positively but nothing is coming. I mean, this has been plaguing Malaysia since her birth.
Maybe I need to sit on it for a week and then see what I can offer in my next article on this issue. In the meantime, dear readers, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
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