Read Of The Week: Understanding the Malay Dilemma

If there is one thing, and only one thing that you should read this week, is this excellent piece by Nat Tan at titled Understanding the Malay Dilemma – How YOU can ensure a racism-free Malaysia. (article reproduced below as well)

Why do I think this is a good read?

1. It addresses real concerns about race relations in this country. There are many that think with the emergence of Pakatan Rakyat, thinking along race lines will be a thing of the past. Clearly this is not the case, as some of the comments in this blog can show, and also recent statements and actions by PKR and DAP leaders.

2. Most importantly, the article prescribes an approach where Malaysians should be empowered to take action, and not wait for the political parties to lead the way. Too many times, we blame the politicians and political parties for the pervasiveness of racism in this country. True, politicians and political parties have much to answer for in regards to deteriorating race relations in this country, but it is only effective because we Malaysians fall into the trap easily.


I’ve been meaning to write this for a mighty long time, as it’s something I believe quite strongly in.

Lately I have been looking at the possibility of Umno’s demise (see Part 1 and Part 2). Again, I think that on the whole, this would be a positive thing, but if we do not take the right attitudes down this road, it will be fraught with no good.

I address this post in large part to non-Malays, because as a non-Malay myself, I think the following is an important position for me to take and to articulate, for reasons that I hope will become evident.The key to a healthy transition from an Umno dominated Malaysia to a relatively Umno-less one (they keep keep Johor and maybe Pahang, that’s not the end of the world :) is to under stand the concerns of not only your rabid Umno supporter, but your more general, middle ground Malay Malaysian as well.

We have to affirm and respond to what are real, genuine, and not completely unfounded fears.

The first step along this path is to see Malaysia in the same context a Malay might. Most non-Malays view their situation in a purely Malaysian context. Many Malays understandably view their position in a more global, universal context.

I feel that it is a common apprehension among Malays that their culture and their heritage run the risk of being overrun by globalisation. In a world dominated by English-speaking, materialist non-Muslims, how is a small culture to survive?

Add that to the fact that rightly or wrongly, many Malays perceive the economy, many professions and wealth in general in Malaysia, to be dominated by non-Malays. True, this perception could possibly be due largely to Umno fear-mongering, but that in itself does not detract from the weight of that perception.

A parallel exists where religion is concerned. To many Muslims around the globe, Islam is under siege. So while most non-Muslims see themselves as being contained by a Muslim majority, Muslims feel called to defend their faith against encroachment from forces both local and foreign.

This type of siege mentality must be appreciated to the fullest. Mahathir’s old warning that Malays must take care to ensure that they never end up like Native Americans, black South Africans or Australian Aboriginies carry weight for a reason.

Whether we like it or not, not only the Umno hardcore, but many middle ground Malays would see the removal of Umno from federal power as a serious blow towards the Malay position.

I, like you perhaps, obviously believe that the future of the Malays – along with every single other Malaysian – would be better off, better cared for, and better protected under a Pakatan government. Yet, it is not enough for us to believe this; how can we help others believe it?

Here, I find Kian Ming has a few days ago articulated a number of the things I wanted to suggest.

At the same time, I wish that there was a Chinese or Indian politician who would tell his non- Malay constituents about the deep insecurities felt by many in the Malay community, about how they feel that they might be overrun in their ‘own’ country, as it were, if the NEP were to be lifted, much like how the non-White community in South Africa were marginalised under apartheid.

I wish that there was a Chinese or Indian politician who would tell his non-Malay constituents about the genuine fear that many Malays feel when they perceive that Islam is being ‘attacked’ by organisations such as Article 11 or the Interfaith Commission, about how this is related to the perception that Islam is being ‘attacked’ on a global scale in the war on terrorism.

I wish that there was a Chinese or Indian politician who would tell his non-Malay constituents that many Malays still feel as if many non-Malays are reluctant to embrace a Malaysian identity and would rather retain one which seemed to place more emphasis on ancestral ties and that many non-Malays are still reluctant to embrace BM as the national language of the nation.

Basically, I feel it is the duty of non-Malay believers in a better Malaysia, be they Pakatan sympathisers or not, to help assuage some of the fears of the Malays.

This is not a one way street. I am encouraged to read and see all sorts of signals from Pas that indicate their going through great pains to assure and affirm the needs of the non-Muslim community.

It is not enough for us to applaud these actions, we have to reciprocate in kind.

It is very meaningful when Anwar talks about the need for a race-blind Malaysian Economic Agenda, or when Hadi Awang speaks passionately about the rights of non-Muslims. Now we have to do our part.

There are countless issues we can address, in addition to what Kian Ming touched on above.

For instance, we can speak about the need to protect and encourage the growth of Malay culture and heritage in a world dominated by Western culture. We can speak out against the policies of private companies that for no good reason require job applicants to have Chinese language skills. We can speak up for the countless underprivileged Malay communities, be they urban squatters or rural poor.

If you don’t think these are genuine problems, I humbly invite you to do some soul-searching and look around with more open eyes.

It doesn’t stop there. We obviously have to practise a sincere zero-tolerance policy on snide jokes about Malays being lazy, spoilt, etc etc. Don’t make such remarks, and don’t just smile quietly when your friends do.

There are also other ‘battles’ that we have to pick with greater care. I don’t have strong feelings on the use of the term ‘Allah,’ but from an ethnic relations standpoint, I do have to wonder if those advocating its use by non-Muslims really have that much to gain from a stance, as compared to the strain it may put on religious relations.

I admit to being quite perturbed with statements like: “Saya betul-betul tidak faham kenapa segelintir orang amat sensitif jika menyentuh perkara berkaitan babi atau daging babi.”

Jika betul-betul tak faham, berusahalah untuk faham sket.

The new dawn for Malaysian politics requires politicians to up their game somewhat where nuances and maturity are concerned, as well as to leave behind old mindsets. Lim Kit Siang seems to be doing a great job evolving, as witnessed by his more measured statemens and the way he responded and changed his stance over the Perak MB issue. That, along with statements from Hadi Awang, Husam Musa (and even the Kelantan Deputy MB who clarified his backbone statement in Harakah) really signal positive maturing.

But we can’t just leave it to politicians. You and I have to do our part too. I’m quite confident my Malay brothers and sisters will help to break this new ground. The rest of us are going to have to do the same, and go above and beyond, and far out of our way, to send all the right signals to assure Malay Malaysians that even if Umno were to fade, Malay culture, Malay heritage, and Malay dignity will all continue to be protected and upheld according to the best traditions of defending human rights for all Malaysians.

— Nathaniel Tan,

What do you think of Nat’s message?