Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our New Year Wishes

A response to Ridhuan Tee: All Malaysians have special rights

Sometime ago I wrote this piece below which I think is relevant to as a response to Dr. Ridhuan Tee Abdullah's insistence that the "Malay-Muslim" group has a natural dominance over others.


Azly Rahman


"Therefore, the rakyat must unite and never raise issues regarding Malay rights and special privileges because it is a quid pro quo in gratitude for the giving in of citizenship (beri-paksa kerakyatan) to 2.7 million non-Malays into the Tanah Melayu federation....Thus, it is not appropriate for these other ethnic groups to have citizenship, only (later) to seek equality and privileges," said Tengku Faris, who read from a 11-page prepared text.

As a Malaysian who believes in a social contract based on the notion that ‘all Malaysians are created equal’, I do not understand the ‘royal statement’.

If it comes from the Biro Tatanegara (BTN), I can understand the confusion. But this is from a royal house.

This statement was valid 50 years ago, before Independence. This is an outdated statement that is not appreciated by the children of those who have laboured for this nation.

I believe we should look forward to institutionalising ‘special rights for all Malaysians’. The word ‘special’ is in itself special. Culturally it can either denote an enabling condition or a disabling one.

In the study of religion, one is bestowed a special place for living life well or for doing good deeds. In educational studies, ‘special education’ caters for the needs of those with a disabling physical, emotional or cognitive condition.

In all these, ‘special rights’ are accorded based on merit. One works hard to get special offers and into special places.

In the doctrine of the ‘divine rights of kings’, one's special right is the birthright. Louis XVI of revolutionary France, Shah Jehan of Taj Mahal fame, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Shah Reza Pahlavi of Revolutionary Iran, King Bumiphol Adulyadev, and the sultans of Melaka were ‘special people’ who designed institutions that installed individuals based on rights sanctioned through a ‘mandate of heaven’.

Such people use specialised language to differentiate who is special and who is not. Court language is archaic, terse, meant to instill fear and to institutionalise special-ness.

The language of the street or market is fluid, accommodating, meant to instill open-ness and institutionalise creativity at its best and further development of the ‘underclass’ at its worst.

This continuum of language, power, and ideology is characteristic of histories of nations. In Malay history, istana language is enshrined in the hikayat and in Tun Seri Lanang's Sejarah Melayu. Street language used in Malay folklore and in bawdy poems, pantun and stories of Sang Kancil.

Class consciousness, many a sociologist would say, dictates the special-ness of people across time and space. Historical-materialism necessitates the development of the specialised use and abuse of language. One can do a lot of things with words. Words can be deployed to create a sustainable and profitable master-slave relationship.

A better argument

Let us elevate the argument so that we will have a better view of what race, ethnicity, nationalism and cosmopolitanism means.

I propose we review what “special rights of the Malays" mean in light of 50 years of Independence and post-March 8, 2008.

I agree we must give credit to those working hard to "improve the psychological well-being of the Malays" and for that matter for any race to improve its mental wellness. This is important. This is a noble act.

The question is: in doing so, do we want to plant the seeds of cooperation and trust - or racial discrimination and deep hatred? Herein lies the difference between indoctrination and education.

These days, the idea of Ketuanan Melayu is going bankrupt, sinking with the bahtera merdeka. It works only for Malay robber barons who wish to plunder the nation by silencing the masses and using the ideological state apparatuses at their disposal.

In the case of the BTN it is the work of controlling the minds of the youth. Its work should not be allowed any more in our educational institutions. It is time our universities especially are spared counter-educational activities, especially when they yearn to be free of the shackles of domination.

Over decades, many millions of Malays and non-Malays have not been getting the right information on our nation's history, political-economy, and race relations. History that is being shoved into us or filter-funnelled down the labyrinth of our consciousness is one that is already packaged, biased, and propagandised by historians who became text-books writers.

History need not be Malay-centric. Special rights for all Malaysians should be the goal of distributive and regulative justice of this nation, not the "special rights of a few Malays". History must be presented as the history of the marginalisd, the oppressed and the dispossessed of all races.

We toil for this nation, as the humanist Paramoedya Ananta Toer would say, by virtue of our existence as anak semua bangsa ... di bumi manusia. Malaysia is a land of immigrants.

In this regard we can learn from the former British colony called America. Whatever its shortcomings, it is a land of immigrants and is still evolving. A black man or a woman can become president. This is what America conceives itself to be and this is what Malaysian can learn from. Can a non-Malay become prime minster if he/she is the most ethical of all politicians in the country?

No one particular race should stake a claim to Malaysia. That is an idea from the old school of thought, fast being abandoned. Each citizen is born, bred, and brought to school to become a good law-abiding and productive Malaysian citizen, is accorded the fullest rights and privileges and will carry his/her responsibility as a good citizen.

That is what ‘surrendering one's natural rights to the state’ means. One must read Rousseau, Locke, Voltaire, and Jefferson to understand this philosophy. A bad government will not honour this - and will fall, or will sink like the bahtera merdeka.

The history of civilisations provides enough examples of devastation and genocide as a consequence of violent claims to the right of this or that land based upon some idea of ‘imagined communities’. We must teach our children to make a history of peace among nations. This must be made into a new school of thought: of ‘new bumiputeraism’ that encompasses all and does not alienate any. Life is too short for each generation to fight over greed.

The eleventh hour of human existence and our emergence in this world has brought about destruction as a consequence of our inability to mediate differences based on race, colour, creed, class and national origin. Each ethnic group thinks that it is more socially-dominant than the other. Each does not know the basis of its ‘self’. Each fails to realise its DNA-make up or gene map.

Life is an existential state of beingness, so must history be conceived as such. Nationalism can evolve into a dangerous concept - that was what happened to Europe at the brink of the two World Wars. It happened in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and in Indonesia when Suharto fell.

I argue that we must evolve in the historical presence of historical constructions. The past and the future is in the present. Let us not argue any more over this or those rights. Let us instead treat each other right.