This essay concerns the reconstruction and enrichment of the definition of “Bumiputera” and how educators can begin to design a more effective and sustainable way to approach the teaching of multiculturalism in a country such as
Essentially the argument goes like this: The Malays are still indoctrinated by the idea that the Chinese control the economy. The Chinese are indoctrinated by the idea that the Malays must still be represented by leaders who know how to play the race card. The Indians are still left on their own to suffer. The Iban and the Kadasandusuns are left out in the debate. We have the dilemma of the growing population of immigrants whose sense of Malaysian nationalism needs to be cultivated. The Malays continue to be misrepresented by yet another generation of leaders who believe that race, not other factors, is still the root cause of social injustices.
Increasing number of progressive, Malays nonetheless, are more critically aware of this continuing linguistic play designed and taken advantage by the regime in power. The media and the control of wealth and resources by just a few Malaysian and their friends and families have made possible the sustenance of the race-based ideology. The Malays are made to believe that their survival must continue to lie in believing that there is a bogeyman - other races, namely the Chinese, who allegedly continues to control the economy. The longer the Malays of the lowest economic status continue to be held in mental and economic bondage, the longer the structure of dependence (and hence structural violence and oppression) will continue to be institutionalized.
The post-March 8 scenario is necessitating an even serious look to multiculturalism. States that are experimenting with genuine and radical multiethnic power-sharing base will need to contemplate on education as a vehicle of progress in this area of social change.
It is against the backdrop of the contradictions above that I will discuss ways in which educators can approach multiethnic education. I will first discuss briefly
To understand the need for a shift in thinking about multiethnic education across all educational levels, we must understand
The 2002 population of
I will now sketch a brief history of
Next came the period of British colonialism. The superior sea power of the British Empire as well as its sophistication in navigational and gunnery technology, fervered with the Christian military-millinearistic ideology of "Guns, Guts, and Glory" facilitated
The newly formed
An important consequence of colonialism was thus the creation of a class of administrative elite among the "Sons of the Soil": or the Bumiputeras out of the sons of the traditional Malay Sultans.
At present, the National Front (Barisan Nasional) which consists of a coalition of communal/ethnic-based political parties has ruled
In the preceding paragraphs, I briefly outlined the geographic, demographic, historical, and political aspects of
In the preceding section I discussed a brief history of
In our effort to make sense of the multiplicity of perspectives leading to the formulation of an educational paradigm based upon "multicultural/postcolonial sensibilities", we are faced with the dilemma of choice among many which would be critical enough for liberatory work in educational reform. This brief literature review that follows attempts to answer the question 'Which perspective is useful in our conceptualizing of a paradigm of post colonialism/multiculturalism, drawing illuminations from critical theory as a form of liberating pedagogy?' I will reflect upon the work of McLaren and Giarelli (1995) on critical theory, Smith (1994) on the study of colonists and McClintock (1992) on destroying binary opposition in defining post colonialism/multiculturalism. Although the subaltern perspectives emerging in postcolonial studies can offer illuminating multidimensionalities in approaching in educational critique and reform, a goal-oriented path is needed; one which focuses on education for critical consciousness.
McLaren and Giarelli (1995) writing from the perspective of critical pedagogy in the genre of neo-Leftism appeal to social and educational researchers to commit themselves to the growing solidarity in scholarship that promises a hope for the triumph of education for liberation. Whilst acknowledging the value of interpretivist research, McLaren and Giarelli (1995) contended that it is still situated in the "domain of cultural diversity" and as such, non-liberatory in nature. (p.16) What is needed is then for its situatedness in "cultural difference" encapsulated within a body of methodological knowledge which link political and ethical dimensions of theorizing to liberation. Postmodernism or postcolonial/multicultural studies, they assert, can become powerful hybridizing endeavors when its development is politically engaging and cautious to the potentially "disarming powers" of both neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. Whilst McLaren and Giarelli (1995) offer such pedagogical and methodological suggestion on postcolonial paradigm, Andrea L. Smith (1994) suggests anthropologists/multiculturalists to rethink the question of postcolonial/multicultural studies so that we may study the psychology of the colonizer and the colonized. Essentially not only the colonized should be looked at but also the colonists who themselves suffered from the institutional, ideological, and psycho-pathological conditions they created at the junctures of colonialism's history.
Smith (1994) believed that by "looking at ourselves" via engaging in the "anthropology of colonists" researchers not only can gain from a potentially painful but therapeutic value in the will to knowledge, but also can be introduced to the study of power, domination, and structural violence – all these in turn will contribute to study of colonist formation. Through our looking at the complexity of the colonial situation, juxtapositioning with the already burgeoning research on the colonized, Smith (1994) believed that a holistic picture of truth and method can emerge. Whilst Smith (1994) focused our attention to studying the socio-psychological makeup of the power brokers, Ann McClintock (1992) argued that one can be semantically drawn into the ideologically limiting idea of history as binary constructs; of the "triumph" of Capitalism over Communism and of the march of colonialism into another epoch called "post colonialism/multiculturalism".
Drawing primarily from conflict paradigm in international politics, using Marxist linguistic analysis to deconstruct the term "post colonialism/multiculturalism" and drawing engaging case studies in conflict amongst nations, McClintock (1992) concluded that contemporary issues of progress must be looked at as a "post-colonial" march of United States' hegemonic interests in the new world order aided by its supporting instruments of domination. McClintock (1992) called for one to engage in innovative theorizing to counter singularizing tendencies in looking at "post-colonialism/multiculturalism". In comparing and contrasting McLaren and Giarelli (1995), Smith (1994), and McClintock (1992) one can draw out a typology of analysis strengthened by Critical Theory.
Whilst McLaren and Giarelli (1995) suggests a methodology based upon Freirian approach to doing educational and social research, Smith (1994) offers a perspective in looking at the aftermath of colonialism on the colonizer and the colonized, and McClintock reminds us of the issue of political economic injustices in the global system. These authors approach their analysis from the perspective of Critical Theory to look at power structure and the methods of dismantling it. McLaren and Giarelli 's (1995) call for political and ethical solidarity for a program of educational praxis, Smith's (1994) call for a critical study of colonists in anthropology, and McClintock's (1992) semantic analytical approach to the politics of the term " multiculturalism/post colonialism" can be summarized as a reassertion of Marxist humanist analysis pointing towards a systematic paradigm of analysis needed for educational researchers to construct as liberatory educational paradigm in this post colonial era.
Thus, in those three analyses above, the critical theoretical ties that bind can perhaps give researchers and practitioners of multicultural education the necessary foundation. There are weaknesses to the perspectives as well.
McLaren and Giarelli (1995) discuss the challenging goal of the pedagogy of multicultural education. To gather subaltern voices, rally them politically and ethically as a counter-sphere of public opinion would mean to rally against and ideological “Other.” What would a society “free from ideology and oppression” as McLaren and Giarelli (1995) envision look like? Whilst Smith (1994) is illuminating in her suggestion for an anthropology of colonists, can this domain then develop into a body of knowledge which would have the potential of being further developed into a perspective apologetic to the agents of colonialism which then in turn betray the call for honesty Smith (1994) set forth in the first place? Therein I believe lie the danger, given the polemic nature of the development of knowledge production in fields, which are subjective in nature.
Whilst McClintock's (1992) semantic analysis is helpful in focusing on understanding other legitimate issues such as balance of power, militarism, and hegemonic interests of the powerful industrialized economies borne out of the ideology of the military-industrial complex, hers is short of the critical analysis of power relations in nation-states such as Malaysia which is based on philosophical-religious foundations such as Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, and the like. In short, McClintock (1992) bases her analysis, historical-materialistic determinism and World Systems in character, to look at hegemonic interests in international relations without critically examining the complexity of distributive injustices and repression in the
Having briefly discussed perspectives which bind and divide and the critical dimensions unanswered in each one of them and consequently situate these within my search for a desirable path to postcolonial education paradigm, some usefulness of the perspectives can be discerned. From McClintock's (1992) perspective, it is useful to not only look at hegemonic interest in international power relations as evident in the manner linguistic connotations are applied to the term "post colonialism/multiculturalism" but also to go deeper into analyzing such relations at the societal level.. From Smith's (1994) perspective it is useful to not only look at the eventuality of an anthropology of colonists but also its counter-revolutionary ideological formation apologetic to the cause of the colonists. From McLaren and Giarelli (1995), the critical pedagogy can be all the more useful if and only if the agents to be liberated must be made to conceive what it means to be "fully liberated" and for them to be provided the answer to the question "to be free from what?" The way to a desirable postcolonial educational paradigm can be riddled with more problematic and multidirectional signposts if the original intention to unite the multivocal Others turn into yet another agenda to divide them into multi-ideological followers.
If we take the emergence of the ethnophenomenological approach in the discourse of postmodernism what then can possibly be conceptualized as a method in analyzing the philosophy and politics of knowledge? In other words, what should the nature of postcolonial/multicultural studies?? In this second part of the review, I will discuss primarily Edward Said's (1978) Orientalism, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's (1990) and Alan Bishop's (1990) work on the critique of western-dominated discourse.
Said (1978) offers a critique of Orientalism as a field of study which he believes not apolitical in the manner knowledge about the Orient has been produced. It is particularly knowledge produced from the literary and humanistic traditions from the time of Aeschylus to this era of post colonialism/multiculturalism that has shaped the existence of the Orient as how the Occident or the West had wanted it to be. Said (1978) believes that misrepresentations of the Orient are derived from the ideology and perception of authors attempting to describe it from their "strategic location" (p. 20) which then produces discourses that are ideologically dominatiing. To demystify this representation of canonical knowledge, Said (1978) suggests methodologies which would not only analyze the politics of knowledge production but also to look at Orientalism from the vantage point of "libertarian… non-repressive and non-manipulative, perspective" (p. 24) via transcultural studies. Through this paradigm then, Said (1978) contends the study of the Orient can become not merely academic but most importantly "intellectual" (p. 27).
Whilst Said (1978) believes in an epistemological focus on what postcolonial studies can be, Spivak (1990) advocates teaching of transnational cultural studies in the area of English language teaching. Spivak (1990) who primarily analyzed the case of the teaching of English in the American classroom calls upon the reclaiming and conceptualizing of the true meaning of the word "we the people." The primary shift in methodology, she claims must be one which would celebrate subaltern voices rather than let narratives based upon Western foundations dominate. Spivak (1990) suggests this new paradigm, transnational cultural studies, be based upon deconstructionism, feminism, and Marxism as tenets in order for the issues of presumed neutrality, knowledge-constituted interests and politics of knowledge production and dissemination are justifiably addressed. This shift in paradigm is necessary according to Spivak (1990) if we are to envision the "development of a cosmopolitanism that is global, gendered, and dynamic" (p.292) Whilst Spivak (1990) focuses her critical analysis on the humanities calling for an ethno-phenomenographic approach to the study of cultures, Bishop (1990) questions the presumed neutrality of Mathematics as analytical canonical knowledge.
Bishop (1990) claims that although it has been historically perceived that Mathematics as a science of abstraction cannot possibly be value-laden and political, the concept of Western-Mathematics itself must be looked at within a historical, political and cultural context tied closely to colonialism and imperialism. Calling Western Mathematics as "one of the most powerful weapons of cultural imperialism" (p. 51) Bishop (1990) draws attention to the concept of ethno-mathematics as one inherent in every culture, historically present it its variety of arithmetic systems and how the advent of colonialism has rendered it submissive and dominated to western mathematics. Through the “three media of trade, administration and education" (p. 56) the latter has been imposed by the colonizer in the knowledge and cognitive structure of the colonized. Bishop (1990) concludes with the idea that resistance to Western mathematics is seemingly emerging in the form of awareness of rediscovering the meaning of ethno-mathematics in each and every culture. (p. 63)
The three authors write from this particular ethnological perspective; Said (1996) from one which questions the Western-centric paradigm, Spivak (1996) from a Western multivocalic point of view, and Bishop (1990) from an ethno-mathematical frame of advocacy attempting to demystify western mathematics. Whilst Said's (1978) work largely rests upon a critique of ideology in knowledge-production by looking at Orientalism from an epistemological vantage point, Spivak (1990) and Bishop (1990) base theirs from a methodological platform which calls upon curricular approach to be shifted; from one modernist to a postmodernist.
The common strand in all the three perspectives is one that advocates the subalternizing of canonical knowledge which has thus far pervaded disciplines in the Arts and Sciences. It questions the claim that knowledge is value-neutral and that human agents are involved in its production, situated largely within the historical and political context. Post-colonial studies, must then be approached from the perspective which first subvert the apolitical claims to knowledge, and next to design pedagogical strategies which take into consideration subaltern and marginalized voices which sees human beings as makers of history and masters of their own destiny.
It is from this vantage point that the strength of the respective author's perspective lies. Nonetheless, albeit enlightening Said's (1978), Spivak's (1990) and Bishop's (1990) arguments are, fundamental contradictions which weaken these authors' claim can be discerned. Said (1978) paints a picture of an oppressed Orient without giving enough explanation of what constitutes and color the development of the Orient as a mélange of political, cultural, and economic entities. The brutishness and oppressive nature of the Oriental political system of the past (and those which continue to the present) is not discussed, the vaingloriousness of the despotic rulers of the ancient East who thrive upon mythico-supernatural modes of domination is not scrutinized, and the slave-master relationship between the ruler and the ruler is not mentioned at all in Said's (1978) work. In short, Said's (1978) analysis fails to expose the inner contradictions in the ideology of the ruling class and in the mode of economic and ideological production of the Orient.
Spivak (1990) albeit convincing in her rationale for the study of humanities and social sciences to be deconstructed, feminized, and Marxicized, could have benefited from her discussion of progressive movements in curricular development in these fields. Particularly the Deweyian (1938) thought in educational reform of American education is not given its due credit by Spivak (1990). In fact, the Whole Language movement in humanities which has, for many years, become a standard bearer in curricular practice has approached the suggestions from schools of thoughts such as deconstructionism, feminism, and Marxism from its own vantage-point. Thus Spivak (1990) may not have enough information on curricular practice at the day-to-day implementation level in her process of enlightening us on the need for such paradigm shift. Bishop (1990) romanticizes ethno-mathematics and overstated his claim for the politics of Mathematics as a western art of abstracting thinking.
Whilst it is a legitimate argument that the advent of Mathematics is not devoid of imperialistic tendencies and underpinnings, one must also ask this question: what is the instrumental and enriching value of ethno-mathematics in a contemporary world of advanced Science and Technology we are all in? Do we need to regress to a subalternized versions of Mathematical systems claimed to be ethnologically superior to western mathematics when, I believe, the concern is not in the type of mathematics relevant but towards what humanistic ends mathematical knowledge and its applications is employed? Is not western mathematics a culmination of ethno-mathematics at its most developed stage? These are the questions Bishop (1990) fails to address in his attempt to deconstruct the meaning of mathematics, albeit strong in his claims from an enlightening vantage point.
What then, from the synthesized perspectives above, should the mission of postcolonial/multicultural studies be? I believe in searching for creative and altruistic strands in the structure of knowledge in our evolution as beings moving towards a moralistic global community. Whether ideas are produced from the spiritual-metaphysical Ancients or from cybernetic Futurists, they must embody human-constituted interests, which can be creatively molded to our heart's desire. Whether they were borne out of the ethos of the Babylonian or Hellenistic tradition or from some post-industrial tribe more intelligent than a community of metaphysicians of the Renaissance period, they will remain an accumulated canon for the human species to utilize for its survival. Postcolonial or multicultural studies must have the mission of preparing the minds of our generation and that of our children's to think creatively, critically, and futuristically. Subaltern modes of thinking can then perhaps mean those which can build moral foundations not out of our ideological fights over crumbs but of building what is peaceably possible so that in the end, the Orient and the Occident may unite rather than divide. This is must be the basis of
Nationalism and tribalism
In the preceding sections by way of a review of work on multiculturalism/post colonialism, I discussed the needed to look at this perspective from the point of view of educational paradigm first and next, curriculum theory. This entails a reconceptualization of “nationalism” and “tribalism” and the questioning of these concepts which have colored not only Malaysian politics but also education of political socialization. A quote below illustrates the nature of public statements made vis-à-vis particularly Malay nationalism and tribalism.
Umno Perlis delegate Hashim Suboh was quoted in a New Straits Times report as saying at the end of the debate on economy and education issues that "Datuk Hisham (Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein) has unsheathed his keris, waved his keris, kissed his keris. We want to ask Datuk Hisham when he is going to use it."
The Perlis delegate made the remark while saying "force must be used against those who refused to abide by the social contract" in relation to Hishammuddin's alleged weakness in dealing with demands from the Chinese schools. – (Malaysiakini, Nov18, 2006).
That delegate's remark is an embarrassment to the peace-loving people of Perlis, let alone represents what the Malay is, intellectually. The Malays of Perlis elect their representative not to misrepresent them with a false image of myopia and paranoia, or amuk and latah. It shows how ill-prepared one is in dealing with sensitive issues. It is telling the people of Perlis that they need better leaders with better command of the vocabulary of peace and better understanding of what 'social contract' means.
This brings us to the following questions:
What is a Malay? What is a Malaysian? What is a nationalist? What is a 'nation'? How are we becoming "re-tribalised" in this world of increasing restlessness over a range of issues that are not being resolved by the current regime. These are burning questions as we become more mature in discussing race relations in
Even the word "National Front" (Barisan Nasional) is elusive. It is surviving as long as means to cling on to power – by all means necessary – becomes more efficient and sophisticated. Its survival lies in the way people are divided, conquered, and mutated into 'post-industrial tribes'; market-segmented-differentiatedly-sophisticated enclaves that are produced out of the need for the free market economy to transform Malays and Malaysians into consumers of useless goods and ideology. Post-industrial tribalism is a natural social reproduction of the power of the media to shape consciousness, and to create newer forms of consumerist human beings. Nationalism, including Malay nationalism of the Mahathirst era, is an artificial construct that needs the power of "othering" and "production of enemies" and "bogeymen and bogeywomen" for ideological sustainability.
But what is "nationalism" and does "Malay nationalism" actually exist in this century? Does the idea of 'natio' or "nation" or "a people" survive merely on linguistic, territorial, religious homogeneity when these are also subject to the sociological interrogations of subjectivity and relativity?
Nationalism is a psychological and cultural construct useful and effective when deployed under certain economic conditions. It is now ineffective as a tool of mass mobilisation when nations have gained "independence" from the colonisers and when the "enemy" is no longer visible. All that exist in this post-industrial, globalised, borderless, and mediated age of cybernetic capitalism is the idea of "post-industrial tribes" that live and thrive on chaos and complexity and on materials and goods produced by local and international capitalists.
We are in the 21st. century. About two years from now, we will arrive at the year 2010. The non-Malays and non-Bumiputeras have come a long way into being accepted as full-fledged Malaysians, by virtue of the ethics, rights and responsibilities of citizenship. They ought to be given equal opportunity in the name of social justice, racial tolerance and the alleviation of poverty. Bright and hard-working Malaysians regardless of racial origin who now call themselves Malaysians must be given all the opportunities that have been given to Malays since 40 years back.
Islam and other religions require this form of social justice to be applied to the lives of human beings. Islam does not discriminate one on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, creed nor national origin. It is race-based politics, borne out of the elusiveness of nationalism, that creates post-industrial tribalistic leaders; leaders that will design post-industrial tribalistic policies. It is the philosophy of greed, facilitated by free enterprise run amuck that will evolvingly force leaders of each race to threaten each other over the control of the economic pie.
The claim of 'civilisational Islam' or "Islam Hadhari" must be backed with a philosophy of development that restructure society no longer on the basis of newer forms of post-industrial tribalism that accords the political elites with the best opportunity to amass more wealth, but to redesign the economic system based on an efficient and sound socialistic economic system. It might even require political will to curb human enthusiasm of acquiring more and more of the things they do not need. In short, it should curb temptations to out-consume each other in the name of greed.
To be civilised means to wake up to the possibilities of humanism and not plunge into a world of more sophisticated racism. The universal principle of humanism requires the privileged few to re-examine the policies of national development that prioritise the creation of more real estate projects than the construction of programs that meet basic needs of all races and classes of peoples. To civilise a nation means to de-tribalise the citizens into a polity that will learn to share the wealth of this nation by accepting this land as the "earth of mankind" (bumi manusia) rather that a land belonging to this or that race. In a multi-racial, multi-religious, country such as
The problem of using such a race-based paradigm brings us to a difficult dialogue on culture, especially when we are planning to teach a "modular version" of Ethnic Studies. This means that we are doing a "textbook" treatment of teaching something that is highly subjective. This means that there will be a body of "Official Knowledge/Grand Narrative" to be passed down to students so that they can regurgitate the facts and live with the information funneled into their brains. Where will the thinking process come in? How will we develop critical sensibility – so that we may teach tolerance, battle bigotry, and adopt a cosmopolitan instead of communitarian view of race and ethnicity? Without getting into trouble, can our students question "truths produced" and "realities invented" in the name of history?
Culture is indeed a most problematic area of studies. In it lies the question of "truth". Especially in Malaysia where the debate on race and ethnicity continue to rage - a debate that brings in issue of political-economy, power, ideology, truth, genealogy, archeology of knowledge, "order of things", as Michel Foucault (1978) would say, and a range of multiplicity of perspectives that ought not to be ignored when speaking of race, racial constructs, and illusions of racial superiority. We need a new approach - one based on this idea "new Bumiputeraism". We need a new concept of ethnicity, a new perspective on race-relations, and new strategies towards constructing of a society based on peaceful-coexistence; one that will be evolving, meaningful, wise, and sustainable. It is even more needed now after March 8 2008 in which radical changes necessitated the need for Malaysians to design ways to educate each other on inter-racial, inter-ethnic, or cross-cultural understanding.
Concepts to teach
The following are what I see as important concepts Malaysian educationists and curriculum designers need to acquire in order to migrate to a newer paradigm. We need to experience a “rebirth” or karma of concepts in order to shed old ways of thinking about culture.
There is an old Malay practice in Johor of renaming a child ‘Buang’ if his given name does not ‘suit’ him. My grand-uncle who passed away in the early 1970s had ‘Buang’ as a name. His old name did not suit him. He was often sick when he was a child ‘carrying’ his old name. Buang means ‘discard’. I would call it with a more noble word ‘reconceptualisation’, so that we may now talk about the ‘reconceptualisation of Bumiputera-ism’.
Several semesters ago, when I was lecturing an undergraduate class in African philosophy, using Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, I began to understand how similar my grand-uncle's predicament is with that of the main character, Okonkwo, of that great African novel. The Broadway play ‘The Lion King’ explained the concept even better. The name ‘Bumiputera’ has to undergo ‘reconceptualisation’. The Indonesians had their process of ‘Buang-isation’ perhaps as Soekarno had envisioned. It has to undergo ‘rebirth’ or karma, as the Hindus would say. We indulge in this ritual called ‘election’, another problematic word, commissioned to be executed ‘fairly’. When we are done with the general election, when we have shaken up the illusionary foundation of race that define ‘Bumiputera-ism’, when we have begun to realise that it is the unseen hands of local and international corporate-capitalist class that is corrupting our material, emotional, ideological and spiritual landscape, we will start our post-motem session on this process of ‘Buang-isation’ or ‘reconceptualisation’ of this idea of ‘Bumiputera-ism’.
The current regime of the National Front however, cannot perform this process of Malaysian ‘divining’ and ‘discarding’. It cannot conduct this ‘Buang-isation’ ceremony because it no longer possesses a good spiritual core. Its soul is too calloused with the carcinogens of corruption that its "rational soul" is forever lost and transported into the yuga (spiritual age) of this materially corrupt world - the kali yuga. The ceremony must be performed by a group of philosopher-rulers whose idealism lies in the establishment of a 'republic of virtue'; one that drives its economic foundation from the accumulation of ‘spiritual and metaphysical’ rather than the material capital. ‘Das Kapital’ of the spiritual accumulation of wealth will be the product of this divination. Many a critical theorist (Kellner, 1989) would agree with this idea of spiritual revolution. It cannot be performed by investment bankers-cum-politicians.
Names connote and denote something. Words, like many a linguistic anthropologist would say, carry metaphors and manifestations of history, material, power, knowledge and ideology. Worse still these words become institutions and become institutionalised into architectures of power and control. Writers such as Lewis Mumford (2003) and Jacques Ellul (1966, 1980)have analysed this phenomena of architectures of power as these structure relate to the nature of Man within the context of the language in which he/she is situated.
“Bumiputera” is one such problematic word; one that assumes race and religion as one. To say that a Malay is generally a Muslim and hence a 'Bumiputera' and therefore have special rights and privileges is an imprecise way of explaining a concept. It is an old-school approach to defining that word. We must find ways to enrich the concept better so that it will become inclusive. Who toils for the soil? Labour, more than language seems to be more a more linguistically just way to look at the definition of Bumiputera and how we will go about the ‘Buangi-sation’ process. We need a premise for this process though. I propose educators begin reflecting in the phrase:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident and Divine-ly sanctioned that All Malaysians are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator the inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, happiness, justice and social equality… and we shall resoundingly declare that from now on we will be constructed as equal and be called ‘the new Bumiputera
The phrase sounds like a Rousseauin, Lockean, and Jeffersonian ideal combined, with a Malaysian ethos as its foundation. It sounds like what the Quran, Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Sutras, Puranas, Tao Te' Chng, Granth Sahib and Tibetan Book of the Dead would advocate. That can be our premise for this radical change. Now the second stage of the ‘Buang-isation’ process can begin. This is the stage of the critique of ideology. The old concept of ‘Bumiputera’ need to be reconstructed so that we will have a better foundation in preparation for a redefinition in the Federal Constitution - so that the constitution can now protect all rather that the few. Isn't democracy for the powerful few only good for plutocracy? Who is a ‘Bumiputera’? After 50 years this term should have evolved and changed. The base and superstructure, the ideology and material foundation, and the body and spirit of this nation-state called
The old definition has run its course. It is fine to see this as the right time to change. We must remember that words get refined and redefined in the course of history. Words like democracy, freedom, justice and equality get reconceptualised after every social revolution. Words like Malays, Indians, Chinese, East and West Malaysians used as classification systems are good during the colonial period and in the early years of independence. They have lost their connotative and denotative power as we approach our 50th year of independence. Language is reality - words become flesh, inscriptions become institutions. We must redefine what ‘Bumiputera’ means.
After 50 years of Independence/Merdeka, the question is: aren't all Malaysians Bumiputera now?
Not only must the approach postcolonial/multicultural begin with a critique of language of race and exclusivism, it must also be based on the latest findings in neuroscience particularly in the idea of the biological basis of race. We live in a century of "brain, mind, and consciousness" - of DNA, biotechnology, futuristics, cybernetics, and smart machines. We live in imaginary worlds we construct, enclaves we build. Why do we still believe in racial gate-keeping and in race theories paradigmed after subtleties of colonialism and imperialism? The real predators in all this game of human alienation are those who steal from the poor of all races—using sophisticated race theories based on arrogant knowledge built upon myth and materialism.
The nation's brain becomes "reptilian" in this age of race-rooted mental insecurities. The brain goes in a "fight or flight" mode. This explains why we display signs and symbols of anger in public forums both in physical as well as cyber space – keris-wielding, Internet spamming, and all styles of display of human aggression. Our education has failed to enforce our educators to teach tolerance. Had our schools been less segregated, had our universities been as such too – the evolution of our civil and ethical society will be faster. Our institutions – political, cultural, and economic – are based on racism. We have forgotten that in each and every religion and transcultural philosophies lie the idea of universality of human needs and how these will never be met through greed or through institutions built upon wants and not needs.
We can help tap our students' brain potential by guiding them to move from the level of the "reptilian brain" to the "higher brain". The latter is a suitable condition for the advancement of higher order thinking skills much needed to develop the "two-pound universe" in our head The corpus callosum will be all the more enriched. The mind will need new ways to be stimulated in order to grow. A plethora of research on brain-hemispheric dominance attest to the idea of mind expansion through proper care and education of both sides of the brain. Newer strategies of teaching history, culture, and consciousness are therefore needed. Race and ethnicity is merely a construct of social dominance. It does not have a biological/scientific basis nor a religious/philosophical basis.
A new interpretation of history need to be made; one that will debunk the myth of superiority of any race. New historical accounts need to be constructed so that we may teach our students to "interrogate the makers and producers of history", "question signs and symbols of dominance", "deconstruct theories built upon selective memory", "put on trial glorified villains who abuse power", "rediscover newer heroes", "understand the issue of author, authorship, and authoritarianism in historicizing", "speak for the poor, silenced, marginalised, and oppressed" and have students explore creative dimension of subaltern history.
Essentially we must make history and the study of cultures meaningful to our students. Man makes history, said many a historian. Let us look at some concepts related to the need to approach Ethnic Studies.
“New Bumiputeraism”. “Radical multiculturalism”. “Humanism”. “Evolving self”. “Alternative futures”. “Social reconstructionism”. “Counter-factual and alternative historicizing”. “People's history”. “Power and ideology”. All these concepts can be taught to our students of this new
How do we teach these concepts?
We can involve students in activities that allow them to explore the meanings and mechanisms of culture. We can have them examine the universal and the particular in human motivations, behaviors, attitudes, values and beliefs. We must expand their understanding of the dynamic nature of culture and increase their awareness of their own place in global series of cultures and subcultures and the challenges and opportunities such situations present in cross-cultural communications. We can get our students to construct alternative futures that draw out the ethical humanistic values into an integrative concept of New Bumiputeraism based on the premise that we are all human beings sharing a living space in a time borrowed, and that the litmus test of it all is how we treat fellow human beings with knowledge, understanding, and wisdom sound enough to make each other see through the lens of race, color, creed.
I believe that if we resolve this issue of Bumiputera versus non-Bumiputera through education for peace, justice, and tolerance, we will see the demise of race-based politics and the dissolution of political parties that champion this or that race. Ethnic Studies as a vehicle of change for culture and consciousness will do the job – of course successfully in the hands of skilled trainers and professors who are colour-blind. The challenge is this: Do we have colour-blind professors/educators who will profess colour-blind ideology? I hope we have them in all our public universities. After all - their training should allow them to be true to the subjectivity of culture and the sensitivity to race and ethnicity.
In fact, if we are sincere in developing our students' intelligence, we should even have them revise our Ethnic Studies module form time to time - so that we may not be the "sage on stage" but a "guide on the side".
“Kings,” “queens,” “datuks,” “datins,” “slaves,” “serfs,” “sultans,” “subjects,” “Malays,” “Chinese,” “Indians,” “Kadazans,” “Ibans” - all these are artificial constructs. All these are physical manifestations called "human beings" essentially build upon DNAs – that building block of life. Through time, space, and place, we create these constructs to enable or disable our understanding of what it means to be human. Educators of multicultural studies must be trained to counter-hegemonize apartheid, bigotry, arrogance, racism, and disabling cultures through the art and science of teaching and through their own repertoire of strategies of mental liberation and cultural action for freedom. It might be the longest battle – but this is going to be a great victory for Malaysian children of all races.
I have described the process of discarding a paradigm (“Buang-ization”) and have proposed that educators teach a set of new concepts related to the idea of “New Bumiputeraism”. How do we then translate the concepts into a perspective of teaching? How do we move from concept s to classroom practice via curriculum design?
The idea of a new Bumiputeraism must be translated into the practice of education. Education is a deliberate effort to impart knowledge, skills, and values that would not only, hopefully, change human character but influence how he/she will act as good members of society. Education need not only be looked at from the perspective of “human capital revolution” ala the Freirian “banking concept of education” but more than this education must address the complexities of the “whole-child-in mind, body, spirit and how this will in turn be functional in society”.
The idea of post colonial/multicultural education requires this whole child to be educated into becoming a cultural being first and a multicultural being next. It requires a good curriculum in Multiethnic Studies and the acquiring of skill and dispositions necessary for the child to function in an increasingly complex multicultural environment. To teach the concept of “new Bumipteraism” and to teach in effectively and affectively, we must make a radical changes to enterprise of teaching it itself. This means we must prepare our teachers, at all levels, to become effective multiculturalists and to teach multiculturalism.
In other words, our approach of teaching about cultures must radically change in order to teach about the "new Bumiputeraism". We must look at culture not merely as "habits we acquire" and the "tools" we use but as "habits we acquire and the tools we use in houses we inhabit". This further means that culture is a set of variegated meanings, patterns of behaviour, and interplay between Nature and Technology, human determinism, social evolution and finally patterns of history and nature of hegemony. These are terms that we need to explore in order to see
How do we design a curriculum for this "new Bumiputeraism", shifting our focus from an ethnocentric curriculum bent on using "nationalism" as a foundation of curricular base to deliver pre-packaged content to one that questions content knowledge in a dialectical manner so that newer understanding can be arrived at? Below is a set of premises I think is needed for educators approaching the design of Multiethnic Studies:
4. understand that culture by its nature also changes, and that people are among the agents of change, so that awareness of the ways that cultural systems work, and of how to negotiate sameness and difference, is indispensable to cultural coexistence at all levels;
Such are the intended outcomes of learning that need to be factored into in designing the Malaysian Multiethnic Studies curriculum. These can be the turned into benchmarks of concepts and skills to be acquired and can also be used to design the a Malaysian core curriculum content standards for the course of study.
In this essay after briefly discussing
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