TO: Malaysian Parliamentarians and Opinion leaders
I am reposting a previous article on what I see the idea of "ketuanan Melayu" might mean to Malays these days.
A Malay view of 'Ketuanan Melayu'
Azly Rahman Feb 4, 08 2:51pm
‘O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety. Indeed the noblest among you is the one who is deeply conscious of God.’
- a saying of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him)
‘Malaysia - to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian. This is the doubt that hangs over many minds, and ... [once] emotions are set in motion, and men pitted against men along these unspoken lines, you will have the kind of warfare that will split the nation from top to bottom and undo Malaysia.’
- Lee Kuan Yew, now Senior Minister, Republic of Singapore
Instead of defining Ketuanan Melayu as ‘Malay superiority’ which is quite meaningless, philologically inaccurate, and philosophically arrogant, I think the word ‘dictatorship’ is closer in meaning. As you read this piece, please refrain from value judgment and from bring trapped in the prison-house of language pertaining to the word ‘dictatorship’.
To dictate connotes to tell, which connotes to narrate. To narrate means to weave a story based on an ideology. To ideologise means to encapsulate. To encapsulate means to be trap. Dictatorship, here might also mean an entrapment. Instead of acknowledging one's freedom to rule, one is acknowledging being in an entrapment - and to rule out of that condition. This is a form of false consciousness.
Words, as a literary theorist Raymond Williams might say, must also be contextualised/situated within the economic condition they emerge in. Marx's famous dictum that human beings' existence is defined by the economic condition they are in and that this condition is already predetermined. This is a deterministic view of human history.
I first read heard the phrase Ketuanan Melayu in the mid-1980s from a book by one Malik Munip. I was reading his work, at the same time reading Lim Kit Siang's ‘Malaysia in the dangerous 80s’, to get a sense of the argument. I was an undergraduate reading Literature, Education and International Politics.
I also heard that Malay students were discouraged from reading Kit Siang's work and encouraged to read ‘Ketuanan Melayu’. I love banned books and books that others tell me not to read. There is a sense of intellectual challenge to be able to read banned books.
I read Mahathir Mohamad's ‘The Malay Dilemma’ and Syed Husin Ali's ‘Malays: Their Problems and their Future’ and Syed Hussein Alatas’ ‘The Myth of the Lazy Native’ at the same time. Again, to get a sense of balance.
I read Malaysian official publications on economic outlook, juxtaposing them with a close reading of analyses on the political-economy of the Malaysian capitalist state.
I read the work of Freud and Marx to see where some of the major authors of the Frankfurt School of Social Research are going with their arguments on totalitarianism. I read the Quran and the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata to see where the arguments on race superiority lie and what the fate of humankind will be.
The idea of social dominance and racial superiority might all be primarily about economics, if we are to read the history of the development of ideologies of superiority. But my question is - who has the right to claim that this or that land belongs to this or that group of people. At what point does culture and citizenship meet and negotiate the issue of egalitarianism? When does ‘the truth of one's culture’ reach its limit and the question of ‘the truth of citizenship’ dominate?
This is a very complex question Malaysians must answer after 50 years of Independence. We must open up the dialogue on this issue.
Let us look at how the idea of ketuanan Melayu is disseminated to the young. One way is through indoctrination camps in which songs are used.
Over the decades, perhaps millions of Malay students like me were taught the dangerous propaganda song, ‘Anak Kecil Main Api’(A Child Plays with Fire). One verse concerns the power of the Malays::
… kini kita cuma tinggal kuasa
yang akan menentukan bangsa
hasil mengalir, ke tangan yang lain
pribumi merintih sendiri…
My loose translation of this 1980s propaganda song by the Biro Tata Negara reads:
… political power is what we are only left with
one that will determine the fate of our nation
wealth of this nation flows into the hands of others
sons and daughters of the soil suffer in solace...
I do not think we have a clear understanding of what the lyrics mean. I doubt if the songwriter even understand what a 'people's history of Malaya' means. It is a song based on racist intents; its lyrics penned by one who does not have a good grasp of the political-economy of Malaysian history, let alone the latest advances in the field of psychology of consciousness.
The training programes that encapsulate the theme of this song are meant to instill fear of the Malays, not of others but of themselves, and to project hatred onto other ethnic groups without realising who the enemy of the Malays really are.
Using relaxation techniques to bring the brain waves in the alpha and state (conducive for suggestive and subliminal messages), trainees were put under ‘half-asleep’ conditions to get the ketuanan Melayu message to colonise the consciousness. The technique pioneered by Russian brain scientists Barzakov and Lozanov in the1970s, called ‘suggestopedia’, is used to instill the deep sense of fear for oneself and hatred of others.
History is a complex syntagmatic pattern of interplay between technology, ideology, culture, inscription and institutionalisation not easily reduced to simplistic lyrics as such sung to the tune of pre-war German-nationalistic-sounding compositions.
History is about the complex evolution of the ruling class which owns the technologies of control. As Marx would say, at every epoch it is the history of those who own the means of production that will be written and rewritten. The winners write history, the losers write poetry or study anthropology, some would lament.
Back to the lyrics. After 50 years of independence, who is suffering in Malaysia? Who has become wealthy? Who has evolved into robber barons? What has become of our judiciary system, our universities, our city streets, our sense of public safety and security, our schools, our youth, and our entire socio-economic arrangements at the eve of the 12th general election. How has the idea of ketuanan Melayu contributed to this state of affairs?
Language of power and ideology is at play in those lyrics. The definition of ‘bumiputera' is at play. It has become a problematic word in this age of deconstructionism; an age wherein as the poet WB Yeats said, "the centre cannot hold".
Rock musicians will recall the Scorpions' famous song 'Winds of Change' to serenade the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the breakdown of the Soviet Empire. We have to face the 'wrath' of the word.
Put an end to Ketuanan Melayu
For Muslims in Malaysia, this saying by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is familiar: ‘Your descent is nothing to be proud of. Nor does it bring you superiority. O people! All of you are the children of Adam. You are like equal wheat grains in a bowl ... No one has any superiority over anyone else, except in religion and heedfulness. In order to consider someone a wicked person, it suffices that he humiliates other people, is mean with money, bad-tempered and exceeds the limits…’
I would say that ketuanan Melayu is a dangerous concept that is threatening race relations. It is an arrogant interpretation of selective history; of a history that is largely benefiting those who profits from the ideology.
Those promoting this concept are not well-versed in the matters of philosophy of history. I do not think thinking Malays these days subscribe to the idea of ‘Malay dominance and dictatorship’. If there is a ketuanan of one race, then the rest are ‘slaves’ and ‘serfs’ and ‘sub-citizens’, if we are to analyse it from the point of view of ‘Master-Slave’ narrative?
As a Malay wishing to see the withering of and an end to the concept of ketuanan Melayu and the birth of a new consciousness that will respect the dignity of all races and the humility of all ethnic groups, I call upon Malaysians to continue to be critical of any attempt by any race to project their own sense of false superiority that would only breed dangerous ethnocentrism bordering on xenophobia.
We should work together to deconstruct all forms of race-based political arrangement and work towards establishing a new order based on a more egalitarian economic design that takes into consideration the basic needs and dignity of all races.
We should teach our schoolchildren how to deconstruct such sense of racial superiority, through the teaching of not only tolerance but social egalitarianism - via peace education strategies. We will have a lot to gain for generations to come.
Posted by DR. AZLY RAHMAN at 11:52 AM
Labels: culture and consciousness
Ahh.. I instantly see hints of 'Foucauldianism' and social constructionism. Good write up.
China has underwent the Animal farms part in 60's. USSR are not better. Many south American country also share Animal farms characteristic. Middle east, well, we know that, Africa, a mess.
I doubt majority of Malaysia aware the real danger Napoleons from the "Ketuanan Melayu".
Dear Dr Azly,
I have sent an email with this article of yours attached, to quite a number of my friends and associates, and it reads like this ....
" ...You have got to read this essay to appreciate Azly Rahman's tight and indepth argument on a highly pertinent subject. Although the front bits are throughly articulated, I had wished the ending has more expansive substance.
But then again, I suspect he will tackle the core idea discussed at the tail-end of this essay, in another fresh and yet connected piece of writing. You must admit to expand on his prime suggestion of what should be done eventually to right the wrong, requires quite a different set of thinking, and may well need some researching..."
it took you all these years of study and government funding--which is from taxpayers' pocket--for you to realise that the concept of 'ketuanan melayu' is dangerous?
I am glad and sad at the same time with intellectually inclined malays like your self.
Your article is good. It brings into focus the often overlooked reality that there is a class of Malay intellectuals who see the world from a more sensible, accomodative angle.
But even you could not bring yourself to not include the religious element into your otherwise perfectly universal articulation.
Even when you write for the 'world' you include religious caveats... just in case some other muslim takes offence !
Well, I guess you can not run away from certain realities. Not everyone is gutsy enough to simply call a 'spade a spade'.
Won't you be afraid if people calls you the "pengkhianat Melayu"
With all due respect to your articles but its becoming part of malay culture.
DR. AZLY RAHMAN said...
Thank you for your valuable comment.
I think I am doing a service to those interested in reading about multiculturalism. How might discussing "issues of race" make one a "traitor"?
What do you think of the arguments I raised in the article?
Ketuanan Melayu to me means Melayu remains as Tuan di Tanah melayu, itu aje. You can do anything you want but Melayu remains the Tuan, in this case Raja mesti melayu, adat mesti Melayu based. KTM remains Keretapi Tanah Melayu. You can be a fool but still own the land. Nothing about Malay superiority. There is nothing rascist in Ketuanan Melayu but racial is probably the right word. What a waste of money to study this in the University..
I remember Tok Guru Nik Aziz said in one of his speech' regardless we are Malays, Indians, Chinese, etc. we are all brothers because we all came from Adam (puh)' and Islam promotes respect of inter-religions. 'Race' is a non-issue.
In th song 'Where Is The Love' by the Black Eyed Peas-
"But if you only have love for your own race, Then you only leave space to discriminate, And to discriminate only generates hate And when you hate then you're bound to get irate, yeah"...
S. Navin Kumar said...
The concept of `Ketuanan Melayu` is meaningless for most Malays who remain the poorest among the major races. The real `Tuans` are the elites linked politically and econimically to UMMO, MCA, MIC, GERAKAN. The Malays whom I know do not at all care about this `Ketuanan Melayu`. They work hard and live a honest life. But I don`t know about those linked to the ruling party. We only hear about `Ketuanan Melayu` once a year during UNMO General Assembly, invariably brought up by delegates who portray themselves as champions of the race but real intention is to get government contracts and tenders !
nick chan abdullah said...
In simple terms, I have known some malay kampungs where the malay people look up to non-muslim as a Tuan. As long as there's improved religious education, malays won't find problem with non-muslim being Tuan.
Dear Dr Azly
i have just read your article and it brings me great satisfaction to learn we have distinguished intellectuals and deep thinkers of elite class from this part of the world, and even more hebat from the shores of my Malaya. i cannot bring myself to say Malaysia because i prefer how this place was administered in the past; and how harmonious it was then, without self-serving politicians abusing the definition of unity. your depth and deliberations are cutting age and your conclusions the hallmark of an individual who champions the philosophy that we are born equal, and our actions,consideration to others and compassion are the very qualities we would be judged by. i do hope you will continue to share your wisdom with many in your motherland
What's wrong with Ketuanan Melayu. The Chinese is the master in it's own land, so does the indian and other races too. However, they don't mention it b'cause majority is not an issue there. However in Tanah Melayu itis critical. So as a Malay we have to say it out loud. So, why can't Malay be the tuan in Tanah Melayu.
fair enough, i still feel that the melayu community still need to get that idea. at present the masses still believe that they can demand a place or a position solely based on our bumiputera status...things like that never happen in australia or newzealand..do u see the natives of australia or any modern nation unfairly distributing contracts and so on based on one's race.
Come on, we have to wise up or we will lose out,at this rate soon we are going to be begging singapore for a share of its wealth, just based on the premise tht they were once part of us... i know, it sounds absurd, probably just about absurd as 'ketuanan melayu' sounds to a non malaysian..
Dear Anonymous who say "what's wrong with Ketuanan Melayu"
Surely nothing is wrong if you still have those feudal mentality. You are your own worse enemy.
What about Iban or Dayak or Orang Asli?
Look what happened to Ketuanan Afganistan or Ketuanan Iraq?
Whether you are majority or minority, one thing is certain, we are Malaysian. Why not called ourselves Ketuanan Malaysian and be proud of that!
Love your piece, Dr Azly
So then it would be politically incorrect to name our railway system Keretapi Tanah Melayu and classify some Malaysian citizens as "non-Bumiputera". There are also some "patriotic" we innocently sang in school containing the phrase "agama, bangsa dan negara", with the obvious reference to one particular agama and bangsa ...
May I say that the causes of the rise of concept of Ketuanan Melayu arises from a very popular quote: " Melayu mudah lupa". Malay in general are unaware or refuse to understand that the country was found together with the cooperation of various races of the country. Also, there are Malays who forget that the country is Malaysia, a democratic federation, not Malaya which the idea of Malaya should have been dropped with the founding of Malaysia
I been a chinese who embraced Islam and having debated this subject up close, cannot help but deepened my sense of awe at why Malays talked about their superiority in an inferior manner?
Mahathir told it to me in a more economical choice of words,
"This is my land, my money. You got any problem with that?" (more or less, if you want to exercise economy of words here)
We chinese are fine with anyone's land and anyone's money for that matter (even better if it is OPM - Other People's Money). We do not mind throwing more dimes into the tiller. We just worried sick that brandishing kerises may get a bit out of hand. :)
Redhuan D. Oon
Saya amat tertarik dengan komen DR dan ia sangat menarik dan adil, Dr adalah seorang Muslim yang tulen atau seorang Muslim yang dapat di bilang dengan 10 jari. inzinkan saya memberikan beberapa fakta.
Malaysia telah 50 tahun merdeka, bayi yang lahir semasa merdeka dahulu pun dah berumur 50 tahun.Tetapi malangnya majority orang Melayu masih belum maju dan banyak lagi yang hidup serba kurang.Saya orang Cina, Saya mempunyai ramai kawan Melayu.Dan boleh saya katakan mereka tidak perkauman. Mereka lebih baik daripada orang cina. Cuma orang Melayu yang sombong dan bongkak dengan ketuanan melayu adalah orang melayu kelas atasan dan kelas politik. Ketuanan Melayu yang di perjuangkan ialah untuk kepentingan politik murahan individu.
Dan yang teramat dashyat ialah orang munafik telah menghalalkan perkauman yang mereka tiupkan dengan agama islam. Patutke Islam dipergunakan?
Mari kita tengok, setiap tahun ada beribu ribu orang cina dan india memeluk agama kristian di malaysia. Tapi Islam bagaimana? Dengar saje Islam bagi mereka adalah melayu. Mereka takut.(bukan benci) Salah siapa kalau bukan pemerintah? Saya rasa eloklah Islam dan Melayu dipisahkan demi memelihara kesucian agama islam. islam adalah agama dan melayu adalah kaum.
I WISH U ARE OUR MALAYSIAN MINSTER OF EDUCATION.I AM GLAD TO READ SUCH CONSCOUSNESS FROM MY FELLOW MALAYSIAN.I AM LEARNING.
BY THE WAY I AM CHINESE MALAYSIAN 40PLUS WHO HAD ENCOUNTER EXPERIENCES WHICH LEFT RACIAL EMOTIONAL SCARS N FEARS IN ME.THEREFORE YOUR BLOGS HELP TO STABLE OR CLEAR SOME OF THESE EMOTIONS. I BELIEVE MANY DARE NOT CLEARLY N TRUTHLY EXPOUND ON SUCH ISSUES.I FOR ONE DARE NOT.CALL ME A COWARD U WANT TO.I ACCEPT IT.THE PROFESSIONALS THAT I SOUGHT HELP FROM IS RELUNCTANT TO HEAR RACIAL PROBLEMS N RELUNCTANT TO EVEN RESPONSE IN PROFESSIONAL MANNER.I JUST READ N UNDERSTAND THE MAIN IDEAS IN THIS BLOG N AM IS RELIEVE BY IT.THATS SIMPLE.I DO NOT WANT DO MENTAL ANALYSIS N COMMENT ON THEM.SORRY?SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT U EXPECT TO READ? I JUST WANT FEEL THE `CONSCIOUSNESS`OF THE TRUTH IN THE ARTICLE.THANK U DrAZLY RAHMAN
ande ande lumut said...
Salams Dr. Azly,
Good to know that you wish to discuss with a measure of seriousness about ketuanan melayu - though I suggest that for those of you out there who sem to think that it corresponds to the notion of "malay dominance'to take a step back. As far as i understand it, the idea seems to more consistent with the notion of 'cultural sovereingty' in the same sense, I gather, as the complex ways in which, say an Arab, would describe large parts of the mid east and northern africa as 'arabic'. Tis is not to say that this idea is in anyway beyond contention - after all much discussion of identity(s) in the in the latter part of the twentieth century is understood in that manner. And viewing it from a historical perspective I don't think its to excessive to suggest that Malaysia as we know it today, was and is very much part of what is generally recognised as rumpun melayu asia tenggara.
I think perhaps the greater danger lies in the way in which the idea of 'ketuanan melayu' has been appropriated by politicians and their cohorts in the media.
Your reading of the 'past' (in these post modern times one wonders whether its still acceptable to use the term!)as impressive as it is in terms of its sophistication nevertheless may not be necessarily congenial to an understanding of the kinds of socio-historical approach which may shed better light on our past (and present!).
Though there is still much that can and ought to be said on the subject, I think that may require a different forum.
Ps, by the way, as far as I am aware, Malik Munip has never written something called 'Ketuanan Melayu' - what he did write was an essay published in book form called 'Tuntutan Melayu' (which though I may disagree with some of its arguments, was nevertheless an intelligently argued polemic on Malay cultural sovereignty - something akin I guess to similar efforts by earlier nationalists such as those schooled at Sultan Idris teachers college, the MNp and so on).
Anak Malaysia PRO Malaysian said...
Highest respect to you. You're truly 1 modern malay with brain. Syabas!
Ketuanan or tak ketuanan is not a matter of issue to other religious. As long as the goverment and the person who move the countries is fair and provides good improvement to the countries, all of this is fine.
But make sure the leader do not practice corruption, silent assignation and political threats.
muthu r said...
Dr azly Rahman, you are a true anak malaysia I am very proud we have people like you with open mindedness,syabas Dr we are all in support of your motion truely. I am a ex BBMB officer who did my MBA in U.K sponsored by the Bank but sad to say today BBMB is non existent due to ???????ra mismanagement. I suggest all organisations should have corporate governance .
you are a thinker and intellectual but how many of malays are like you? Many malay friends that i know are of the "wait-n-see-what-happens" or leave it to God type attitude. apathy, man. Unless all of you act as a group, things will not get better.
And when I read stuff like this http://www.malaysiawaves.com/2008/07/umnos-latest-psy-war-materials-exposed.html, damn, the brainwashing is so ingrained in the system. Then you have to dismantle the system which is stupefying a certain group, as people's mind and psychological conditioning will not be changed by hope alone.
The link again
the link ain't coming out right.
and the article is "UMNO's latest psy war material exposed" on July 10, 2008
makin banyak belajar hang ni rupanya makin 'sengal'. berpijakla dibumi nyata bro...
Salam, Dr. Azly.
I've read several writings of yours before putting in my comment. I like what I read thus far.
Let me conclude my view gathered from my reading herein: if one day, God willing, I offer myself to be the next prime minister of Malaysia and win, I'll have your name in my list of the management team, ideally, as the Education Minister. Its my ambition to have our local public universities to be in the top 200 world class universities.
I'll resume my reading now.