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Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Malay view of Biro Tata Negara and ‘Ketuanan Melayu




A Malay view of Biro Tata Negara and ‘Ketuanan Melayu’
by Azly Rahman



‘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.

Lyrical propaganda

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 understands 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 (1989) and the beginning of the breakdown of the Soviet Empire. We have to face the ‘wrath’ of the world.

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.

READING ON THE MALAY SUBJECT:

ESSAYS ON THE MALAY SUBJECT

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Salam Dr. Azly,

I understand you're budak MRSM Kuantan. Saya pun MRSM. I am appalled to see your article, a budak MRSM, macam tak faham Maksud "Ketuanan Melayu" and would follow along, DAP's stupid definition of "Tuan" and "hamba". FUNNY!

Ketuanan Melayu is just like "Ketuanan Cina" in China or "Ketuanan India" in India. In TANAH MELAYU, we just had to put it in our constitution because, NOT ONLY due to the fact that WE MALAYS are very humble people who'd always give-give-give/provide-provide-provide to visitors to our place; it is also because there in China or India, there's no reason for the British to put in "Ketuanan Cina" or "Ketuanan India" as there were NO OTHER RACES WERE BEING BROUGHT IN/introduced TO China & India!...

The British noticed our traits as very humble and would "EXTRA generously" put our visitors to our homes (or, pendatangs to our country) up in a pedestal. Kita memang berhati LEMBUT & BAIK HATI. There's even a pepatah saying KERA DI HUTAN DI SUSUKAN, ANAK DI RUMAH DIKETEPIKAN (or something like to that effect) where, kita "hormat"/TAK KISAH even kalau pendatang2 tu beli tanah kita, buka bisnies di kampung kita, di negara kita, walaupun mereka BARU SAMPAI.

(* FYA, MAJORITY of them came in the 1940s! Buruh2 yang datang TANAH MELAYU/MALAYA in late 1800s were just like the Buruh2 Indon/Bangla now - ada contract!! like 2 years, & then BALIK China balik..)

Cina2 yang datang ramai2 in 1920s and 1940s tu are cina2 communists who wanted to escape their country's dictatorship & run away from their war-torn China after WWII after Japanese occupation there in China. Even Goh Chok Tong (Genting) came to Malaysia in the 1940s!

Anyway, knowing sifat orang2 Melayu as Pemurah, Lembut, Hormat-menghormati; they came even MORE to Tanah MELAYU KITA ini, in the droves after World War 2!!!

That was why the British who recognized HAK Melayu2 atas tanah nenek-moyang dia (just like those chinese in China or indians in India) agreed to put it in the Consitution, also as per what the Raja2 & Sultan2 had wanted.
(** AGAIN, in China & India, there's NO NEED because there are NO OTHER RACES being brought there by the British!)

The grandchildren of the MAJORITY jus-solied pendatang2, more than 1 million in total!! (ie. FREE Citizenship GIVEN without THEM HAVING to EARN their Citizenships!!..) are the ones now who are shouting, yelling & DEMANDING wanting this don't want that!..

So, I am truly SAD & APPALLED THAT YOU, a "doctor" pulak tu, could easily be manipulated, & BLINDLY follow dap's stupid definition of "hamba"/"tuan" yang LANGSUNG BUKANpun maksud di dalam Bahasa Melayu KITA, erti KETUANAN MELAYU itu!.......
JUGA, tak tahu or "lupa" FAKTA sejarah??.... bottomline, dap is serpihan pap dengan agenda cina 24/7 desperately wanting to wipe out MELAYU, +being proxyzionist wanting to wipe out ISLAM here in South-East Asia. So, anda sungguh2 memalukan mak-bapak saudara-mara anda. WAllahu'alam.

Wassalam, ~007.

DR. AZLY RAHMAN said...

Good argument, Anonymous. But you need a better and more 'postmodern' understanding of Malaysian history.

Read up on this and provide a critical analysis of the opinion I have presented.

I have provided a set of articles on the Malay subject for you to understand the premise of this new interpretaion of history.

Wintermute said...

Is there any political scenario, Dr AR, in which you would support the entirely natural premise that Malaysia is implicitly Malay? Aren't all the charges levelled against the Malays of supremacism severely dependent on a faulty translation of the term and authored, mainly, by non-Malays. The Malays have very little tradition of actively seeking the supremacist role of overlord, whether colonial or post colonial. The Malays were stuck with the anthropoid detritus of British Colonialism.

The Orang Asli would, at first blush, constitute a bulwark against this argument, but, I do not believe that the Malays treated this group with any more coercion than what was required by any new, potentially dominant newcomers to defend, successfully, the Ethnic/Genetic Interests of their racial group group.

I might also add that in one of your posts which referred to an imagined injustice to a group of Indian school pupils whose Tamil schools unsurprisingly endowed them with an impressive number of 'A' Exam Results.

Back in their home state of Tamil Nadu, a severe dicrimination is exercised with reference to University entrance in that state. This discrimination operates against their fellow Indian citizens,viz., Brahmins, who are, as you may know, not indigenous Tamils. I could go on but you probably get get picture.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Azly,

I read your post with great interest. First, it is rare that a Malay person speaks up for the minorities in Malaysia, especially against Ketuanan Melayu. Second, unlike others who defend an equal, non-discriminating Malaysia, you are not a politician or a demagogue, whose motives are questionable.

I am not a historian or a philosopher. However, I believe that history and philosophy are important because they stimulate us to reflect and be critical about past behaviors and events. Based on these reflections, we strive for a greater understanding of our humanity and we work toward a better relation with our fellow human beings.

Historical "facts" are not always accurate and are open to distortion. One of your readers has accused you of distortion. But I have to say that his/her interpretation of historical facts was biased and tainted with racial overtones. His/her arguments, claims, and allegations the were completely unfounded. I am surprised you said that they were "good."

For example, ask any ordinary Chinese or Tamil in Malaysia about Israel and the Palestine, how many know and care what's going on out there in the Middle East? How many even know what "zionism" is. They have no historical, cultural, religious, or linguistic ties with Israel -- i.e., there is no shared identity. One may argue that the Christian community has a tie, but that is still a minority among minorities. It is therefore quite ridiculous to label non-Malays as proxies of zionists, and think that they want to wipe out Malays and Islam. I started laughing when I tried to imagine my Chinese and Indian friends sitting down in a kopitiam to talk about zionism. No wonder the person who posted a comment earlier signed off as "007" -- he/she is soooo imaginative. Unfortunately, he/she is also a fearmonger.

Anonymous said...

Salam,

To have an understanding of 'post-modern' Malaysian history, one needs to understand the 'pre-modern' that led to the 'during', that led to the current 'post'!

Just brushing off earlier historical facts, reasonings & beings, that led to the current ways of those people getting bolder, arrogant & biadab, continuing to DEMAND this and that (where no other countries would allow that!! - just, only in Malaysia... Dah >half a century, 1 United National School pun takde pun nak volunteer to just Join Together!! ngehngeh.. what for?? because they're such quiet, humble people that we can just kick & step on their 'heads', without them fighting back because they're "stupid" & don't care; & with some stupid Dr.s of their own kind who are blind & stupid also, to simply support us at their own will!! ngehngehngeh.. LUCKY because they don't know their own race's history & DON'T CARE!! why & how come WE are getting 'stronger' in their OLD Tanah Melayu... nganganga. Yes, in Malaysia's "Bolehland", PENDATANG SENTIASA BOLEH! HAHHAHAHAHA....) is simply not wise, "Dr." Azly.

I totally blame those that were left behind by that ultra kiasu lee kuan yew who continue his bigotry & extremism towards Malaysia and its Muslim Malays, & continue to keep on playing their extreme racial cards here in the Land of the peaceful & humble Malays.

GOD SPEED & GOD SAVE MALAYSIA!

Goodbye. Your lopsided HP6 thoughts (because ALWAYS think sekerat2 aje), really disappoint us.

Just like that tamil school.

Why should any sovereign country in the world support their racists citizens who demanded segregated schools that teach in their grandmother's mother tongue language, which is not at all the national language of the country?

Why would any sound leader agree to support those citizens that demanded segregated schools? & from young at that??

There are many more indians students in Normal National Schools that the govt can help -- why must we choose those with Racist Parents?? & show that we 'encourage' our young Malaysians to continue to be segregated??

KARUT! Plain Ridiculous!

Again, sorrylah.. but your ALWAYS seemed HP6 thoughts really disappoint Sincere Malaysians as a whole. Salam Muhibbah.

Anonymous said...

Salam,

To have an understanding of 'post-modern' Malaysian history, one needs to understand the 'pre-modern' that led to the 'during', that led to the current 'post'!

Just brushing off earlier historical facts, reasonings & beings, that led to the current ways of those people getting bolder, arrogant & biadab, continuing to DEMAND this and that (where no other countries would allow that!! - just, only in Malaysia... Dah >half a century, 1 United National School pun takde pun nak volunteer to just Join Together!! ngehngeh.. what for?? because they're such quiet, humble people that we can just kick & step on their 'heads', without them fighting back because they're "stupid" & don't care; & with some stupid Dr.s of their own kind who are blind & stupid also, to simply support us at their own will!! ngehngehngeh.. LUCKY because they don't know their own race's history & DON'T CARE!! why & how come WE are getting 'stronger' in their OLD Tanah Melayu... nganganga. Yes, in Malaysia's "Bolehland", PENDATANG SENTIASA BOLEH! HAHHAHAHAHA....) is simply not wise, "Dr." Azly.

I totally blame those that were left behind by that ultra kiasu lee kuan yew who continue his bigotry & extremism towards Malaysia and its Muslim Malays, & continue to keep on playing their extreme racial cards here in the Land of the peaceful & humble Malays.

GOD SPEED & GOD SAVE MALAYSIA!

Goodbye. Your lopsided HP6 thoughts (because ALWAYS think sekerat2 aje), really disappoint us.

Just like that tamil school.

Why should any sovereign country in the world support their racists citizens who demanded segregated schools that teach in their grandmother's mother tongue language, which is not at all the national language of the country?

Why would any sound leader agree to support those citizens that demanded segregated schools? & from young at that??

There are many more indians students in Normal National Schools that the govt can help -- why must we choose those with Racist Parents?? & show that we 'encourage' our young Malaysians to continue to be segregated??

KARUT! Plain Ridiculous!

Again, sorrylah.. but your ALWAYS seemed HP6 thoughts really disappoint Sincere Malaysians as a whole. Salam Muhibbah.

Anonymous said...

Correction to 1st comment.. it's Lim Goh Tong (Genting) not Goh Chok Tong. ~

Anonymous said...

Dr. Azly,

It is obvious that at least one of your readers does not understand what postmodernism entails (not to mention deconstructionism). Maybe you ought to give that person a little lecture on the topic.

Wintermute said...

There is an amusing and touching side to those society-wrecking Marxists who somehow believe (in the manner of Alice in Wonderland's famous ability to "believe six impossible things before breakfast")that if one "understands" one of their baneful and often ludicrous concepts, then one must logically approve of it.
Still it can't hurt to hope, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

TO: Anonymous 5:48 PM.

This one's for YOU yourself. Not for the 'one of the readers' that you tried to "demean". From wiki:

"Postmodernism literally means 'after the modernist movement'. While "modern" itself refers to something "related to the present", the movement of modernism and the following reaction of postmodernism are defined by a set of perspectives. It is used in critical theory to refer to a point of departure for works of literature, drama, architecture, cinema, journalism and design, as well as in marketing and business and in the interpretation of history, law, culture and religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries."

So, which part of it did you not comprehend - esp. since it's from our Malaya/Malaysia's own perspective/experience/environment??

BERSEKUTU BERTAMBAH MUTU! GOD SAVE MALAYSIA.

Anonymous said...

The reason I said that is because you are repeating government propaganda. Postmodernism is about being critical, about questioning power relationship, about questioning ingrained beliefs ... And after reading your replies to Dr. Azly's post, I just don't see that enlightened view. I apologize if I hurt your feelings.

DR. AZLY RAHMAN said...

Good discussion on postmodernism, folks. It is a challenging concept requiring understanding of philosophy of language.

Read Frederic Jameson's essay "Postmoderism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" for a start.

Wintermute said...

It is my belief, Dr Azly, that Leftism among non-Malays functions as a means of de-emphasizing the importance of the non-Malay/Malay distinction among Malays while nevertheless allowing for its continuation among the non-Malays.

Wintermute said...

While all reading recommendations should be treated with respect, an important caveat may be in order regarding the writing of Frederic (sic)Jameson. Anyone wishing to sample his tediously turgid style may enjoy the first sentence of Jameson's book, 'Signatures of the Visible' :

"The visual is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless, fascination; thinking about its attributes becomes an adjunct to that, if it is unwilling to betray its object; while the most austere films necessarily draw their energy from the attempt to suppress their own excess (rather than from the more thankless effort to discipline the viewer)".

This sentence is a sterling exemplar of the diametrical opposite of pellucid prose. However, it was good of Jameson to warn lovers of fine writing, at this very early stage, of what follows.

Lecture: Edward Said

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Lecture: Noam Chomsky

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Lecture: Jacques Derrida

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Lecture: Jean Paul Sartre

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Movie: 1984

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Movie: Animal Farm

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Movie: Chicken Run

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Poems: Rumi

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Dialogue on Religion: Karen Armstrong

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Dailogue on Religion: Huston Smith

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Islam

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Humanism

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Jainism

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Sikkhism

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Hinduism

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Bahai

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Confucianism

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Taoism

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The Bhagavad Gita

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Jesus of Nazareth

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Siddharta Gautama

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Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh)

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