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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Changing the Malay mindset

By Farah Fahmy

MARCH 30 — As a Malaysian overseas, one of the ways in which I keep myself up-to-date with what’s going on in the Motherland is by reading various Malaysian newspapers online.

I often find myself drawn to Malay newspapers like Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian.
Although I find myself disagreeing — sometimes quite vehemently — with most of the viewpoints espoused by these two newspapers, nevertheless they bring an interesting insight into a very particular type of Malay mindset.
Clearly, there is a lot of worry about Malays not being united. Malays are divided and therefore weak, so that makes it easier for “them” to control and eventually conquer us. The importance of Bahasa Malaysia, despite being the national language, is slowly being eroded and other languages given prominence.
The status of Islam itself is under threat, what with the tussle over the usage of the word Allah by non-Muslims, and the (very) slight loosening of our murtad laws.
For this reason, we Malays should refrain from Malay-bashing and unite ourselves under one banner.
Having also read reports on the inaugural congress of Perkasa, I see that the siege mentality amongst some Malays has become even more entrenched.
Perkasa’s creation and rise is apparently due to the fact that UMNO has been weakened and is no longer safeguarding Malay rights.
I wonder, has it occurred to anyone that the reason why UMNO has been weakened is because people are becoming more and more disillusioned by the way politics is conducted in our country?
In more deferential times, UMNO didn’t have to work very hard to get Malay votes.  So what happened? They got lazy, and began taking voters for granted.
Unlike Perkasa members, I actually found the results of the last general elections extremely encouraging (sadly, being an overseas Malaysian, I could not vote, but that’s for another time).
At last, I thought, we were waking up! We would no longer be beholden to those who promise us the moon and the stars each time but fail to deliver. We were finally mature enough to stop voting blindly for someone simply because he or she was of the same race as us (and yes, I know of Malays who voted for members of the opposition who were Chinese).
Perhaps in time we would even vote on the basis of policies that have nothing to do with race.
Of course, many would regard me as a Malay-basher if I were to ask why successful and wealthy Malays still qualify for bumiputera subsidies when there are many other people out there, Malays and non-Malays, who are so poor that even finding a square meal a day is a struggle.
Added to that, why should the offspring of wealthy Malays qualify for scholarships and loans when there are other, more deserving Malaysians?
What’s more, the whole Allah issue perplexed me. Are we Malays so insecure in our faith that everyone else is banned from using the word?
Three years ago I went to an exhibition run by the British Library, which brought the religious books of Islam, Christianity and Judaism under one roof. It was the most awe-inspiring exhibition that I had ever been to.
Would such an exhibition ever be held in our country?
I think not — imagine the uproar amongst certain quarters if they realised that this meant an Arabic Bible, using the word Allah, would be amongst the exhibits.
As for allowing any aspect of the Jewish faith to be displayed alongside the Qur’an ... well, you can imagine what some people would say.
The question we Malays need to ask ourselves is, which is more important, race or country? If being a Malay is more important than being a Malaysian, then by all means, agitate about the state of our disunity.
Tell all and sundry how our rights and privileges are being eroded. Scare us all, as Dr Mahathir has, by stating that public debate on racial issues will destabilise the country.
If, on the other hand, being a Malaysian is more important, then face the facts: over 30% of Malaysians are non-Malays.
That’s a big minority, and unless all of them leave the country (and many can’t, for where are they to go?), they are here to stay. There are probably just as many non-Malays who passionately love their country as there are those who are disillusioned by our politics. Our country is 53 years old; surely we’re mature enough to cast away our racial mindset, and start thinking about ourselves as Malaysians first.
The fact is, whilst we Malays argue about our “weaknesses” and “disunity”, and scaring each other by thinking the Chinese will “take over” after the next general elections, many skilled Malaysians are already either packing their bags to go, or thinking about going.
Between March 2008 and August 2009, 304,358 Malaysians emigrated to other countries, and roughly half of the Malaysians working abroad are professionals. Will more follow? I think so, especially if we continue as we are.
I actually agree with Dr Mahathir when he says that “the Malays have been very accommodating and unselfish in order to live harmoniously with other races as one nation”.
Nobody asked our forefathers whether we wanted to have large scale immigration into our country when we were under British rule.
Still, what does that matter now? The social contract that the leaders of the past came up with has worked very well for us, but that doesn’t mean that it will continue to work forever.
Times change, and we Malays need to adapt to a changing world. Let’s move on, and work on what’s best for the country as a whole, even if that means doing away with racial privileges and subsidies.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


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