The race whisperers of 1Malaysia

But you can't make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can't last. - Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

Admin: Don't fret. We go bankrupt in 2013 and the decisions will be made for us. Read PACABA 0.5.

Here we go again. The stronger the whiffs of the upcoming general elections, Malaysians show their true colours. Everywhere you turn race is injected into the discussion in lieu of matters of principle or policy.

It's easier this way, when the harried most probably racialist voter understands his or her place in the greater scheme of things when everything is just black and white.

If you're a Pakatan Rakyat supporter, most probably you'll vote across racial lines to spite Umno and if you're a BN supporter you would probably do the same hoping that the old race formula holds true despite the fact that non-Malay support seems to have shifted to Pakatan and the hawks in Umno day by day make it clear that perhaps the way forward for Umno is without the support of the non-Malays.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's urging of the Chinese community to support his "transformation agendas" and not just "watch on the sidelines" is amusing for a couple of reasons.

The first being that his agenda will succeed or fail depending on the political will of his party and so far the only person even paying lip service to these agendas seems to be Najib himself with the rest of his party neck deep in internal feuds or political scandals.

The second reason is that the Chinese community, far for being passive sideline watchers, has already made their stand clear as far as racial politics is concerned. They have abandoned MCA for the DAP; who they believe would better represent their interests.

Of course the Chinese community, like the Indian community, has a long distinguished history of transforming Malaysia and the prime minister would know this if his predecessors did not make it a state policy to distort the history of this land and its peoples.

MCA drives Chinese voters away

And then of course we have Wong Koon Mun of the MCA warning that the DAP support of PAS would only dilute non-Malay representation in Parliament.

Of course by non-Malay, he most probably means Chinese but since the DAP itself has said that no member (and I'm assuming this is true for its Indian and now Malay comrades) will ever seek the highest office of the land, I don't think ‘racial dilution' of any sort would pose a credible threat to Malay hegemony.

Wong is apparently worried for the ‘non-Malays', it should gladden his heart that the Indians at least have ‘more' representation in Parliament since jumping the BN ship.

And since the sterling work of the MCA has driven what used to be its core supporters into the arms of Pakatan, maybe politicians like Wong should get to work on getting that senatorship that Umno seems so keen on handing out to reflect the racial diversity of its coalition since most of its non-Malay members have a hard time getting elected.

Like most BN lackeys (or should I say Malaysian politicians in general) Wong displays a remarkable ability to miss the point completely.

PAS deputy president Mat Sabu's praise of DAP with its efforts of increasing the funds of the state's (Penang) Islamic Affairs Department is not evidence that the DAP is neglecting the Indian and Chinese communities but rather points to more complex issues of the Islamisation/Arabisation process of this country, issues which so far Pakatan has managed to keep in the backburner.

If you want to understand why more ‘moderate' Malays don't speak up, I'd point you to these state-sanctioned religious department and the fear they generate in Muslims which translates to the way how the average Malays thinks and is allowed to express himself.

Strategic missteps or realpolitik?

Of course, the Umno regime has been funding these divisive religious organs for years with the complicity of its non-Muslim component parties but since ‘coincidentally' the Islam espoused by these institutions fell in with the Umno line, nobody questioned (at least publically) how these departments were fracturing the fragile multiracial/multireligious fabric of this nation.

And like most ‘multiracial issues' in this country, the focus seems to be on Chinese/Malay interactions instead of a broader more inclusive perspective, which is why a Chinese politician like Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng in a leadership position of a state is considered Umno enemy number one (or at least, he shares the position with Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim who is portrayed as a race traitor by the state propaganda organs) even though by all accounts he is doing a remarkable job considering the pressures exerted against him.

However, make no mistake that the DAP itself either by strategic missteps or maybe just realpolitik are themselves contributors to the lopsided racial discourse in this country.

Meanwhile, Hindraf the most vocal political entity which rightly or wrongly is perceived to voice the concerns of the Indian community is imploding nicely in the sidelines.

Forget about the rather pedestrian internal power struggle which seems to be brewing in the ranks of this nebulous ‘civil rights' movement what Hindraf exemplifies is how a race-based entity can turn members of its community against each other.

If you are not a slavish devotee of P Uthayakumar or Hindraf, you are a ‘mandore' like everyone else. There is no room for dissent or discussions. The agenda and cause is clear and the problems of the Indian community are the result of everyone else except members of the Indian community.

It is both a victim and defiant survivor culture which seems to bring out the worst in its proponents who have no qualms about labeling everyone else "racists" while engaging in racisms of their own.

Separate but equal?

The supposed split within the ranks perhaps hints that the ‘go at it alone' policy which seemed to be the modus operandi of Uthayakumar - the face and voice of Hindraf (no matter what the official Hindraf stand is) - is slowly being rejected in favour of a more inclusive not to mention realistic political give and take strategic position.

If the DAP is partly responsible for the reframing the racial discourse, then Hindraf too is responsible for the exclusion of the Indian perspective from the discourse due to its polarising rhetoric.

The common theme throughout all this is comically our racial preoccupations form the basis of our rejections of the racial divisions created by Umno. Umno's corruption although a strong motivating factor in the rakyat's abhorrence of anything associated with BN is insufficient in the long-term when it comes to forming a cohesive society.

In others words, we are still thinking in terms of ‘race' just not in the group think manner of Umno and BN.

It is doubtful we will ever be rid of this mindset even though the power of Umno is curtailed in this election or the one after.

Since a common ideological platform seems impossible for Malaysians, what we are left with are short-term racial gains which more and more look like that odious concept of ‘separate but equal' instead of long-term allegiance to any principles that go beyond race and religion which would define us as Malaysians.

Or maybe since religious dogma and the so-called Asian values make a workable unholy alliance, the notion of Islamic values would not be anathema if espoused by anyone but Umno, especially when issues such as corruption and good governance is the common platform that seems to bind a certain informed urban section of the electorate.

All this is, of course, academic since at the end of the day we are losing the numbers game and the rapidly changing demographic of this country will eventually take care of the ‘multiethnic/religious issues'.

In the end, a dominant ‘Malay' community will decide the destiny of this country and seeing as how presently we are not even attempting to plant the seeds for any kind of egalitarian worldview, I doubt whatever regime in control of this country would even be able to maintain the facade of a moderate Muslim nation.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.