Racial unity: True Malaysian lies

A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life. - John Stuart Mill

COMMENT In her ‘Ikim Views' piece 'Impact of racial unity' (The Star, April 17) senior researcher Enizahura Adbul Aziz rather disingenuously poses the question, "If others can appreciate what the country has achieved so far in managing our racial and cultural diversity, why can't we?"

The answer to this question is simple and I suspect Enizahura knows this. We can't appreciate what the country has done in terms of managing its racial and cultural diversity because we know the truth.

The whole article is a rather limp apologia for the existing ‘power-sharing formula' of the Umno regime which has failed this country but more importantly its citizens.

Even though Enizahura conveniently (and mistakenly, in my opinion) hangs her justification for the BN post-Merdeka ‘power sharing' ideology on that old Mill's (John Stuart) hook of plurality being an impediment to truly "free democratic institutions"*, what I find troubling is the writer's total silence of the Umno reality which makes a mockery of those democratic ideals like "ensuring the creation and continuation of a government system that is legitimate, effective and representative of the various segments that exist in society" that Enizahura gives prominence to in lieu of those ideals like "observing one's rights and freedom" which the Umno regime daily seems to want to curtail.

I would argue that Umno has made it impossible for "a government system that is legitimate and representative of the various segments that exist in society" with it decades-long gerrymandering, constitutionally-created Malays, it's unjust detention laws aimed at political opponents, its propaganda organs masquerading as ‘free media' and its use of Islam to silence any form of dissent.

Paying lip service to multiculturalism

Enizahura informs readers that in a plural society it is impossible to embrace all "democratic ideals" and I agree with this, but the problem here is that the Umno regime has never even attempted to embrace basic democratic ideals, and of course for a long time this suited the majority of Malaysians who voted them in choosing racial lines instead of ideological ones.

I have no idea (although I suspect this has more to do with Malay ethnocentrism and cultural distortion) why Enizahura does not mention the peninsular Orang Asli in her "mélange of various races" that make up Malaysia but right off the bat, she gets it wrong by attempting to suggest that post-70s initiatives to foster racial unity, like the Rukunegara for instance, are examples where the ‘government' has chosen to face the racial problems of this country head on.

Of course, what she forgets to mention is that many of those attempts to foster ‘unity' is a direct reaction to May 1969 and the mendacious manner in which the government (read: Umno) has chosen to address these issue is really an attempt to perpetuate Malay hegemony all the while paying lip service to the spirit of multiculturalism.

The writer reminds us that the problem with racial unity lies in the lack of sincerity among parties vying for power (something which I agree with) but she fails to address the post-69 ‘unity' efforts by BN which has morphed into systemic state-sanctioned racism.

Is Enizahura forgetting government-initiatives like ‘Operasi Isi Penuh' which changed the racial demographic of government departments - be it civil or military - destroying any sense of community between the various ethnic groups serving in government?

Or perhaps more damaging to the indigenous and non-Umno ‘Malay' community initiatives such as' Project M' in Sabah (paging Anwar Ibrahim), which has spread and has evolved and continues to play a vital role in Umno survival in the current political climate.

The forgotten race

A good start in ensuring that the historical or traditional communities are represented is by making sure that there are no more stateless Indians, Chinese or Orang Asli.

Enizahura makes a general statement about the dangers of playing the race card but the clear and present danger comes from Umno itself with charlatans, such as the two Alis (Ibrahim and Hasan) and that loathsome Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, acting as Umno proxies using Islam and race as weapons against any form of political and social cohesiveness that Umno claims it wants to perpetuate.

Of course, the ‘opposition' plays the race card as well and I have written about the shortsightedness of such a game but the reality is that Umno with the complicity of MCA and MIC have done far more damage when playing the race card than any other political party in this country.

Enizahura heads into extremely frightening terrain when she muses "to materialise the idea of racial unity, the jigsaw puzzle that appears in our minds is how to turn numerous racial groups into one common entity or identity".

Everyone should have a problem with this. We don't have to look far to see how this kind preoccupation has taken shape in Malaysia with non-Malays/Muslims suddenly finding themselves at the mercy of the syariah courts because of the way that Islam in practiced in this country with regard to conversion.

Forget about the constitutionally-created Malay for a moment and look at plight of the Orang Asli and their ‘assimilation' into Malay culture not to mention the ‘Malay race'. My advice to non-Malays is that if you are ever feeling really depressed about the state of the country and the ‘oppression' you face, read about the system in place governing the Orang Asli to get a little perspective.

The goal of the state in a multiracial country is not to forge one common entity or identity, the state should leave that to its citizens to discover naturally without hampering the process by using religious and racial policies that favours one group over the others.

The goal of the state is to ensure that there is no disparity of treatment among the various ethnic groups in the country. In so doing, the state is laying the groundwork for a common entity or identity.

Sweet gift to world democracy

And if the writer really believes that democracy is more than just the ballot box (again something I agree with) and rather about the expression of diverse views, then she or the organisation she represents should speak out in clear unequivocal terms whenever Islam is used to silence dissent.

We need to speak out whenever legitimate forms of expressions are bullied into silence even though we may disagree with those views. We must ensure that the state protects the expression of those diverse views.

In other words, if it is true as de facto law minister Nazri Abdul Aziz claims that the political discourse has "changed" then the state should not sanction those views it deems "sensitive" or "seditious" if it allows the likes of Perkasa and Pekida to run riot.

Again it all comes back to the disparity of treatment between the various ethnic groups. The way forward is not to obsess over our differences either by admiring it or fearing it, but rather to ensure that the state treats us regardless of our diversity as equals.

The writer ends with "Hopefully by doing so, we as a united nation, can prove John Stuart Mill wrong. Now, that would certainly be our sweet gift to world democracy".

I would argue that the people of Malaysia by voting across racial lines to spite Umno policies proves this well enough, but I doubt this is a "sweet gift" to world democracy but rather a bittersweet contribution in the ongoing war between tyranny and freedom.

* "Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellowship-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion necessary to the making of representative government cannot exist." - John Stuart Mill (Considerations on Representative Governments)

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