Some of our fellow citizens (and political leaders) are waiting with glee to see the Redshirt leader, Datuk Jamal Yunos, spring into action and crack the heads of Bersih protestors when Bersih 5 convenes its rally.
Already this Malay and Umno super-hero has defied the odds to make himself a household name. But who really is this person whose rise to popularity has earned him a Datukship and the moniker of “de facto Prime Minister” from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a person who is notoriously difficult to evince any sort of compliment or respect from?
And what accounts for his star standing within not only the Malay community but also officialdom which has granted him almost immunity status in his brushes with the laws of the country relating to public order and security, criminal conduct, sedition and other possible offences in rallying the Malay masses against Bersih, the Bar Council, Malaysiakini, the DAP and other opponents of his party and the Malay community?
The little that we know of Jamal – aside from media coverage of his bluster and tirades against the ‘enemies’ of the state – is from his disclosures in his internet blogsite and facebook account. The postings point to a man of modest educational background who started work when he was 10 years old in his hometown, Sekinchan. Today he is a successful entrepreneur. Owner of the restaurant, Sekinchan Ikan Bakar, which is reported to have more than 20 branches, he is also Umno division chief of Sungei Besar
Jamal’s rise to prominence makes the point that there has been extraordinary social mobility within less than one generation in the Malay community; and that one does not need Oxford University credentials or a doctorate from the local universities to earn respect in Umno.
The ‘Hero-starved’ Malay Community
At the same time, it also makes the point that Umno’s members are so starved of heroes and good leadership that even a political Mat Rempit can be seen by many in the community to be a Malay warrior engaged in a righteous battle against the forces of evil and dissent. To be fair to him, his postings also indicate a person of generous spirit who has helped orphans and the poor in his hometown and counts Indians and Chinese among his friends.
What appears to drive Jamal (assuming cash is not king) is his love of Umno and presumably also support for the beleaguered party President, Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
But Umno’s cause is his forte and to defend Umno he has been able to attract a motley crowd. Little is known of Jamal’s fellow Redshirts. Although some Umno leaders claim that the party has not sanctioned the Redshirts or has anything to do with them, there can be little doubt that they are from Umno’s rank and file. They also appear to be largely drawn from the Malay urban middle and lower class and other malcontents who have not been able to get enough of the party and state-provided perks and benefits that other party members have enjoyed.
Hence their coming together (probably for modest appearance fees) to lend support to a self-made leader and an ‘authentic’ Malay hero whose image is not yet marred by the taint of cronyism, and who is prepared to unleash the deadly “flying parang” on the enemies of the Malays.
Jamal’s and the Redshirts’ emergence in the public limelight has eclipsed the media attention previously on Ibrahim Ali. Dismissive of his competitor in the battle for “who can be the more radical Malay supremacist” label, the Perkasa president has dismissed Jamal and his organisation.
“How many are they in the group that is called Gabungan NGO Melayu Bersatu? How many? In Perkasa we are structured. But when there is a press conference, they would announce that they have 600,000 members, 500,000 members, do they count the ants as well?”, the former Umno and PAS member is reported to have cattily asked.
Jamal and his grouping may well be a mosquito force. But for now, he is a convenient – even admirable – to many Malays – pawn for his political masters with his bravado trash talk and silat demonstrations that are targeted at the Malay heartland just as much as at Bersih and other ‘enemies’ of the Malay race.
The creation of a culture of fear and the criminalising or arbitrary handling of the freedom of expression and other basic rights have long been weapons in Umno’s armoury to maintain hegemonic power. Characters and officials such as Jamal Yunos and ex-Election Commission Chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, and others including some leaders from Pakatan Harapan will come and go. They may also when they leave the public eye, come to regret their past and realize that “[they have been] subject to Umno propaganda for the past 50 years that only Umno can save the Malays” as explained by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim recently.
But it is wrong for Zaid to claim that “[they] did not know any other narrative”.
Malays such as Jamal are fully aware of other narratives. They, however, have freely chosen to defend and reinforce the Umno narrative of hegemony and supremacy as well as are prepared to shed blood to protect it. That much should be clear from the Redshirt, Perkasa and other Malay supremacy phenomena. No excuses should be made to whitewash this ugly truth.