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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Umnoputra, not bumi status, is holy grail of Malay politics

“When one treats people with benevolence, justice, and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.”
- Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’
What exactly does “bumiputera” status mean? Recent polls suggest that most Malays identify themselves as Muslim first - which would make a certain opposition leader who considers himself “Malay” first an outlier - which basically means that religion as opposed to race has become the defining concept of supremacy in this country.
Just last year, the Peranakan Chinese community hoped to achieve “bumi” status. As reported in the press, Ronald Gan, the chairperson of the Baba and Nyonya Association of Malaysia, in dismissing the perception that all the community wanted was “privileges", claimed - “We are not interested in that, we just want recognition because we are already living a Malay lifestyle.” The aspiration of this community was supported by none other than Chief Minister Idris Haron.
Of course, the Peranakan community should be differentiated from Chinese Muslim converts who in my opinion have embraced the Muslim/Arab nature of the religion - as promulgated here - but who have not embraced the eroding “Malay” culture that defines the Peranakan narrative. The same “Malay” culture that certain members of Malaysian royalty have defended and asked those who wish to be more like the Arabs to migrate to Saudi Arabia.
One would think that since that most virulent of Chinese convert - Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, who once claimed “to implement Islamic law and to educate non-Muslims (on Islam) can only be done by force" - there would have been moves by the Umno state to grant “bumi” status to that particular community instead of merely concentrating on the Indian Muslim community.
All of this, of course, is just further evidence that the idea of what constitutes a “Malay”, while constitutionally defined, has become meaningless in the Najib era where the discourse has been taken over by Islamic narratives because of his compromised position.
However, it is not “bumi” status, which - pardon the expression - is the holy grail of racial politics in this country. “Umnoputra” status is where the real action is. As with most things in this country, status is defined along pecuniary lines. What exactly does Umnoputra status mean?
In its crudest form, it means preferential treatment above and beyond what “bumi” status confers. An example of this would be when former Kota Raja Umno chief Amzah Umar revealed - “We give a seven percent discount for bumiputera buyers and 12 percent for Umno members, if I am not mistaken.”
Beyond that, it also means convening a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) for alleged misdeeds of a political opponent while secure in the belief that your political misdeeds are covered by your political party (Umno), the state security apparatus and any other supposedly independent public institution.
Malay first or Muslim first?
So, if “bumi” status is a legally-defined concept with diminishing returns, what Pakatan Harapan should do is grant bumi status to all Malaysians.
This way when Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad says, “We call upon all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion, political situation, creed or parties, young and old, to join us in saving Malaysia from the government headed by Najib Razak. We must rid ourselves of Najib as prime minister. If he’s allowed to go on, the damage will be worse and worse” - we can finally do that as “bumiputeras” instead of the non-Malays (and a few Malays) relying on the Bangsa Malaysia kool-aid, which apparently leaves a bad taste in the mouth for “Malay” nationalists in the opposition.
I for one always thought the opposition was most effective when it moved away from racial and religious politics and defined the struggle along class lines - “Despite the many criticisms hurled at Pakatan Rakyat, collectively what they have managed to do is frame the conflict (on better days) as one of a class, not race. In other words, Malaysia is divided along class lines with Umno being a racial oligarchy with the rest of us as some kind of serf class, only here to realise the aspirations of Umno plutocrats.”
I mean, think about it. If the polls are reliable and more “Malays” identify as “Muslims” first, then all this talk about the rights of the Malays becomes meaningless because they are subsumed in the religious superiority of Islam as advocated by the Islamists in this country. Just ask the non-Muslim “bumiputeras” how that status is working out for them.
In Sabah and Sarawak, they (non-Muslims bumiputeras) are too busy defending themselves from the machinations of Islamists who attempt to erase their non-Muslim cultures and attempt to impose Islam as a means of social and political control. These Islamists certainly do not consider themselves “Malay” first in the Peninsular or in Sabah and Sarawak. This is why “Malay” culture has evaporated to the point that academics, activists and now even certain members of royalty lamenting the Arabisation of the country.
This is the reason why it cost the prime minister very little to grant Indian Muslims bumiputera status. He already knows the influence Indian Muslims have in Umno. While officially he has defined Indian Muslim political activity in Umno limited to "observing", he understands that it is Umnoputera status, not bumi status, that defines superiority in this country. While it is an open secret that the Indian Muslim factor is vital to Umno hegemonic rule, the official Umno narrative is that Indian Muslims (in all their varieties) should always remember their subservient role to (and in) Umno.
I realise many people do not like it when I go on these Muslim tangents but the reality is that extremist Islam, and not the numerous corruption scandals, is the existential threat facing Malaysians. The Arabisation process started, and now disavowed by the same “Malay” politicians who now lead the opposition, is what will eventually coalesce into the means of our destruction.
Make no mistake, “our” destruction will be because Muslims in Malaysia are the targets of foreign designs aided perhaps unwittingly by a compromised prime minister who uses religion as means of sustaining hegemonic rule. I wrote earlier- “With all the propaganda spewed against non-Muslims, we have been lucky that external forces have far more insidious designs that merely slaughtering non-Muslims in this region. These designs target Muslims and are about a specific Islamic ideology and a war against Islamic plurality.”
Will Harapan consider granting all Malaysians “bumiputera” status? I doubt it. That would take the game to a whole new level, something the opposition has shown that it is unwilling to do even when they are losing on the Umno chosen battlefield.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. -Mkini

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