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Friday, August 4, 2017

Losing the Malaysian race

“Every step you take is forever. You can't make it go away. None of it. You understand what I'm saying?”
 ― Cormac McCarthy ( No Country for Old Men). 
I really liked Zan Azlee’s and Fa Abdul's recent pieces in Malaysiakini, "Malaysia: Race to finish" (wonderful title by the way) and "How do we fight this losing battle".
The simple answer, for the former, is that it was not all that great in terms of race relations back in the good old days (simpler maybe) and for the latter, you do not carry on fighting a losing battle – (the three options are) you retreat and regroup, you surrender or there is always martyrdom.
I like both pieces because both ultimately point to the dysfunction of not the ruling coalition but rather the opposition. I realise that this may not have been their intent but these questions they pose is because there is no real alternative to the policies and ideologies that define the mainstream political discourse in this country.
Zan you ask, “Did it really mean that people of that generation or during that time period were really colour blind and they did not think of race at all?” and the answer is "no".
If people of that generation did not think of race, they would not have voted in
successive race-based coalitions and go along with the policies of the state with May 13 as some sort of reminder that we all had our place even though we superficially got along in our workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.
We did it for selfish reasons and while the opposition had its supporters and was eking out a political living, oppositional voices were never mainstream. Most folks just did not have time for the “serious stuff” that Fa Abdul writes of because the serious stuff is not governmental malfeasances (this is the mundane stuff) but rather the systems of oppressions that the opposition used to address but these days have to sublimate for political reasons.
What I think we need are articles by Malaysians talking about separating Islam from politics but not in English but in Malay by Malay politicians and activists. I wrote about it in English but it does not get to the audience that it is aimed at (I think) – “That is
the key - separating Islam from politics.
You know why this is impossible. Because even if we reject Islamic political parties, even the so-called moderate ones, what we are left with are Malay political parties that have to defend ‘bangsa dan agama’ as they want the Malay vote because at this time, removing the current Umno potentate is the only goal. Presumably, this is the only political strategy that is sought despite decades of Umno failure.”
But I get how some Muslims are fearful about writing about this issue. It is easy for me to write about stuff like this because even though one day, the state may finally come a calling, Muslim activists and politicians tell me of the harassment they are subjected, the threats that could very well end in imprisonment when they deviate slightly from the group think.
It is one thing to be harassed by the outsourced thugs of this regime online but it is another to feel the boot of the state on your neck because you dare advocate ideas that are anathema to the state promulgated Islam and official narratives of what it means to be Malay.
What is even more difficult is when members of your own community vilify and ostracise you because you go against the mainstream of the community race and religious discourse. Therefore, I get it. It is not merely about fighting Umno but rather it is about fighting your own community.
Here is another example. Remember when political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim in his article in  the Guardian wrote – “This has put Malaysia at a crossroads: it can either return to its rightful place as a shining political and financial star in a developing world
desperate for such successes; or it can descend to the role of yet another Muslim-majority country with a failing democracy and economy.”
I honed in on the first part, writing – “The first road, the one of success, there is nary a mention of race and religion. Indeed, those concepts are anathema to a functional society. What binds us and makes us stronger are not ideas such as race and religion but other ideas that inspire, cultivate and nurture a cohesive society with majoritarian values that reflect a willingness to embrace instead of reject.”
With the opposition as it is now, that first road, the road the both these young people write about, maybe not specifically but allude to, is lost. The formation of the opposition is now about race and religion. In order to defeat the current Umno prime minister and not because of his racial and religious politics but because we supposedly want to save Malaysia from a kleptocracy, we have to embrace the racial and religious politics of the (right wing) Malay majority in order to supplant Barisan National. That is the game plan.
Now I already made my case for voting for the opposition in that the only good thing I can see coming out of this is a two party system. Even that is in doubt because I figure if the opposition wins, Bersatu and Umno will somehow find a way to reconcile and we would be back to square one – which may not be such a bad thing.
I mean look at the vision the Bersatu political operative paints if Najibs win this coming election. He makes three points (my comments in brackets): 
1. Corruption could become normalised
(Corruption is already normalised. The irony, of course, is that it was
normalised way before the current Umno grand pooh-bah come into power)
2. More taxes could be placed upon Malaysians
(Taxes have always been placed on Malaysians. Only rich people have
the means to evade it)
3. Umno will be restructured
(I would argue that even if Najib loses, Umno would be restructured)
This is what Azly Rahman is writing about when he reminds us to move past kleptocracy and Mahathirism.
The problem is that the opposition is not moving beyond these concepts but more importantly I think a majority of people do not want to move beyond these concepts because urban politics is not majoritarian politics .

Ultimately what will change this country is not a revolution of the mind but a revolution in the streets brought upon by economic and religious mismanagement.
Changing governments may only forestall this. Maybe that is all we get, buying a little time until we become an Islamic state. I know this is what the Islamists are counting on.

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

1 comment:

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