ethnographic-religious nationalism, Islam, Ketuanan Melayu, Mahathir, national unity, Nazri Aziz, PAS, PH, UMNO
Nazri’s appalling comments in Semenyih are yet another stark reminder that we are a nation deeply divided by race and religion. And we grow further and further apart with each passing day thanks to the efforts of people like Nazri who are constantly stirring the pot of bigotry’s bitter brew.
Where are the champions?
Unfortunately for us, national unity suffers from a lack of credible champions – great leaders who truly believe in the motto etched on our coat of arms that unity is strength (Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu), that it is worth fighting for. Where are the Onn Jaafars willing to stand up for national unity and do battle for it? Has the Ketuanan Melayu ideology so infected the Malay ruling elite than none are willing to fight for national unity?
And where, too, is the counternarrative to the Ketuanan Melayu ideology? How is it that despite all the angst about the lack of unity, despite all the great speeches about its importance, we have not been able to structure a compelling political, ideological and religious response to the extreme ethno-religious nationalism of UMNO and PAS?
Of course, we have a minister in charge of national unity but does anyone really believe that Waytha Moorthy is going to actually be able to do anything significant to bridge the racial and religious divide? Let’s face it, he is in cabinet simply as a sop to the Indian community, nothing more; and nothing much is expected of him.
Given that national unity is one of our biggest national challenges, one which impinges on almost everything else, shouldn’t the national unity portfolio be taken by no less than the Prime Minister himself, or, at the very least, one of the more senior PH ministers?
Dr Mahathir once excited our imagination with his Bangsa Malaysia vision but since coming to office he has done little to advance it. Sadly, it just doesn’t seem to be a priority with him or anyone else for that matter. National unity is the orphan child that nobody wants to claim.
Like it or not, this is not an issue that is going to get better on its own or autocorrect itself; it’s only going to get worse. Indeed, the continued mass indoctrination of students (at all levels of the education system), government servants, police and armed forces personnel with the Ketuanan Melayu ideology makes this inevitable.
Add to that the vast, self-perpetuating, well-funded and well-motivated religious bureaucracy intent on pushing the same ideology under the cloak of religion and it quickly becomes evident that we are already well on the way to becoming an ethno-religious welfare state, the ultimate Ketuanan Melayu dream.
It is, admittedly, difficult to determine how pervasive the Ketuanan Melayu culture is or what the silent majority (if there’s really one) actually thinks about it, but to the extent that they allow the racists and the bigots to usurp their voice without protest, it is perhaps a moot question.
Reinforcing the threat
Malaysia’s minorities have particular reason to be concerned. The Ketuanan Melayu ideology is premised upon the notion that the Malays as a community face an existential threat – from non-Malays – and must unite to defend “bangsa, agama dan negara” or lose it.
In order to be effective, the threat narrative must be constantly reinforced with new and even bigger revelations of plots and schemes against the Malays and Islam. Suspicion and mistrust must continuously be fuelled at every turn. Every incident must be exploited to reinforce the threat perception. And the lies, half-truths and innuendos must be repeated often enough so that people will believe it. It’s what the Nazis did; it worked for them.
Expect, therefore, as the political contest between UMNO-PAS and PH heats up, yet more outlandish accusations, rumours and insinuations.
Reaching a tipping point?
After the Cameron Highlands and Semenyih by-elections, will PH’s Malay leadership work harder to develop a compelling alternative narrative to counter the racist arguments of UMNO-PAS or will they be tempted to take the easy way out and play the race card themselves? Will they go all out to convince the Malays that the reform agenda benefits them more than any other community or will they abandon it for the sake of political expediency?
Whatever it is, Malaysia is quickly reaching an important tipping point: if no credible Malay leader arises to champion national unity and unite our nation around a common national ideology to counter the Ketuanan Melayu narrative, we may well reach a point of no return, a point where the racial and religious divide becomes irrevocable and irreversible. It will be the end of the great experiment in democratic multiculturalism upon which our nation was premised.
[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur |7th March 2019]
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