Over the past few weeks, as the competition between Pakatan Harapan and the UMNO-PAS alliance for the Malay vote has heated up, we’ve been given stark reminders of how the UMNO-PAS leadership views non-Malays and what we can expect should the Ketuanan Melayu ideology they espouse dominate Malaysian politics.
Their view of non-Malays, put simply, is forever pendatang, forever dhimmi and forever grateful.
The concept of the non-Malay as pendatang (or “penumpang”, a similar term that acting UMNO president Mohamad Hasan recently used to describe non-Malays), is of course, intrinsic to the Ketuanan Melayu ideology and is central to the thinking of UMNO and PAS leaders.
Whether pendatang or penumpang, the idea is the same: non-Malays are interlopers, without commitment or loyalty to the nation and, therefore, undeserving of equal treatment or constitutional protection. It is intended to strip them of their very identity as Malaysians and suggests that they have no inherent right to be here.
In their view, non-Malays, no matter how long they have lived here, are pendatangs and penumpangs and will always remain so. Others – Muslims from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Middle East – can migrate to Malaysia and quickly become proud Malays but Malaysian-born non-Malays are doomed to remain pendatangs and penumpangs in perpetuity unless they convert.
This racial division is further reinforced by a religious worldview that segregates Malaysians according to their faith into Muslim and dhimmi. In historical Islam, the ‘dhimmi’ were conquered people who had submitted to Islamic rule. They had few rights, had to pay a special tax and be forever subservient to Muslim authority in exchange for protection. Some Islamic scholars have also argued that dhimmis are automatically excluded from all participation in the political process.
No surprise then that men like Hadi Awang are constantly complaining that there are too many non-Muslims in parliament or that key positions like the chief justice and attorney-general are held by non-Muslims. In their twisted theocratic version of Malaysia, non-Malays, as dhimmis, have no business being in parliament or holding important positions.
The religious establishment is, of course, largely supportive of this religious division; in recent discussions on the issue, the muftis of Pahang and Perak, for example, insisted that there was nothing wrong in viewing non-Muslims as dhimmis.
And for this privilege – the privilege of being pendatang and dhimmi forever, non-Malays are expected to remain forever grateful. As Hadi Awang likes to constantly remind us all, “Other races should appreciate [that] Muslims… accepted them as citizens and allowed them to practise their religion and use their language.”
Citizenship is no longer viewed by Ketuanan Melayu ideologues as part of the Merdeka agreement between all Malaysia’s ethnic communities but as an act of unilateral generosity for which eternal gratitude must be given. For Hadi, such gratitude must be manifested by perpetual submission, docility, and servility especially involving anything PAS says or does. To do otherwise is to be ungrateful and unmindful of Malay sensitivities.
An existential threat
Of course, UMNO and PAS leaders insist that all this does not amount to discrimination against non-Malays. Mohamad Hasan, for example, insisted that he was not trying to sideline non-Malays, that he wanted every community to “feel comfortable” while PAS vice-president Iskandar Abdul Samad reiterated that PAS-UMNO cooperation would not give rise to an extremist government.
It is a sign of how delusional, irrational, even duplicitous UMNO and PAS have become to expect non-Malays to be comfortable with such a racist system or that non-Malays will see such policies as anything but extremist.
As well, dividing the nation into Muslims and dhimmis might be acceptable in a theocratic Islamic state like Saudi Arabia but it can never be acceptable in a secular democratic state like Malaysia. Far from bestowing a divine right to rule on anyone, the Federal Constitution bestows upon all citizens – Muslim and non-Muslim – certain inalienable rights, rights that may not be unilaterally abrogated by muftis or anyone else.
It goes without saying that the Ketuanan Melayu vision of Malaysia is at variance with the Federal Constitution. It threatens to strip non-Malays of their constitutional rights, privileges and protections. Clearly, it is not the Malays and the position of Islam that are under threat; it is the non-Malays who now face an existential threat from the Ketuanan Melayu ideologues and their followers.
Given this situation, it is hard to fathom how the MCA and MIC can continue to remain unperturbed by UMNO-PAS cooperation or how they can continue to work with the very groups that are out to disenfranchise the minority communities they claim to represent. Are they so devoid of principle that they would minimize the very real dangers that the Ketuanan Melayu ideology of UMNO and PAS now poses to non-Malays just for the sake of a few crumbs from UMNO’s table?
Confronting Ketuanan Melayu
The Federal Constitution indisputably acknowledges Islam as the official religion of the Federation and confers special rights on the Malays but that can never be used to justify an ethno-religious apartheid state or legitimize a system of discrimination against any citizen. Like it or not, Malaysia is by constitutional mandate a secular democracy that makes no distinction between Muslim and dhimmi or Malay and pendatang. And, like it or not, we are all Malaysia’s sons and daughters.
None of us can change the past; we can only try to make the most of our diversity and endeavour to forge a better future. And that journey can only truly begin when we confront the Ketuanan Melayu ideology and expose it for what it is – a sinister and contemptible racist creed that has no place in a multicultural constitutional democracy like ours.
[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 13th March 2019]