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PAS president Hadi Awang, discussing his involvement in the recently concluded Kongres Maruah Melayu (KMM) – by all counts, an outrageously racist event – explained that he wanted to promote Muslim unity because “it was forbidden for people of Islamic faith to surrender power to other races who are not Muslims.”

His message was clear: power-sharing with non-Malays and working together through multi-ethnic coalitions like Pakatan Harapan (PH) is tantamount to “surrender” and is, therefore, unacceptable. Of course, he had no problems working with the DAP when it suited him but such is the measure of the man.

What he is promoting is nothing short of an exclusively Malay-Muslim state that makes little room for diversity, for other ethnicities or religious communities. It is at the core of the “Malaysia for Malays” construct, a particularly virulent form of ethnoreligious nationalism that Ketuanan Melayu ideologues led by Hadi are now articulating and advocating.

Racial & religious superiority

It is, of course, not the first time that Hadi has talked about an exclusively Malay-Muslim nation. He has long insisted, for example, that only Muslims should be appointed to high office. At the congress, a party colleague sought to formalize this view, calling on the government to appoint only Malay-Muslims to top positions including the chief justice, the attorney-general, secretaries-general of ministries, inspector-general of police, chief of defence forces, local council presidents, etc.

It would be fair to conclude, given the preponderance of Malays already in government, that for Hadi even one senior non-Malay position is one too many.

Race and religion, it seems, trump qualities like integrity, character and virtue. As a certain fugitive preacher from India once put it: better to have a corrupt Muslim official than an honest non-Muslim one. Perhaps that is why they are not at all perturbed by the fact that such erstwhile champions of race and religion like Najib Tun Razak, Zahid Hamidi, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Azeez Abdul Rahman, and Bung Moktar Radin are all currently facing corruption charges.

Malaysia for Malays

Other resolutions and statements at the congress further detailed the agenda of the emerging ‘Malaysia for Malay’ construct.

One resolution called for the abolition of vernacular schools, long a favourite target of Ketuanan Melayu ideologues. They made much about how such schools are not conducive to national unity although they themselves have never been interested in national unity.  Indeed, everything they do or say is designed to stymie national unity which they see as a hinderance to building an exclusively Malay-centric nation.

Other conference speakers took aim at some of the reforms that are so necessary for building a kinder, better, more democratic and inclusive nation. One by one, they have declared ICERD, ICC, the abolition of the death penalty and the repeal of sedition laws anti-Malay or anti-Islamic or both. And the many references to Islam being “belittled and questioned” – all entirely groundless – could well presage further restrictions on religious freedom.

They made no secret, as well, of their dislike for respected organizations like Suhakam and the Bar Council, and NGO’s like Sisters in Islam and G25 whom they insist should either be straightjacketed or curtailed. Pressure is also growing on many moderate Malay-Muslim writers, scholars and academics who are courageously speaking out in favour of a more inclusive nation. 

An ethnoreligious dictatorship

Make no mistake: the end result of this evolving ‘Malaysia for Malays’ construct would be an ethnoreligious dictatorship by a small group of bigoted, narrow-minded fascists that will change the very character of Malaysia. The limited freedoms that we all – Muslim and non-Muslim, Malay and non-Malay – now enjoy will be seriously eroded. Ketuanan Melayu fascists will set the agenda, tell us what we can think, how we should dress, who we can mix with, how we should live and who will be beneficiaries of government largesse.

For non-Malays and non-Muslims, it will be even worse; our status will be reduced to little more than “guest workers” with no right to even call ourselves Malaysian because Malaysia is only for Malay-Muslims.

This is the ‘Malaysia for Malays’ construct – the antithesis of everything that Malaysia stands for – that is now the dominant theme in Malay political discourse. Influential leaders like Perlis Mufti Asri Zainal Abidin, senior academics at public universities and a broad spectrum of Malay political and business leaders are supportive of it.

Shades of the ‘Malaysia for Malays’ construct are already spreading through religious talks as well as seminars and discussion groups in public universities and government departments. All these places are already overwhelming Malay-Muslim and receptive to the ‘Malaysia for Malays’ message.

Alarmingly, the ‘Malaysia for Malays’ narrative is being promoted in tandem with an ethnoreligious jingoistic narrative that non-Malays are to blame for all the ills of the Malay community. The unspoken message is that for so long as the non-Malays are “in control” (to quote Mahathir himself), the Malays will be “enslaved” (Mahathir’s words again) and kept from fulfilling their destiny. How long before such rhetoric leads to open hostility towards ethnic minorities?

The police have now indicated that they would call in Zainal Kling for questioning but why just him when all he did was echo what Hadi and other Ketuanan Melayu ideologues have been saying for some time now? They can try to police the rhetoric but who will rise to counter the ideology behind it?

A deafening silence

While no one is surprised with such racism from Hadi and other UMNO-PAS leaders, the deafening silence of PH’s Malay leadership is deeply troubling. Several senior PH ministers like Redzuan Yusof, Syed Saddiq, Maszlee Malik, Mukhriz Mahathir, Azmin Ali and Mohamad Sabu were all present at the congress, and yet they kept quiet both during and after the congress. Only Anwar Ibrahim – who was not there – had the courage to speak out against the divisive and racist rhetoric.

Where was Syed Saddiq who once proclaimed, with false bravado it now seems, that “an attack against our Chinese and Indian brothers and sisters is an attack against all Malaysians”? Where was Mujahid Yusof Rawa and his “Rahmatan lil’alamin” (mercy to all) concept?

Mahathir must, of course, share the greatest blame of all. He could have faced down the bigots and refused to accept their racist resolutions but he, too, abandoned his moral, if not constitutional, responsibility to stand up for all Malaysians irrespective of race or religion.

The shameful conduct of PH’s Malay government leaders, their silence in the face of such egregious racism and bigotry, will come to be remembered as one of the coalition’s greatest moral failures. When the very idea of Malaysia most needed champions, there was simply none to be found.

We are now, as a nation, cast adrift on an uncertain sea of bigotry with even the pretense of decency and respect for diversity gone.  While many were celebrating the new Malaysia, a dark and sinister form of ethnoreligious fascism was taking shape and is now upon us. The hour is late. The dangers are real. The time for half-measures are long gone. If we don’t mobilize now to stop the Ketuanan Melayu fascists, the battle for Malaysia will soon be lost.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |10th October 2019