Thursday, August 30, 2007

Non-bumis No More

by Azly Rahman

Sometime ago in a column I wrote the following:

We are in the 21st century. About three years from now, we will arrive at the year 2010. The non-Malays and non-bumiputeras have come a long way into being accepted as full-fledged Malaysians, by virtue of the ethics, rights and responsibilities of citizenship. They ought to be given equal opportunity in the name of social justice, racial tolerance and the alleviation of poverty.

Bright and hard-working Malaysians regardless of racial origin who now call themselves Malaysians must be given all the opportunities that have been given to Malays since 40 years back.

Islam and other religions require this form of social justice to be applied to the lives of human beings. Islam does not discriminate one on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, creed nor national origin. It is race-based politics, borne out of the elusiveness of nationalism, that creates post-industrial tribalistic leaders; leaders that will design post-industrial tribalistic policies. It is the philosophy of greed, facilitated by free enterprise runamuck that will evolvingly force leaders of each race to threaten each other over the control of the economic pie. This is the ideology of independence we have cultivated.

I want to elaborate the point further:

A Malay child of Merdeka

As a child born into a Malay family a few years after the shouts of “Merdeka!” filled the nation’s stadium, and as a child privileged to be given the opportunities accorded to a “bumiputera,” I have a statement of hope to convey to our nation.

As an adult growing learning multiple ways of knowing about the world, through people of multiple cultures, I often ask the question of what will happen to the children and grandchildren of Mr Wong, my Jawi teacher in Johor Bahru, Ah Lan of Jalan Segget, the lady who taught my mother how to sew clothes for a living, Dr Das of Jalan Ah Fook who treated my childhood illness and taught me how to be “patient” about wanting to make changes in the world, Mr PV Kulasingam my fearful headmaster in Sekolah Temenggong Abdul Rahman, Miss Chan my favourite Maths teachers who suddenly became angry at me a day after the May 13, 1969 riots, Miss Yap and Mr Ambrose my English teachers who taught me to love the language when I was struggling with other subjects, and countless other “non-Malays non-bumis” I have come to be indebted to – those who have contributed to the “subjectivity” of what I am as a “cultural being living in an ever changing and evolving world of shifting cultural constructs.”

In short, I ask the question – what have this nation done to the children and grandchildren of these people through the policies we create to alienate each other?

Because in my profession as an educator, questions are more important than the answers, I present them as such below:

After this Merdeka celebrations will we all be called the “new bumiputeras”? Will the false dichotomy of “Malays” versus “non-Malays” and “bumiputeras ” versus “non-bumiputeras” be abolished? Will we come together as “true blue Malaysians” that will progress through the guiding national development philosophy crafted by the principles of scientific socialism, multiculturalism, affirmative action and meritocratic principles in a balance, and the respect, cultivation, and preservation of indigenous cultures that sustain the dignity of each race?

Will more financial aid be given to the deserving students of all races? Will more scholarships be given to “non-Malays” or “non-bumiputeras” so that they too will enjoy the fruits of labour of the parents and grandparents who toiled for this nation? Will more deserving “non-Malays” be given the much needed aid to study abroad and to come home and serve, so that they will take pride in building the nation that has been kind to them? Will this new preferential treatment cure the ill-feeling and silent animosity over the awarding of resources amongst the different races?

Will the children and grandchildren of great Malaysians – Soh Chin Aun, V Arumugam, Santokh Singh, (the grand-daddies of the real Beckhams of the Malaysian cultural iconoclasm) and Andre Goh, M. Jegathesan, or the members of the pop group “Alleycats” be given the scholarship they deserve?

Will preferential treatment be given to those born after the Aug 31, 1957 to their children and grandchildren as well?

It will be a shame to the hard work of the “founding fathers” of Merdeka if we do not work towards providing equality, equity, and equal opportunity to the children of all races. It would kill the spirit of Merdeka.

Our Merdeka gone astray?

This Merdeka, we have gone astray. Race-politics has reached its boiling point. It is predictable as a consequence of the outgrowth of politics in a pluralistic nation. Scholars who write about the difference between nationalism and socialism have predicted the bankruptcy of the former, in an age of globalisation and mass consumption – in an age wherein blind nationalism has become a blinder for the politics of plunder.

This Merdeka, let us extend our special rights to all who deserve to live a life of dignity, based on the principles of universal declaration of human rights. In a nation wherein the three major races help build the nation, the nation must now belong to the children of all these races. It is the logic of the brighter side of Social Darwinism – that all must be made fit to survive, not through natural selection but through an inclusive philosophy of developmentalism. It is an antidote to racial discrimination based on a sound philosophy of peaceful evolution.

We cannot continue to alienate each other through arguments on “social contract” that is alien from perhaps what Jean Jacques Rousseau the great Swiss wrote about some 300 years ago – a philosophy that inspired the founding of America, a nation of immigrants constantly struggling (albeit imperfectly) to meet the standards requirements of equality, equity, and equal opportunity especially in education.

How do we come together as Malaysians, as neo-bumiputeras free from false political-economic and ideological dichotomies of Malays versus non-Malays, “bumi” versus “non-bumis’ and craft a better way of looking at our political, economic, social, cultural, and psychological, and spiritual destiny – so that we may continue to survive as a specie of Malaysians the next 50 years?

As a privileged Malay and a “bumiputera”, I want to see the false dichotomies destroyed and a new sense of social order emerging, based on a more just form of linguistic play designed as a new Merdeka game plan. Think Malaysian - we do not have anything to lose except our mental chains.

There is still a reason to celebrate.

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