QUESTION TIME | When Prime Minister Najib Razak claimed to be a Bugis warrior whose ancestors came from Sulawesi, Indonesia, he admitted that his forefathers migrated here and were immigrants. In other words, according to the use of the term by politicians from his party, he is a ‘pendatang’ or immigrant, no matter that generations of his family were Malaysian.
If that were true, it means his father, Malaysia’s second prime minister, also was Bugis and therefore a pendatang. So would be Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who has Siamese origins, third prime minister Hussein Onn who has Turkish blood and fourth prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad who has Indian origins. Fifth prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has Chinese blood.
That makes all our prime ministers pendatang - which means we pendatang are in good company - or bad - depending on your point of view.
In fact, all Malays are pendatang too because history tells us they were not originally from Malaysia and they migrated to this region, most probably from southern China via Taiwan and down to Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia and the peninsula.
That means that the only original inhabitants of this fair land of ours are the Orang Asli, the original people as we all call them, because they were here before the rest. They are not Malays and they themselves are different people according to anthropologists.
They form less than a hundredth of the population, are among the most disadvantaged people in the country, are even more disadvantaged than the Malays, and hardly anyone, bar some NGOs, including the politicians who call others pendatang, do anything for these truly original people in Malaysia.
Sixty years ago, this country came into being under a Constitution which protected the rights of all citizens who were equal under the law, even if there were specific provisions to ensure that the Malays were not marginalised in the overall development of the country.
That does not give them any special rights or privileges over anybody else, over and above ensuring that they were not left behind relative to the other races and had equal opportunities to advance.
But these provisions have been abused to effectively hand over equity stakes to those Malays who were already rich and who are now tied to the Umno elite who are devoted to extending this inequitable distribution because it makes a lot of them very rich without doing work - patronage.
Many Malays continue to be in poverty
Many Malays continue to be in poverty because the government has not done enough to lift them out of poverty through better education and opportunities, not because of the pendatang. In some areas there was considerable, even remarkable, progress, but not in many others.
The reason for the slow progress is the creeping corruption and incompetence over the decades of Umno rule, and by extension its allies. Increasingly, a corrupt Umno has to be more strident in the defence of so-called Malay rights - there is no such thing, there are only Malaysian rights - to stay in power. They are unconcerned about the cleavages these cause in society.
Under those Malaysian rights, Malays have a right as a then deprived majority community, for proper, targeted help from the government and this is ensured by constitutional provisions.
Malays do not have an automatic right to be treated better in any area than other citizens. All citizens are equal under the law, pendatang or not. Islam, although the religion of the state, enjoys no other special constitutional privilege, apart from syariah law for believers, and the original Constitution provided freedom of religion for all.
So, in the eyes of these cock-eyed, mainly Umno and PAS politicians who whip up Malay support all the time by playing to race and religion, who use the term “pendatang” blithely on Malaysian citizens of Chinese and Indian origin - some of whom have a lineage of citizenship longer than them - to belittle them and their status, if you were a Malay you are somehow not a pendatang. The logic of what they say is indefensible but they use that term over and over again incorrectly.
The continued use of the term “pendatang” to refer to non-Malays who are bona fide citizens of Malaysia is a calculated attempt to incite anger and resentment towards non-Malays by extremist and corrupt Malays among all Malays to deliberately promote permanent division between them for their own political purposes.
In a country which is quick to use sedition laws against the most minor of infractions, or one should more accurately say perceived infractions, which may hurt the sensitivities of the Malays and Islam, it is surprising that despite police reports, hardly any action is taken against them, some of them MPs and prominent politicians, for inciting Malays against non-Malays.
Their deliberate incitement of the Malays to get their support by trying to show themselves to be champions of the Malays and defenders and protectors of the faith if not checked will lead to continued and increased polarisation among the races, already divided by racial politics for decades.
To think that 60 years after independence we are still calling long-standing citizens pendatang!
Perhaps the best way to get rid of this heinous, derogatory term is to accept it. After all, almost all - more than 99 percent - of us are pendatang.
Much like how Martin Luther King emphatically destroyed the word “black” as a derogatory reference to negroes once and for all. “I am black and proud of it. Black is beautiful,” he cried out in his landmark speech in 1967. And now blacks refer to themselves as black and are proud to be black and to be referred to as such.
If by pendatang you mean my ancestors came from elsewhere but made this country their own, yes, I am a pendatang and proud of it. And by God, so are you - be proud of it, don’t deny it, don’t distort history. Just recognise that this country is ours - not yours or mine but ours, for better or for worse.
And know that I am here to stay whether you bloody like it or not because this country is mine too!
P GUNASEGARAM says he is Malaysian first, unlike that former DPM who said he is Malay first and then Malaysian, and who is now a leader of the opposition after being thrown out of Umno by Najib, even though he was a Malay first. E-mail: [email protected]
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.