Malaysiakini Opinion

What are the limits in ‘New Malaysia’?

S Thayaparan  |  Published:  |  Modified:

“Please lah. Don’t be stupid!”

– Art Harun, top blogger

COMMENT | The quote that begins this piece was a rejoinder by top blogger Art Harun to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng in this whole “Mandarin” statement imbroglio.

Art puts it well - “But please do your job as a minister as you should be (doing). After all, you were the one who so proudly proclaimed ‘I am not Chinese, I am Malaysian’. You are showing the wrong signal. The wrong attitude.” - a sentiment which was echoed by the sometimes ornery but always friendly email group of Malaysiakini subscribers I often find myself part of.

To be honest, I find all of this rather dumb. The problem with the Bangsa Malaysia ‘Kool Aid’ is the negation of race and the hypocrisy of action(s) that precede or proceed it. It is always better to acknowledge your ethnicity and the reality of racial and religious politics in this country rather than put forward a hypocritical narrative that the non-Malays have to subscribe to in order to share power with the majority Malay community.

What is really disheartening is that the same propaganda does not apply to the Malay community except when they are called “racists”, an example of which, when Art had to qualify his statement - “I am not racist. And I am not talking about Malay rights or the proverbial ‘mertabatkan Bahasa Melayu’ and stuff.”

This particular issue really does not concern me. What I found interesting is when Lim said this - “The new Malaysia is an inclusive, respectful and diverse country. While safeguarding the status of Malay as an official language, we also need to master the use of other languages in order to increase our competitiveness.” And Art’s reply - “Don’t be arrogant and dismissive of this. You are really pushing it. There is a limit to the ‘new Malaysia’,”

Forget about the Mandarin language snafu, for a moment. Lim and Art raise interesting points. What are the limits in this new Malaysia? For the record, when people go on about new Malaysia, I have no idea what they are talking about. I think for most people who voted Pakatan Harapan, it merely revolves around expectation.

They expect the state security apparatus to get on with the reform programme. They expect that race and religion will somehow not be issues either because the Harapan regime will not make them so, or that the former regime has lost its ability to fabricate them.

The reality is very different. What are the limits of this new Malaysia? In other words, what are the sensitivities of the majority community that we should be mindful of when it comes to race and religion? That’s what I thought at first. Then I said, screw it. There’s something wrong here.

I get emails in Bahasa Malaysia all the time. The volume now is the same as the mails in English. Young Malay people always email me about current issues to keep me informed of their activism, or articles/blog posts in Malay that I may find interesting.

Sometimes the going is difficult. Regional dialects and the fact that some of the lingo is beyond me. Most difficult is when they write in “pakar” BM. I muddled through it though and what really gets me, whether conservative or liberal, the issues more often than not are not so much about race but religion. Sometimes the two get conflated but what do you expect, right?

I read this great letter by Abdullah Afiq in Malaysiakini - Navigating fear and loathing in ‘Malaysia Baru’- and thought, why the hell are not more people reading this? What he writes is the kind of stuff I get from the young Malays who write to me.

Forget about this whole Mandarin gaffe, the real action of where this new Malaysia really is, is in what a young Malay like Abdullah Afiq describes in his letter. Abdullah Afiq, is right when he says “activists” groups like Malaysian Muslim Solidarity (Isma) are attempting to control the narrative in social media as to what it means to be Muslim. But what can Harapan do?

Here are a couple of things that directly relate to what Abdullah Afiq writes about...

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