Why bother ratifying Icerd?

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

“However much history may be invoked in support of these policies (affirmative action), no policy can apply to history but can only apply to the present or the future. The past may be many things, but it is clearly irrevocable. Its sins can no more be purged than its achievements can be expunged. Those who suffered in centuries past are as much beyond our help as those who sinned are beyond our retribution.”

― Thomas Sowell, ‘Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality’

COMMENT | I may have said this differently elsewhere, but at this point, why bother ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd)?

This idea of Malay special rights or privileges and the affirmative action policies wrapped up in the propaganda of race and religion has been exposed for the sham that it is. The latest missive from the culture war about Icerd by Chandra Muzaffar, one of Malaysia’s most well-known public intellectuals, makes for depressing reading.

While the thrust of the piece was optimistic, in the sense that Chandra advocates taking certain steps that are in the spirit of Icerd, it still makes for bleak reading. For the most part, though, it was a kind of justification (maybe unintentional) for the aggrieved feelings of the Malay community (or the right and centre of the political spectrum) to perpetuate a system which has demonstrated that it cannot withstand moral or intellectual scrutiny.

It also places the non-Malay intelligentsia as part of the problem, which mainstream Malay politics routinely does, instead of part of the solution in dismantling a compromised system. While there is some truth in that, it is pointless asking everyone to come together on an issue which is fundamentally about the rights of everyone versus the privileges that come with being in the majority.

Chandra reminds non-Malay “elites” and opinion-makers to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the Malay situation, which is the psychological loss of becoming a community among communities. The way to appreciate this sentiment is to accept a simple historical fact that Malaysia evolved from a Malay sultanate system.

This is really a strange thing to say, because who the Malays are today has more to do with our colonial legacy, the social engineering of political power structures, state-sanctioned propaganda, the change of demographics through illegal and legal immigration and the influence of Islam over the Malay polity.

If the Malay community has this psychological loss, imagine what it must be for the Orang Asal in Malaysia. Not only are they a community among communities, but they are also a minority among those communities without a political voice except the one co-opted by the state.

In other words, whatever issues the Malays are grappling with today has roots in a system which has very little to do with the Malay sultanate system but everything to do with the colonial and post-colonial strategies of the Malay elite, which does not necessarily include the...

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