“Because, if you could love someone, and keep loving them, without being loved back ... then that love had to be real. It hurt too much to be anything else.”
- Sarah Cross, Kill Me Softly
Unrequited love is perhaps the most painful of all but it makes it true and real because it is a love that receives little but is fiercely loyal and ferociously unwavering. That is perhaps what best describes my love for Malaysia.
Born 11 years after Merdeka, I am a first generation Merdeka child.
Having been born and raised in Malaysia this is my home and I would not think of anywhere else to be buried then the place I have lived for over five decades.
When asked what I love most about Malaysia I would say like many others, her food. The variety and myriad of flavors and taste and colors actually reflect her peoples. Our rich mix of a variety of culture and languages is uniquely Malaysian. No nation in Southeast Asia can celebrate this diversity as we do here in Malaysia.
However, this diversity also comes with it some challenges. They include challenges of ethnic and religious relations. The result of these tensions culminated in the May 13, 1969 racial conflict in Malaysia.
Moving on from May 13, Malaysians learned to live with each other’s sensitivities, but never quite discussing or trying to understand the ethnic and religious differences.
Tolerance does not beget unity
In (former prime minister) Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s vocabulary, he called this ‘tolerance between the races’. In his Merdeka speech in 2019, he said: “Malaysia was built on the foundations of tolerance, goodwill, mutual respect, the readiness of giving and sharing, selflessness and a desire to make sacrifices for the sake of the country.”
Indeed growing up in Malaysia, many of us have learned the art of dancing peacefully with one another.
There are boundaries for which we are not to discuss. For example: Article 153 of Malay rights and privileges is prohibited by law to be discussed. There are religious sensitivities which we as Malaysians grow up to respect of one another. Areas we don’t talk about because we respect and tolerate one another.
This is wonderful except that after 60 years, we don’t know each other very well. The next generations have grown apart with a suspicion of one another.
Because we have been told to tolerate, we accept the idiosyncrasies of each race without truly understanding and caring for each other. Tolerance, unfortunately, is not true unity.
Are non-Malays just tenants?
As the longest serving prime minister, Mahathir has shaped Malaysian social and political construct like no one else. It is in Mahathir’s Malaysia that Malays are told they are the rightful owners of Malaysia and non-Malays are but “guests.”
He says in his book, The Malay Dilemma: “Malays are the rightful owners of Malaya, and that if citizenship is conferred on races other than the Malays, it is because the Malays consent to this. This consent is conditional.” (Malay Dilemma, p126)
With this, it is forever incumbent upon the “other races” to understand their place. Non-Malays in Mahathir’s mind are not stakeholders in this enterprise called Malaysia. They are merely renters.
Renters know their place. They may decorate, they may make a living in the premise but nothing else. You do not have a say in the future or the major renovation of the property.
Unfortunately, this has been the position of non Malays in Malaysia and especially more so when power of the ruling elite of the independence Malay party lost its foothold.
A different narrative of Malaysia
There is another narrative that is of a more inclusive Malaysia. A less divisive Malaysia. A formula promoted by some royalties and the leaders of the recently collapsed Pakatan Harapan government.
In 2007, Perak’s Sultan Nazrin Shah himself, said: “Malaysians of all races, religion and geographic locations, need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they have a place under the Malaysian sun.”
This means that non Malays are not just renters but fellow stakeholders in the future and direction of this beloved nation.
While we are made to believe that the majority of Malays hate the Chinese and DAP, I believe that these are but the noisy minority who have a sinister political agenda.
Most reasonable minded Malaysians have learned to appreciate each other’s differences and like our food we merge into our own distinct culture and flavor. A Malaysian culture and formula.
Standing at crossroads
What does that look like? How do we get there? That is the question for our next generation of young leaders to answer.
We stand at a crossroad in Malaysia and it is time to ask seriously, “Who are we?” and “Who do we want to become?” A tolerant Malaysia with landlords and tenants or a Malaysia celebrating its unique differences where every Malaysian has an equal place under the Malaysian sun.
This reality cannot be more evident then in our current political scenario in the two governments that have taken its respective corners in the ring. Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. They both stand for very different ideologies and will therefore shape very different futures for Malaysia.
Perikatan Nasional consist of mainly conservative Malays from UMNO, ex-UMNO or the religious wing, from PAS. Pakatan Harapan, however, except for Mahathir who was only recently added to lead for convenience, has a progressive agenda for a more inclusive Malaysia with her distinct Malaysian culture and flavor.
What would the future Malaysia look like?
My hope is that in this Malaysia, non-Malays will no longer be viewed as tenants but brothers and sisters with fellow Malaysians of all race and religion charting and fighting for the future of a better and brighter nation.
We must cease the fight for individual tribal agendas and work towards what is best for the future of Malaysia as one single entity.
YEE SIEW MENG is a Malaysiakini reader.