August 31 is Malaysia’s Independence (Merdeka) Day. On this day 55 years ago, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and a new country was born.
Malaysia. She was to be a powerful narrative for multiculturalism. A place where many races – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian, Orang Asli (native indigenous people) – would live together, work together as one, to move the country beyond the shadow of colonisation.
Malaysia remains a powerful idea. It’s one I believe in. But it has gone badly wrong. That’s why today, I’m writing this open letter to my Malay family and friends.
I believe Malaysia is fast reaching a crossroad; where it goes next will be determined by you, my dear Malay friends. And where Malaysia goes is important to the world – because it remains one of the more tolerant Muslim countries.
First though, I want to say a big thank you. On this Merdeka day, I want to thank you, my Malay family and friends and all fellow Malaysians of Malay descent, for your historic generosity.
Your ancestors welcomed mine when they arrived. You have shared the land with us, and this in turn gave us opportunities we wouldn’t have had in mainland China.
You provided us safe refuge from the turmoil of China. When I learnt what happened there in the past century, I am so grateful my ancestors left. And that they found shelter in the beautiful land now called Malaysia.
My Malay friends, your own ancestors came from other places. They knew what it was like to be strangers in a new country. They treated my ancestors with that gracious hospitality which I myself have experienced countless times. All this I acknowledge, and thank you for.
But now I need to move on to something else: why I left Malaysia, and why I won’t be returning any time soon.
You may already know that two out of 10 Malaysian graduates live outside Malaysia. This is an astonishing fact for a middle-income country like Malaysia. It was revealed in a detailed study on Malaysia’s brain drain, carried out by the World Bank.
My Malay family and friends, do you not care about this exodus of talent? This isn’t just an abstract number: in our family, half those of my generation live abroad. We are the graduates this World Bank report identifies. We compete happily in the world economy and have no need to return.
Perhaps, my Malay friends, you think the brain drain irrelevant, since most of the people who have left are of Chinese and Indian descent? Certainly, this is what many Malays think, as Nurul Izzah Anwar, daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, has alluded to.
“For me,” she says, “one Malaysian regardless of race, who has left the country…is a loss to us. They should be here celebrating, to improve the economy. I detest many people trying to singularly find out whether they are Malays, Chinese or Indians.”
My sentiments entirely. This fixation on race, race, race, in Malaysia is strangling the country. Yes, 88 per cent of the one million Malaysians estimated to be living abroad are of Chinese and Indian descent. So what? My Malay friends, I ask you: does our race matter more than the fact that we have taken our talents elsewhere?
Yet, should I expect anything else? How could any Malaysian not be fixated on race, when you, my Malay family and friends, are accorded ‘special’ rights solely because of your race and religion?
Imagine if the United States had given ‘special’ privileges to the Pilgrim fathers and mothers and their descendants. Special rights to land, schools, gold mines and everything else – all because they sailed first; yes, just imagine! This is exactly what your special rights equate to. If the US had adopted such a policy, do you think it would have turned into a magnet for talent and skills?
Tell anyone about a Malaysian university reserved for people with ‘special’ privileges based on race, and you will see the reaction. What? People stare in disbelief. You must be kidding!
I’m not. And there have been demonstrations against opening the institute up to other Malaysians. Yet, Malaysians are so used to these oddities that we don’t bat an eyelid. We no longer notice the strange ideas plaguing our country.
Your ‘special’ rights, my Malay family and friends, alienate me. They make me feel unwelcome, unwanted and second-class. They are why I left.
They are also why I won’t be back. Rights are a zero-sum game: for you to have more rights, others must necessarily have fewer. TalentCorp (the agency set up to attract Malaysians back) completely misses the point.
And when I see the culture of entitlement your ‘special’ privileges have led to, and the increasingly racist rhetoric this culture generates, I fear for Malaysia. Outrageous remarks are now commonplace, as former US ambassador John R. Malott outlined in his Feb 8, 2011, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
Malaysia has once again been called Tanah Melayu (Malay Land). Malay Land was given airtime by none other than Mahathir Mohamed, former prime minister and rabble-rouser extraordinaire, who is himself from a family with Indian immigrants. Malay Land is more than just a name. His is a supremacist concept: a land for Malays, where Malays will be Lords, everyone else their subjects.
Some people say Mahathir no longer matters, but actually he does. I feel less welcome now in Malaysia than at any time in the past. The attitudes of Malay Land are creeping in, and Malay Land is completely the opposite of Malaysia. Malay Land excludes, while Malaysia embraces and includes – a country for all races.
My Malay family and friends, which is it you want: Malay Land, or Malaysia? You cannot have both; you must choose.
On this Merdeka Day, I urge you to think about that choice. Because you, my dear Malay friends, are the only people who can truly change the direction Malaysia takes. Know that we, your fellow-Malaysians who have voted with our feet, are rooting for Malaysia.
We are no traitors as 68 per cent of the Malaysians abroad who were surveyed by the World Bank expressed a strong sense of patriotism or attachment to Malaysia. I am among this 68 per cent. I may have been away for 33 years, but Malaysia continues to be in my dreams.
I left with regret, and I stay away with sadness. I hope Malaysia will prevail. Assalamualaikum.
The grass is sometimes greener elsewhere. Most Malay are rather loyal to their Motherland. However Malaysian Chinese in reality do not have a Motherland. At one time Malaysian Chinese found greener pastures in Singapore. Then from Singapore they found greener pastures in Australia. It is their right. A fact once lamented by the Lee Dynasty of Singapore that ex-Malaysian Chinese tendency to migrate to greener pastures especially to Australia. A Malay generally stays here whether it rains or shines. It is hoped that ex-Malaysian Chinese in greener pastures do not say bad things about Malaysia. The Malay Peninsula has always been a peaceful place where various communities have lived peacefully under Malay rulers. Consider the wars in Europe, China, India and elsewhere. So be grateful to Malaysia. Celebrate Merdeka even if you are an ex-Malaysian. the special rights is the issue. They’ve been there fore eons. But why the wider divide between the different races? Over the last recent years, politicians kept on playing racial cards in their campaigns. The media is not helping either. When I was a kid, my close friends were Malay, Chinese and Indian kids. We even learned each others’ ‘native’ languages. Unfortunately as years gone by, our politicians (ALL parties) got more desperate to win votes. So here’s where we are now. When it comes to communicating with my Malay friends, I believe years of Mahatir’s Malayland policies has rung down a heavy curtain of resignation and superficial ‘politesse’ at best.More honest discussion leads only to exile for people like Mariam Mocktar! SAD!! An excellent analysis of the situation. Malaysia has missed the opportunity to be a great 3 in 1 Nation – where all races can contribute equally to the prosperity of Malaysia. I am from the 40s and I miss the early days when we accepted each other as fellow Malaysians.
With the approach of 13th General Election, which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said in Kedah yesterday would determine UMNO and Barisan Nasional’s survival (or to be more exact, Najib’s own political survival), the UMNO/Barisan Nasional mainstream media are throwing journalistic ethics to the winds and resorting to more lies and falsehoods in their attacks on Pakatan Rakyat leaders.
It is a measure of the increasing desperation felt by UMNO/BN leaders that the next general elections could result in a change of federal government in Putrajaya that the next polls in shaping up to the dirtiest elections in the nation’s 55-year history – with blatant and flagrant lies and falsehoods recklessly spread by UMNO/BN cybertroopers about individual Pakatan Rakyat leaders like the accusation that I had urinated at the flagpole in the Kuala Lumpur residence of the former Selangor Mentri Besar, Datuk Harun Idris sparking off the May 13 riots in 1969, when I was never in Kuala Lumpur on May 10, 11, 12 or 13, 1969 or the ludicrous allegation that the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had provoked the May 13 riots in his capacity as DAP Youth leader when Guan Eng was only eight years old at the time!
The latest lie and falsehood by UMNO mainstream media is today’s New Straits Times report entitled “’Anti-hopping law unfair and impractical’” on Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s call to introduce a law against party-hopping, which among other things, said:
“The critics pointed out that Lim’s father, DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang, had even praised members of parliament Datuk Seri Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing of Tuaran and Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin of Beaufort when the duo left Barisan Nasional to support the opposition coalition.”
This is pure concoction for up to now, I have not said anything about the actions of Wilfred Bumburing and Lajim Ukiin in leaving Barisan Nasional to support the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.
My position against party-hopping by elected representatives had been clear and consistent and I stand by what I said in Parliament 34 years ago when on March 21, 1978, I moved a motion in the Dewan Rakyat to seek the leave of the House to introduce a private member’s bill intituled Members of Parliament (Prevention of Defection) Act 1978 to ensure political integrity of Members of Parliament.
This is what I said in Parliament on March 21, 1978:
In fear of MPs resigning on grounds of principle causing by-elections to be held, in 1990, the then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad abused the UMNO/BN command of two-thirds parliamentary majority to amend the Constitution providing for a new Article 48(6) which stipulates:
“48(6) – A person who resigns his membership of the House of Representatives shall, for a period of five years beginning with the date on which his resignation takes effect, be disqualified from being a member of the House of Representatives.”
Article 48(6) of the Constitution will have to be revoked if any anti-party hopping legislation is to take full effect – allowing any MP or State Assembly member who resigns on matters of political principle to be able to seek a new mandate from his or her voters by contesting in a by-election.
I have no doubt that both Wilfred Bumburing and Lajim Ukiin would be prepared to resign their parliamentary seats for by-elections to be held to submit to their constituents to secure their support and a new mandate for their political decision to leave the Barisan Nasional and support Pakatan Rakyat – if they are not barred by Mahathir’s Article 48(6) from recontesting a by-election for the next five years.
Malaysiakini and FMT counted the numbers out at Dataran last night at about 10,000.
THE MALAYSIAN YOUTH GAVE NOTICE!Let me put it plainly but bluntly!
BN you are finished, FINITO!
YOUNG MALAYSIANS, I SALUTE YOU!Political rhetoric has commonalities. An aspirant standing across and asking your vote any place on the planet uses words, phrases and ideology you’ve heard before. Hope, optimism and deriding the local opposition are key elements in his verbal arsenal. If you are a US Presidential hopeful then add a large dollop of a perfect family picture to complete the speech package. Watching the US election campaign I‘m amused at the key role wife’s and children play in mustering up public sentiment and thrusting an emotional garland round the candidates neck. Smartly attired, furiously coiffured, the potential first lady needs a personal bent of mind, a certain chutzpah and dying love for her husband. Family sentiment plays a big part in the election campaigns in spite of the western liberal attitude towards marriage and familial values there is a great thrust on presenting the incumbent as a perfect family man. Interestingly looking at profiles of the republican hopefuls, people who had applied but couldn’t make the cut in the initial primaries, I couldn’t help but observe that all the rejects had multiple marriages and divorces with a mistress or two in the closet. For a society with bold standards of morality and sentiment in private (divorce rates are 50%) it is surprising they expect their politicians to be of an exemplary breed. It s as if a stable married man seems a magnet on which the hapless voters are drawn for deliverance. Apart from a voracious energy to raise funds and resources the other key ingredient is a one woman man, preferably the woman being a college sweet heart.
So the rhetoric may attract or a brilliant mind may have a quick fix solution to the ills around, but the sheen coming of the wedding band is the real silent word which reaches out to the voters. the crowd, which he estimated at 50,000.
Rais Yatim is still counting.
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