Mariam Mokhtar on the biggest obstacle to a progressive modern Malaysia

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Do not pick on the rural Malay. He is not the problem.

However, the main obstacle to a modern, progressive Malaysia is the educated, professional, well-travelled, English-speaking urban Malay, who controls a government department, a GLC, a bank or a business.

We’re not talking about the ordinary pakcik managing his stall in a warong, but the Malay taiko who owns franchises, or multi-million-ringgit companies, or markets luxury foreign brands.

These urban Malays wield power and influence. Some are decision makers in government. They are the civil servants or the big names in the business world. They have influence. They help dictate policy.

Some of you are under the impression that the rural Malay is the obstacle to progress. No, he is not! The rural Malay is too busy trying to make ends meet. He has no control over policymaking.

Talks on democratic values

When you attend talks about rule of law, democratic values, and good governance, the number of Malays present can be counted on one hand.

If you had been to the Negara Ku event in 2014, in Ipoh, which was launched by lawyer and social activist Haris Ibrahim, Clare Rewcastle Brown’s book launch at Tower Regency Hotel, in 2018, the Ipoh launch of MAJU in 2020, you would have noticed that few Malays were present. One could argue that Ipoh is Chinese dominated.

At many talks by Bersih or Opposition politicians, which were held overseas, the Malays comprise only 3 percent of the total audience.

So, are the Malays not interested in democracy? Perhaps, they had better things to do that day.

At one talk in Ipoh, in 2018, Haris mentioned his lack-of-Malays-in-the-audience observation and challenged everyone present to bring five Malay friends to a future talk of his, which he would conduct in Malay.

He asked if they were willing to do that and asked for a show of hands. There were none, not because no-one was willing, but he knew full well that there would be no takers, because it would be an extremely difficult, if not impossible task.

My question is, if you are non-Malay, have you a Malay friend? If you are Malay, have you a non-Malay friend? Is befriending the Malays very hard to do?

Malays and non-Malays have more things in common than would be suggested by the wild claims made by rabid Umno-Baru, PAS and Bersatu bigots, that the Chinese or the DAP want to take over Malaysia and introduce communist ideology or Christian values.

Both Malays and non-Malays have the same interests. They want the best education for their children, affordable housing and good healthcare for their families, employment and a decent wage.

One non-Malay said, “For years, my Malay friends from school would visit our open house for Chinese New Year/Deepavali/Christmas but these visits began to peter out in the late 1980s. Why?”

Another said, “Every Christmas, my good friend (a Malay) pays me a visit, but in recent years, his children refused to eat the cakes, or drink from my glasses. I offered them Coke straight from the bottle. They still refused.

“My friend apologised afterwards and said that it was the school and the Mara college they attended which had indoctrinated them.”

So, why had this parent failed to undo the brainwashing of his children by their teachers? Or has state institutionalised racism taken over the parental role?

Another friend said that he invited his Malay friends to his daughter’s wedding. He had ordered Malay halal caterers to provide special halal food using their own crockery and cutlery. No Malay friend turned-up. This was in Bangsar.

This story came from a friend in London. He invited some Malays to his house for a private talk by a visiting Bersih representative. A group of ten Malays asked to attend. He reassured them that a Turkish shop would provide halal refreshments that night. Despite their promise to come, not one Malay turned-up.

People on Whatsapp have a tendency to forward articles to others in their chat group. One friend received a message from his school friend who said, “Stop attacking Islam.” My friend explained that he had not attacked Islam but had wondered, for instance, about the lack of action from clerics and prominent Malays to prevent child marriages.

Other non-Malay friends have the same stories about their Malay friends on Whatsapp accusing them of “attacking” Islam when they have been ultra careful not to mention Islam but had criticised the inaction of Muslim leaders or clerics. Most of them were subsequently blocked.

Another friend who commented on the millions of ringgit of PPE donations by PRC and Malaysian Chinese millionaires asked why Malay millionaires like the felon Najib Abdul Razak, and Adnan Mansor had failed to be equally charitable. This non-Malay friend received a put-down for being racist.

From Washington, to Paris, to Sydney, some Malays fear Big-Brother watching them and will only attend talks if these are held in private homes. They claimed that some of the people in the audience of public talks were from Special Branch and targeted the Malays.

Haris’ challenge is tricky. Many non-Malay friends have found to their cost, that many Malays are ultra-sensitive and take criticism, even if the criticism is about Malay/Muslim government officials, as a personal slight.

For over 40 years, JAKIM failed to take care of the meat we consume, but many Muslims are willing to entrust JAKIM with the minutiae of how their lives are run. Why?

I have been accused of being an apostate for criticising incompetent Malays/Muslims. Discussing rule of law and injustice with another Malay, is like treading on eggshells. Sarcasm or irony is lost on many of them. Many rarely listen and blow-up easily.

If change is to come to Malaysia, we need to convince the urban Malays, to stop being non-committal and apathetic, because they are happy to enjoy the perks and ill-gotten gains of being the self-appointed Superior Ketuanan race. Will they realise that nothing lasts forever. – Rebuilding Malaysia