Mariam Mokhtar: What does being Malaysian mean for you?

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It is always the politician, either those who wield power or those who want to be in power, who have a problem with what it means to be Malaysian.

For the English, it’s drinking cups of tea and eating fish ’n’ chips; so is being Malaysian eating nasi lemak for brekky, banana leaf for lunch, and char kway teow for dinner?

What does it mean to be Malaysian?

It is always the politician, either those who wield power or those who want to be in power, who have a problem with what it means to be Malaysian.

Some leaders place more importance on being a Malay than being Malaysian. Others equate eating with chopsticks with not being Malaysian. Why do they find it difficult to understand what being Malaysian means?

In the past two years, this majority Malay cabinet has lurched from one disaster to another. Perhaps, the Malays and Muslims in government could do with a Christmas story to cheer them up a bit.

If the Cabinet is not aware, the true Malaysian was seen in several places last week, wading through waist-high muddy waters helping to rescue his fellow Malaysian, in flood-hit communities.

There were Malaysian helping other Malaysians. Race, religion, and social class did not matter to them.

Faihan Ghani/The Star

The Malaysian was seen carrying babies, disabled children, and elderly people to safety. He distributed packets of nasi lemak and bottled water to people who had been stranded on the roof of buildings; some for as long as two days.

He was directing groups of Malaysians who had assembled at approved locations to help others in distress.

The Malaysian was seen comforting homeowners who wept with despair at the sight of their mud-soaked properties. Later, he returned with tools and his friends, to wash away the mud from people’s homes.

In the temple, the Malaysian organised groups of Malaysians who had assembled to prepare, cook, pack and distribute food to the starving.

He helped to rescue pet dogs and cats. For those whose homes had been destroyed, the Malaysian opened up his home to those needing temporary shelter.

During the rescue, there was a conspicuous absence of many ministers of the bloated cabinet and the elite. Where were the senior members of the ulama, like Hadi Awang, or politicians like Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, or Takiyuddin Hassan, who once claimed that flooding was the work of God.

Where were they?

Some were on holiday overseas. Others held official functions in five-star hotels which they said were necessary to kick-off the flood relief effort.

A few were busy being stage-managed and filmed, whilst they hosed down drains, shovelled earth, or posed beside donated food packs, on which they had printed their faces.

One politician offloading 20 kg packs of rice from a lorry must have made a miraculous recovery from his recurring back problems. At least, his corruption trial will not suffer further postponements from being sick.

Many Malaysians, including those living overseas, helped in various ways. They volunteered or gave food, drink, clothing, money, and childcare equipment.

Compare the initiative of ordinary Malaysians, with the excuses offered by Ismail Sabri, and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Special Functions), Abdul Latiff Ahmad of the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), for their failure to respond quickly to flood-stricken communities.

There were complaints that some politicians acted like flood tourists, who feared getting wet feet, so they watched the victims from the safety and comfort of their SUVs.

Reports were received that some Malays/Muslims had questioned if the donated food was halal. This is the shameful product of over 50 years of brainwashing of the Malay mind by unscrupulous politicians with their selfish agendas. Instead of being grateful for the sacrifice of Malaysians who had donated their time, money, equipment, and food, the ignorant Malay/Muslim was more interested in the halal-ness of the food. Would they rather starve to death?

At one time, being Malaysian used to be very easy. You were born in Malaysia, recognised by your ability to speak the national language, had an easy laid-back manner, excelled in speaking Manglish, and as he loved his multi-cultural array of food to choose from, probably lived to eat.

Nowadays, being Malaysian is unnecessarily more complicated than that.

You could be born in Malaysia, but as soon as your parents registered your birth, you were identified by your race and religion. Division starts at the cradle and ends at the grave.

Or, you could be a ninth-generation Malaysian, but still, be called “pendatang”.

Occasionally, we will come across someone from another country, who learns to speak the national language like a native, who dresses like a Malay, and adopts Malay mannerisms. Most of us react with both horror, and amusement because our authorities have redefined him as Malaysian.

We do not need politicians to tell us what defines us as Malaysian. We know who, and what we are.

As the floods have shown, the true Malaysian is resilient and generous in spirit, and he does not wait to be asked, or invited, to help the people whose homes lie devastated.

One Malaysian said, “If the English say that liking fish and chips, pie and mash, and drinking copious cups of tea makes them English, then liking nasi lemak for breakfast, banana leaf rice for lunch and char kway teow for dinner, is what it means for me to be Malaysian.”

Another said, “Our strength lies in our diversity. Diversity leads to an understanding across cultures. It promotes respect and tolerance. Each person has a unique and positive contribution to the larger society. That is what it means to be Malaysian.”

So, what does it mean to be Malaysian, for you? – Rebuilding Malaysia