Celebrate National Day By Tossing Out the Social Contract, Part II
Around this time last year, I penned an angry rant denouncing the social contract and its racist basis of ketuanan Melayu. One year later, my feelings remain unchanged, although the grounds for them might have shifted. I still encounter racism, not in real life thankfully (as always, I am glad to know that those Malays who make life miserable are only a small minority of a greater number who are just bloody great people), but nevertheless, racism - online. Perhaps the chauvinists feel more free to come out of the woodwork here. Or maybe they've confused blogs and forums with an UMNO Youth meeting.
Whatever the case, please do not believe I have anything against the New Economic Policy or the plethora of other policies based on the need to balance and equalise the socioeconomic standing of Malaysians. I have made my views crystal clear. I do not feel the need to explain for the umpteenth time why I give my unqualified support to the establishment of even stronger affirmative action programmes for the poor Malays.
What I would like to explain is my resentment of the abuse of the existing affirmative action programmes by a small minority of rich and connected Malays, who when brought to task, cite "ketuanan Melayu" as an excuse to get what they want. Ketuanan Melayu? My bloody arse. Everyone but the mentally insane can see that abuse of pro-Malay policies hurts - no, not the non-Malays - but the Malays themselves.
Every time someone undeserving receives a scholarship, every time someone without work experience or expertise gains a contract by virtue of his skin colour, every time someone tells the Chinese (and in rarer cases, Indians) to "go back" to China/India - as if those countries would somehow be relevant to those born and bred as Malaysians - all this does is breed a feeling of resentment - and, dare I say it? - second-class treatment. Nobody could possibly begrudge the poor Malays their fair share to participation in the economy. Nobody could bemoan the subsistence paddy farmer being given priority in the disbursement of public funds. Has anybody ever stopped to consider why FELDA isn't as criticised as MARA? Because FELDA actually did something for the Malays. MARA just placed the cream of the Malays in (until recently) segregated junior science colleges, and awarded "entrepreneurs" handouts in the form of loans which were never paid back.
And of course, as anyone who is familiar with the basic economic concept of scarcity can tell you, every ringgit spent on worthless handouts; every ringgit lost from the subcontracting of a job from a Bumiputra "company" to a non-Bumiputra firm; every ringgit expended on subsidising luxury condominiums; all that is ringgit not spent on agricultural classes for Malay farmers and fishermen. All that is ringgit not spent on real Bumiputra entrepreneurs, who have probably left the country disgusted with the occasional upside-down priorities of petty civil servants. All that is wasted public money, down the drain of government largesse for the sake of a few Malays' gravy trains, while those who need the money most are left picking up the crumbs.
Now, even all this would not be so jarring or demeaning if not for the fact that when those who are responsible for this corruption are hauled up and made to account for themselves, they resort to brainless keris-brandishing and platitudes about "Malay supremacy" and the "social contract". They talk of how it is not the non-Malays' business if these few Malays run the country into the ground, simply because it is not our country. We are kaum pendatang; they are Bumiputra. We have no say; they have the power. We are the masons who built the house; they are the ones staying in it.
And lest you think I am making all this up, I've compiled enough material for a decent (and hopefully neutral but objective) article on the subject. Quoth the Tunku: "It is understood by all that this country by its very name, its traditions and character, is Malay." Non-Malays have nothing to do with Malaysia, although we're welcome to stay here and be taxed to fund the activities of those lucky enough to ride the gravy train, and perhaps even help the government placate the rest of the Malays, if there's any public money left over. Whatever we might say, as Syed Jaafar Albar might tell us (were he not six feet under), we are guests in a house where the Bumiputra is master. Far be it from us orang tumpangan/guest lodgers to tell the master of the house what to do with our monies, and far be it from us to expect the proper decency to have our blue identity cards (those of citizens; permanent residents have red ICs) respected!
And as for the house, well, Malay intellectuals admitted as early as 70 or 80 years ago that the non-Malays have had a role to play in establishing Malaya/Malaysia. The Straits Chinese - people whose heritage literally goes back centuries, people who natively speak and think in Malay, and yet are apparently still considered just one notch higher than communist traitors - requested political rights in the Straits Settlements: "Our forefathers came here and worked hard as coolies — weren't ashamed to become coolies — and they didn't send their money back to China. They married and spent their money here, and in this way the Government was able to open up the country from jungle to civilisation. We've become inseparable from this country. It's ours, our country..." The Malay response (as detailed on Wikipedia)? Sure, you built the house, but it's our bloody house! We've paid you for your work, now sod off!
Am I over-reacting? Some might say I am. After all, the national day parade will surely feature a plethora of peoples, representing the diversity of Malaysia. But can this ever be more than a facade when the social contract is continually used as a tool to bind the non-Malays in their status as a political non-quantity? When we are continually denied the right of being fully Malaysian simply because someone else's parents were here before our parents? Or in some cases (namely those of the Straits Chinese), simply because the government decides to lump you in with those whose parents were here after the parents of some other people?
As Lim Keng Yaik said - and I know a lot of Malaysian opposition members despise Gerakan, but nevertheless, he is right here - "How do you expect non-Malays to pour their hearts and souls into the country, and to one day die for it if you keep harping on this? Flag-waving and singing the 'Negaraku' are rituals, while true love for the nation lies in the heart." As long as non-Malays are regarded as pendatang asing - people without a stake in Malaysia - how can you expect them to believe they have a stake in Malaysia? How can you expect us to be loyal to an entity that refuses to be loyal to us?
Oh yes, you can say that the basic amenities for life have been provided. Non-Malays aren't in danger of being locked up in concentration camps any time soon. They won't be deported en masse as the Indians in Uganda were. Non-Malays can continue to live, work, and study here - and even effectively remain in ethnic enclaves because of public provisions for vernacular education.
But can it be true citizenship when there are some trappings of citizenship, but then extraordinary burdens and denunciations imposed in return for these trappings? Can one expect a permanent resident (as that is effectively what non-Malays are, although they are given suffrage) to truly have any stake in their adopted country? Even if we wanted to be Malaysians (and I'm not saying that we don't want to be; I know I do!) we could never truly be Malaysians as long as we are regarded as pendatang asing, and our taxes abused to fund the excesses of a few, justified by "Malay supremacy" and the "social contract".
Perhaps our ancestors can be bound by the "social contract". But that is no reason to expect modern-day Malaysians to agree to the same terms when they were never given a chance to negotiate terms. It is extremely discomforting to be born a Malaysian, bred a Malaysian, even educated as a Malaysian in a national school (instead of the effectively segregatory vernacular schools) - and then to be told you aren't Malaysian. Maybe your IC is blue; maybe your passport is red; maybe your skin is even brown! But as long as not a single drop of Malay or Bumiputra blood flows through your veins, as long as you do not convert to Islam and effectively choose to be assimilated into the Malay ethnicity - you will forever be a pendatang asing, condemned to the same ignonimous fate as those non-Malays who bravely staved off the communists, only to be forgotten by modern Malay "nationalists" who have never heard of a "famous Chinese dying for this peninsula" (cleverly excluding East Malaysia; for the quote, see my rant from last year linked earlier).
It is not asking for too much, is it, to have our rights and expectations as full Malaysians to be met? If you must, restrict the qualification for being called a Bumiputra. But restrict it not on such strange grounds as race, disqualifying those Straits Chinese who have a longer bloodline in Malaysian than Selangor Chief Minister Mohd Khir Toyo (whose father was Indonesian). It is not too hard to grant Bumiputra status to those who can prove their ancestry here with documentary evidence and testimony, is it not? And if you think vernacular schools are breeding disloyalty to the nation (which some of them might be doing), then simply only allow those educated in national schools to qualify as Bumiputra. It is not too hard to be a little creative, and at the same time lessen the stark feeling of deprivation and resentment amongst those who can claim to be Malaysian but are never truly recognised as such.
Perhaps you might be of the same persuasion as the government minister who insisted after the May 13 racial riots that Malay special rights would remain for centuries. (For the source, again, refer to the Wikipedia article on ketuanan Melayu.) In such a case then, please do not ask why the non-Malays seem lukewarm in their passion for a country they do not belong in. Please do not ask the orang tumpangan why they won't fly the flag of a country that they are just tumpang-ing in. It's only fair. After all, we have been told not to ask why we are orang tumpangan or pendatang asing in the first place. It matters little that no matter how much we may sacrifice for what we believe is our country - no matter how many tears we cry, no matter how much sweat pours from our glands, no matter how many wounds to our body and dignity we may bear for that little state called Malaysia - we will never be a true Malaysian as long as our skin is of the wrong colour. We will never belong to the country we die for, if we died believing in the wrong God.
As Lee Kuan Yew said moments before the bastard took Singapore out of Malaysia,
Malaysia — to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian. This is the doubt that hangs over many minds, and the next contest, if this goes on, will be on very different lines. Once emotions are set in motion, and men pitted against men along these unspoken lines, you will have the kind of warfare that will split the nation from top to bottom and undo Malaysia. Everybody knows it. I don't have to say it. It is the unspoken word!Nevertheless, he was wrong - at least till now, but may we hope, he will be proven wrong for good. We are still merdeka - free and independent. But united? Do we belong in this country? Who is our merdeka for? Something tells me that in this sense, Lee Kuan Yew was right. We will always be orang tumpangan, always kaum pendatang - and that will be our legacy to the grave, as it has been for countless of those before us - including those who gave up their lives fighting for our nation in the Emergency and Confrontation. That is all we shall ever be - temporal transitory specks, passing our lives in a country that is not ours, no matter how much we may yearn and long to belong. Forever, it seems, we will doubt whether we are allowed to be truly Malaysian.