Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not time yet for a Malay counter movement

A Malay “counter movement” is in the works to challenge the rise of right-wing Malay groups like Perkasa which seem to be hogging the headlines in the wake of the “Allah” controversy.

While Perkasa laments the erosion of Malay rights, this counter movement prefers to look forward, to cultivate Malays who succeed on their own merits and who reject the notion of racial superiority or “Ketuanan Melayu.”

Ibrahim Suffian, who is the director of the independent research firm Merdeka Center, believes that while the idea of a Malay-counter movement to represent the forward-thinking Malay is a “laudable suggestion”, there are many things which need to be considered as well.

“I think it’s good that an idea like this is coming out. Malaysians need to work on commonality rather than being different. However, there are a couple of things that they need to be aware of,” said Ibrahim when contacted by The Malaysian Insider.

This Malay counter movement is spearheaded by Suflan Shamsuddin who has since started a Facebook page to gather feedback on an “independent, non-partisan” Malay movement, one which is built on Islamic and universally-held values, virtues and ideals.

However, according to Ibrahim, the main obstacle to Suflan’s idea is the economic disparity between urban, educated Malays and rural Malays who are poorer and less privileged.

“Suflan’s idea that Malays should be less insecure about their rights and positions is going to be contested. A large number of Malays come from lower-income groups and they feel that they do not benefit from economic decisions made by the government.

“As such, while the middle-class Malay may claim that they are secure about their rights, poorer Malays may not necessarily feel the same way.

“Having said that, the suggestion of this idea shows that a time for it is very near. It is a good thing it is coming out now,” said Ibrahim.

He stressed that the time for a counter movement will come soon, but as of right now, the ideas need to “argued” and “redefined.”

“It boils down to economics and governance, how better governance can improve the Malays. Also, governance needs to be improved so that it can benefit not only Malays, but effectively non-Malays as well. The country’s national discourse cannot be just about Malays.”

Ibrahim noted that Malaysia is on its way there with, as an example, efforts by the government to roll back subsidies.

If people have to pay more taxes they would want a better more affirmative representation, he said.

Others welcome the room for a healthy debate on the matter but maintain that the discourse has to remain on an “intellectual” level.

“I am not surprised by Perkasa and also sentiments by Suflan Shamsuddin as they are a reflection of the change in Malay society. I think the room for different points of view is something good and healthy, as long as the discourse remains at this level,” said Dr Chandra Muzaffar via a telephone interview.

Chandra, who is the president of JUST (International Movement for a Just World) and head of Yayasan 1Malaysia (Y1M), feels that issues affecting Malays should be looked at on an intellectual level of discourse, rather than simply engaging with rhetoric.

He also believes that the discourse should not go beyond a “healthy discussion”, emphasising that he is not agreeing with any position, just affirming that groups like Perkasa and people like Suflan have a right to express their thoughts and ideas.

“It’s healthy... what is happening, and I suppose what Suflan is trying to do is to mount a challenge based also on a Malay platform.”

Parit Buntar MP Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, on the other hand, thinks that Malay issues should be balanced with perspective.

The PAS politician said any Malay-based movement should be backed by Constitutional arguments and not ethnocentric sentiments of the kind Perkasa’s Datuk Ibrahim Ali is “perpetuating.”

“Malay issues are not about race or sentiments, it is Constitutional, and must be supported by facts and figures.

“I would believe that any commitment to issues affecting the Malay community should be through the basic tenets of Islam, whereby justice can be resolved,” said Mujahid.

According to him, the construction of today’s Malay identity lacks an objective approach. He praised the preliminary efforts undertaken by Suflan.

“If we look at things from a Malay perspective, an ethnocentric way is definitely not the way out of the problem.

“For instance, look at the issue in Penang where people are lamenting that Malay stalls are being demolished by the state government and are making an issue of it.

“Actually, more Chinese stalls are being demolished than Malay stalls. This shouldn’t even become a point of contention. When you’re being ethnocentric, you become fuelled by political sentiments.”

Mujahid also added that Malays should be encouraged to move forward when other races are also competing to improve their socio-economic conditions.

“When they see other people move forward, Malays should also be motivated to do the same,” he said.

news courtesy of Malaysian Insider

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