COLONIALISM AND MULTIPLE MEANINGS OF MALAYSIAN NATIONALISM


When we take a look at the various soap operas as played out by the Barisan National (BN) politicians in the recent past, on the ethnic differences in our nation, we wonder as to what has happened to the spirit of nationalism after 52 years of our nation having had envisioned our Independence.

Generally speaking or thinking out loud, our founding fathers, that is, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Cheng Lock and V.T. Sambanthan must have faced ethnic hostility and suspicion when they first embarked on the expedition to unite the various communities to maintain a unified front and to bargain with their colonial masters to pave the way for Independence.

At that stage they must have realized that the British had by their policies kept the various communities apart and such policies had sowed the seeds of distrust and enmity between the ethnic Malays and the ethnic Chinese and Indians.

As such, as man is a gregarious being, he is by nature able to live with his fellows in harmony. In this spirit our founding fathers must have drawn up their conditions for attaining Independence. It would have been in the context of their shared experiences of the prevailing policies of the British. They must have made compromises and come to a consensus so as to present a united front, to attain Independence.

Based on historical records it would be political correct to assert that the British had demonstrated their colonial power in the form of their colonized culture. This was because they kept the various ethnic groups in servitude. The British forged the idea of “White” superiority.

The British segregated the ethnic Malays from the other communities instead of encouraging their full integration into a modern society. On the other hand the ethnic Chinese were in mining zones or commercial agricultural activity and the ethnic Indians were in the European-owned rubber estates.

That is why Emerson, Rupert (1970) {1937} Malaysia: A Study of Direct and Indirect Rule, Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, was one of the strongest critics of British policies during the economic depression, viewing them as excellent opportunities for the maxim of “divide and rule.”

During their period of rule the British had acquired and opened up the ports of Singapore, Malacca and Penang. Then after the Second World War they wanted to do away with the pre-war administrative structures of the ten government units consisting of the federated Malay states of Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Negri Sembilan and the unfederated Malay states of Johore, Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu and the Straits Settlements comprising of Singapore, Malacca and Penang.

The British wanted to create a centrally controlled state with Singapore as a separate entity. They introduced the Malayan Union Agreement (MUA). The sultans signed away the sovereignty of the Malay states. However the British underestimated the opposition of the ethnic Malay masses.

When the ethnic Malays realized how powerless their sultans were in protecting their rights, status and privileges and as well as maintaining their identity as a race, they reacted swiftly by re-establishing their pre-war state associations and opposed the British and their sultans for signing away the sovereignty of the Malay states.

It has to be noted that, before the war, the British had a pro-Malay policy and it had alienated the non-Malays. But after the Malayan Union Agreement it alienated the Malays by abolishing their rights and by giving unrestricted citizenship rights to the non-Malays. This MUA sowed the seeds of enmity and distrust between the Malays and the non-Malays.

In this ensuing struggle the sultans caved in first. Why?

The sultan of Kedah and Perak objected to the MUA. They were forced to sign the MUA. The other sultans signed because they were merely thinking of their own self-interest or because they had just ascended to their thrones and needed the British confirmation to remain as sultans.

Hence the ethnic Malays and the non-ethnic Malays saw through the deviousness of  the policies of the British. A joint opposition was mounted. They put forward a proposal that the MUA be replaced by the People’s Constitutional Proposal (PCP). It should be noted that the “Melayu” nationality that was being proposed did not carry any religious connotations.

The non-ethnic Malays had all along been used to seeing themselves as Malayans, accepted the term melayu as a nationality and wanted the ethnic Malays to accept it and become Malayan too.

The PCP demanded that a fully-elected federal legislative assembly be elected. The framers argued that only a government elected by and responsible to the people would be able to look into the welfare of the people.

Under the Alliance leadership it was decided that in exchange, the non-ethnic Malays will get liberal citizenship requirements, the ethnic Malays would continue with the Malay privileges as provided under the Federation of Malaya Agreement (FMA) such as, Malay reservation land, operation of quotas within the public services, quotas for licenses and permits for certain business and quotas for public scholarship and educational grants will continue.

These privileges were to be incorporated into the provision of Article 157(which is now Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.) The intention of the Alliance and the Reid commission was that Article 153 relating to special privileges should be transitional and the position of the ethnic Malays should be reviewed from time to time, and a “White Paper” was to be tabled in the federal legislative meeting which should include a statement that:

“ It is considered in the interest of the country and in the interest of the Malays themselves that the provisions of Article 157 should be reviewed from time to time.”

Apart from the above the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) raised strong objections on Article 3 where Islam was to be the official religion of the federation. The Tunku said that he was under pressure as it was important psychologically to the Malays.

The United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) assured that Islam was intended to have only symbolic significance and for ceremonial purpose only and Article 11 provides for the rights of the non-Malays and guarantees the citizen the right to profess, practice and propagate their religion and that the federation would be a “secular state.”

Independence was granted on 31st. August 1957. Up to 1969 the Alliance claimed that it was the only component of the parties that was capable of resolving communal claims. Then, came other parties outside the Alliance, such as the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Gerakan and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS).

In May 1969 we saw the riots. With that a state of emergency was declared. The New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced. Then along the way Mahathir wrote the book entitled the “Malay dilemma.” To Mahathir “Race” had everything to do with social difference in Malaysia and the inferior economic status of the ethnic Malays.

Mahathir helmed the nation for 22 years from 1981 to 2003. To him and many of his generation of nationalists, they held an understanding that Malay culture and ethnic identity was constitutive of the nation. This flawed understanding was in direct contrast to a more politically inclusive nationalism.

However in the March 2008 general elections with the increasingly urbanized and upwardly mobile of the Malay middle class and with the support of the ethnic Chinese and Indians the  notion of Malay supremacy and nationalism was shattered. The barriers of racialism which were institutionalized over the last 30 years are now slowly being dismantled.

Whilst the people in general have had a common nationalist consciousness and have intermingled freely in the marketplace and workplace, it appears that the unschooled politicians from UMNO that evdeavoure to create and play up the racial card to gain political mileage.

With the current stage of political maturation, inter-racial marriages and a recognition that Malay and Malaysian nationalism are linked and that all the citizens are Malaysian nationalist the word “race” may hopefully in the passage of time become “defunct.”

There will be light at the end of the tunnel in 2013 with the current “common policy platform.” Of the Pakatan Rakyat.  May be, by that time like Massim d’Azeglio who said after Italy had been politically unified: “We have made Italy, now we have to make Italians.” So too,  we the people should be able to say “ We have Malaysia, now we are all Malaysians.”

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One Response to “COLONIALISM AND MULTIPLE MEANINGS OF MALAYSIAN NATIONALISM”

  1. boscopa Says:

    Yes. I am the author of this post.

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