22 December, 2009

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Fairest of them all?

Ali, Ah Kow, Arumugam, Ajan and Aidee, all friends, may look into the mirror and ‘see’ five normal lads.

But according to the establishment, Ali belongs to the supreme race. The reflection reveals an underlying reality which is different and damaging.

Can someone satisfactorily qualify ketuanan Melayu? Why is Ali superior? Birthright? But they were all born in Malaysia, and their fathers and grandfathers, too.

Is it because our sovereign rulers are Malay? But all Malaysian citizens swear allegiance to King and country. Is patriotism confined only to the Malays?

Malaysia is at a crossroads

Is it because the Malays arrived a few hundred years prior to the Chinese and Indians? So why is there positive discrimination against Aidee, the Orang Asli and Ajan who is Kenyah? These 'original' people are denied many of the rights accorded to the Malays. They are prevented from practising their own culture or religion and are hounded from their ancestral lands.

Malaysia is at a crossroads and the reflection in the mirror is cracking.

Our politics has always been mired in controversy. And since its beginnings, has been race-based. After decades of so-called unity, we risk throwing it all away. Recent events are disturbing. It seems like we never knew each other at all.

Some would like to forget the last 52 years or at least the period from the 70s. Others would simply like to rewrite our history.

The majority race in Malaysia acts like it is a minority under siege. They are full of demands. They want respect. But they conveniently forget that respect has to be earned.

Politicians sidestep these prickly issues, whilst some deliberately provoke dissension.

It is an extraordinary travesty that significant numbers of Malays believe in ketuanan Melayu, which is based on perception. The poor, underprivileged Malay perceives, or is conned into thinking, that power in the hands of the non-Malay, will be abused to remove whatever little wealth he possesses. Petrified and overwhelmed by what he is told, the poor Malay clings even harder to the concept of ketuanan Melayu.

Malaysians are not treated equally

Before everyone can share, fairly, in Malaysia’s growth, difficult choices have to be made. We need to rebuild public confidence and regain trust.

Malaysians are not treated equally. The non-Malay is denied education, housing, health care, scholarships, job opportunities and wealth creation.

Unfortunately, our leaders put off difficult decisions, like confronting racism head-on. Successive generations leave it to the next lot of political leaders to tackle the problem. When they did not, we were left mired in confusion and contempt for each other.


Politicians act irresponsibly by not mapping our course of direction. And are hypocrites by not coming down hard on those who are stoking the fires of racism.

BTN, ketuanan Melayu and other racist connotations are wrong. Most right minded people can see this. But our politicians are digging a hole deeper by refusing to acknowledge that it is harmful, divisive and politically motivated.

Sadly the mirror also reflects other profiles of the truly ugly Malaysian.

We have scandals involving the police, judiciary, MACC, politicians siphoning taxpayers’ money. We can’t even decide which languages are important in our education. We classify non-Malays as second-class citizens but are encouraged to learn Mandarin. What sort of mixed message is that?

Politicians with no morality

The mirror reveals even more.

We have unscrupulous people profiting from baby factories. We have polygamy being promoted with little regard for the rights of women. We have inequalities and lack of safety in the workplace. We ignore human rights with detainees resorting to eating grass. We have high HIV rates among married women, even when religion education was supposed to have ‘guided’ the people. We have numerous abandoned babies. We are swamped by drug abuse. We are punished for the actions of a few Malaysians who overstay when abroad.

We know of those who are in charge of the public purse but who have no morality, no idea of responsibility, no clear principles and who to this day have not been charged for any wrong-doing.

We’ve had glimpses into their lifestyle, their gaudy mansions, expensive visits abroad, first-class travel. All of these make us feel uneasy. Do these politicians have an insight into what it is to be ‘normal’?

We’ve had several millions spent on projects, or quietly siphoned away. Despite the NEP, the Malays comprise the majority of the poor. The gulf between the rich and poor is bad for everybody. And the gap between the rich and poor Malay has grown even wider.

These ‘fat-cats’ grow more wealthy, yet little, if any money filters down to the poor and deprived Malay. These vulgar, ultra-rich Malays are not stupid to relinquish their hold on power and prestige. They are the ones who champion the BTN, NEP, ketuanan Melayu etcetera. They have little regard for the poor man who when applying for welfare aid is given a difficult time with umpteen form-fillings, to satisfy a ludicrous selection criteria.

Improve our reflection in the mirror

No. We cannot afford to give more money away. And yes, we have to improve our reflection in the mirror.

Our leaders fail to understand the scale and magnitude of the problem. What they do not see in the mirror is a country that is beset with gross inequality in income and a disparity in assets.

These will inevitably cause social breakdown which has already manifested itself in violent crime, physical and drug abuse. The evidence is overwhelming. The challenges are immense but the response from our politicians has been puny.

Drastic and massive policy changes are needed now. Politicians must appreciate that they can be part of the solution.

Maybe our leaders should look into the Mirror of Erised, the magic mirror in Harry Potter, which shows the ‘deepest and most desperate desire in the hearts of those who look at it’. Maybe then they will see themselves as leaders of a Malaysia, that is a freer and fairer society. Only then, we can truly call it ‘1Malaysia’

- Mariam Mokhtar


MARIAM MOKHTAR has a passion for people, places and plain speaking. Don't suffer fools gladly

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