The Bumiputera congress and Azmin’s New Malay

By Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

If someone were to ask me what I thought about the recent Congress on the Future of the Bumiputeras and Nation 2018, I would have shot back a question: who was it meant for?

If it was meant for Pakatan Harapan (PH) to assure the Malays and fend off Umno and PAS who are rallying the Malays under their “Malays are being threatened” mantra, I think Umno and PAS will be losing more members pretty soon, particularly those who are contractors and “kaki bodek” (sycophants).

The message of the congress was loud and clear: PH will still support affirmative action in the economy to “help” the Malays achieve what was started in the New Economic Policy (NEP). This time, however, there will be no hanky-panky “Ali Baba Bujang Lapuk” stories about the implementation.

If the congress was a clarion call to position Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali as the new “money men” who would ward off an Anwar Ibrahim-Rafizi Ramli gamble for power, it was a powerful statement of whose hands to kiss.

But if the congress was to paint a picture of a “New Malay”, as Azmin said, the whole thing was pathetic at best and embarrassing at worst. Why do I not share the euphoria of heralding the “Melayu Baru”? Simple. The “Melayu Baru” is soon to be “Melayu Lama”. Same old, same old.

My first salvo against the congress is the question on every non-Malay’s mind and that of the few thinking Malays. Didn’t the NEP of the previous government under our present leader Mahathir have any checks and double checks against the Ali Baba scenario? Were there not enough checks to ascertain whether the computer labs or stadiums could stand structurally? Is Mahathir admitting to his own carelessness or indifference?

Is the congress now trying to convince taxpayers that Malays are, again, to be given the trust to carry out projects with new measures of checks and double checks?

I may not be an administrator or a contractor but I know enough to say that there are, even now, procedures upon procedures for purchasing materials and awarding contracts. What happened then was that greedy, opportunistic Malays – including civil servants, elected officials and even professionals – took cuts and everybody became happy, even though the roofs of stadiums and laboratories collapsed.

As a taxpayer, I am not buying the assurances of Azmin or Mahathir regarding affirmative action for the “Melayu Baru”. To me, the only difference between the Melayu now in government and the Melayu then in power is the colour of their party symbols. My crystal ball says that the Melayu PH will be no different from the Melayu BN. Dua kali lima saja (the same).

My second salvo is my extreme disappointment that the congress did not outline the new values of the “Melayu Baru”. The speeches of Mahathir and Azmin and the question and answer session with Mahathir were one big fat near-zero on the values that would make the Malays a more civilised, enlightened and caring citizenry – a citizenry that others can look up to as well as have deep respect for.

Only in Anwar’s speech was there some inkling of this, but I will deal with that in my last point. I was hoping the congress might talk about the “Melayu Baru” having values of “keterbukaan” or openness. The Malays should be more open to new ideas of work culture, new interpretations of religious texts other than those of ignorant ustazs and officials, and new values of other cultures that can be adopted.

The opposite of this value is “kejumudan” which means the closing of the mind to new ideas and thoughts.

I would also have liked it if the congress had touched on the values of “kesederhanaan” or humility in which the Malays must get away from their superiority mindset. The opposite of this value is “ketakburan” or “kebongkakan” which signifies arrogance where one feels superior in every way to others. If a race feels like that, it will never learn anything from others.

Mahathir himself urged the Malays to learn from the Japanese work culture and the industrious nature of the Chinese. One weak point about Mahathir is that he is quick to isolate the traits he wants of a culture but does not recognise the underlying values stemming from that religion and that culture’s belief system.

Malays, for instance, always look to their version of Islam as their guide and shun other thoughts and principles such as those in the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita or Shintoism. But this is where the values of those cultures come from.

A good trait in a culture or community cannot be seen in isolation from its value system.

This is also one reason why the NEP failed to distribute in a more meaningful manner the wealth cultivated by the few BN warlords.

I would also like to see the value of “keihsanan” or compassion towards all life becoming part of the everyday life of the “Melayu Baru”.

Do Azmin and company view projects and efficient management as the only key to the success of the economy of the New Malays? Any economic guru would point out that “keterbukaan”, “kesederhanaan” and “keihsanan” play a major role in how the economy is managed.

Mahathir himself alluded to the problem of education when he said our children were being taught to memorise information but possessed no real values to turn the information into meaningful products because religion was taught in a manner that had little value. The value of “keberusahawanan” as opposed to “ke-Ali-Babaan” has been touched on many times by Mahathir, who is genuinely disappointed with the Malays who cannot follow his own personal work-hard ethos.

How will the Malays react to being part of a multiracial nation after the congress? Only Anwar alluded to it but he was given the least attention and time. Anwar is the author of the book “The Asian Renaissance”. I read it cover to cover 20 years ago when PKR was formed. I previously asked leaders of the party why they did not use the book as their “bible”. The answer is obvious after 20 years. The Malays are not ready for the new idea of a global civilisational construct based on the spiritual values of Eastern faiths.

Ninety nine percent of Malays want to be like Muhyiddin Yassin who once declared “I am Malay first, Malaysian second”. I think Anwar has the solution to the New Malays and it is in the book “The Asian Renaissance”. The first person who should read the book is Rafizi, followed by his lieutenants.

We Malays now have the wealth, intelligence and raw materials but we lack a wholesome value system which will make us a formidable global player. Alas, the Malays in PH, Umno and PAS want to be “jaguh kampung” (village champions) and stay safe and snug under their own “tempurungs” (shells).

In closing, I would like to urge all thinking Malays to come together in forums and hold discourses about the New Malay beyond the congress’ simplistic resolutions. Let us debate and concretise the real values that will make this race a special contribution to civilisation.

(Tajuddin Rasdi is a professor of Islamic architecture at UCSI University.)

First published in FreeMalaysiaToday.com

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