By Kee Thuan Chye
19 December 2012
To say that Perkasa President Ibrahim Ali has little between his ears because of his recent pronouncements is to say something too obvious. And yet one might be tempted to do it to dispel the misinformation he seems to be spreading.
His point about the Malays being unable to compete with the non-Malays because Islam forbids the former to participate in businesses involving gambling, liquor and entertainment outlets is, to put it mildly, moronic. And terribly misleading.
What’s more inexcusable is his statement that the Chinese will become a national security threat if they acquire more political and economic power. It could lead, he warned, to another bloody racial conflict like the May 13 riots. This, I have to say, insults not only the Chinese but the Malays as well.
But there’s surely more to Ibrahim’s antic than what’s on the surface. He has not been in politics this long to appear so simple-minded. His agenda was to strike terror into the hearts of voters. He was employing the scare tactics that Prime Minister Najib Razak and Barisan Nasional (BN) have been resorting to of late as the general election draws near. Coincidentally, at the Umno general assembly last month, Wanita Umno President Shahrizat Abdul Jalil also irresponsibly raised the bogey of May 13.
Ironically, such scare tactics betray a lack of self-confidence on the part of Najib and BN. Ibrahim must have caught on to it and sensed that BN may even lose the elections for the first time. But this does not exonerate him from saying things that are insulting, that could engender hatred. Based neither on fact nor reasoned argument.
After all, the industries that are considered haram to Muslims make up only a small percentage of the total economy. Why is he making a mountain of such a molehill?
He uses the inability of the Malays to make money from these business sectors as a reason for the Government to continue with affirmative action for them. Is that a sound argument?
Malays don’t need to rely on these sectors to succeed. Ibrahim only needs to look at Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary’s business empire to see how a Muslim can prosper bountifully without touching any of the haram industries. That would be enough to debunk his theory that the Muslims are economically disadvantaged.
More important, when Ibrahim talks about the economic situation of the Malays, why must he invariably compare it to that of the non-Malays? In order to draw the sinister conclusion that the latter are a threat?
That the Chinese are being insulted is obvious. I very much doubt the community has any intentions whatsoever of being a threat to anyone, especially their fellow citizens, so it’s not fair to consider them as such. If of late, they have been more vocal in agitating for their rights as Malaysians and calling for better governance for the good of the country, should that be considered threatening?
But what about the Malays? Why do I say that Ibrahim’s talk about another May 13 is insulting to the Malays as well?
Because he is implying that they will be envious of Chinese success. He is implying meanness in the hearts of Malays. He is implying that they cannot stand it when others achieve success and, as such, they will clash with them. He is insulting all self-respecting and peace-loving Malays.
May 13 did not happen because ordinary, responsible and peace-loving Malays decided to clash with non-Malays. It was orchestrated, as we now know. People in the ruling party whipped up sentiments to amok point. It was politically engineered, to bring down Tunku Abdul Rahman, the then prime minister.
In a sense, the Chinese were made scapegoats by the plotters, who capitalised on the theme of racial conflict to cover up their own ulterior ambitions.
Such riots don’t happen in Malaysia – at least not on such a major scale – without their being initiated by political beings. And a riot will be all the more powerful if the political beings engineering it also happen to be in power. If May 13 is going to happen again, it will have to be engineered by the people in power. Ordinary Malaysians will not fight without cause. We can be sure of that.
Ibrahim completely negates the decency and sense of responsibility of the Malay people.
He also disregards the prospect that the Malays themselves have the ability to succeed.
Why does he clamour for continued affirmative action? Is it not to perpetuate a cause that will serve his political enhancement? Is it not to pander to a market that will buy his rhetoric and vote him in again?
But is it a cause still relevant? Is it viable in today’s globalised world of which Malaysia is an integral part?
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad – who is, incidentally, Patron of Perkasa – should be well aware of the answer even if he often says the opposite of what he knows. Recently, however, he said that affirmative action for the Malays would have to be phased out in the future. And he seemed to momentarily make sense … until he qualified it by adding, “but only when we are certain that the Malays can compete in the market” without “the crutches”.
With his selective memory these days, he has obviously forgotten he said something contrary to that in his interview with The Star in October 2004: “We have tried to tell them if you depend on subsidies, you are going to be very weak. But they don’t seem to understand. We tell them if you use crutches, you will not be able to stand up. Throw away the crutches, stand up straight because you still have the capacity.”
Unfortunately, Mahathir has reverted to being a great advocate of crutches. But the question is, how do “we” decide when the Malays will be ready to throw them away? What are the concrete criteria? When it is as arbitrary and unscientific as “when they are ready”, the issue can remain unresolved indefinitely.
At least, the New Economic Policy (NEP) had a quantified target – that of the Malays achieving 30 per cent share of the economy by 1990. But that year has come and gone and the affirmative action still continues. It has, in fact, now stretched to more than 40 years of implementation. Why are the Malays still not ready?
Perhaps they already are. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of switching mindsets to accept that one is ready for something. Moreover, some Malays will say, as Mahathir has pointed out, that they don’t need crutches. The proof of this is that millionaire Malays are buying multi-million ringgit houses (but they are still getting the 7 per cent discount – do millionaires deserve affirmative action?).
In any case, if we accept that the Malays are not ready, then who is to blame?
Who is responsible for getting the Malays ready? Isn’t it the Government? And who has formed the bulk of the Government all these decades? Isn’t it Umno?
So why has the Government, headed by Umno, the party for the Malays, not succeeded in getting the Malays ready after all these decades?
Doesn’t it mean that Umno has failed?
If Mahathir and his sidekicks, like Ibrahim Ali, still clamour for crutches, Umno must have failed. To all intents and purposes then, the party that claims to serve the interests of the race it represents has failed its own race.
So Ibrahim has no cause to deflect the issue onto the non-Malays, just as no one should make the Chinese scapegoats for May 13.
Mahathir is one to talk. It was under his watch that the NEP got extended when it should have expired. He would never acknowledge it but in 1990, he must have realised that, as the supreme leader of Umno then, he had failed to meet the target.
So what he says now is nothing but political posturing. It’s the same with Ibrahim. He, too, knows why he says the dumb things he says, because he can’t really be that dumb.
And because all this talk – by both men – is to serve a political cause rather than the people and the nation, their action is all the more insidious. And should be taken with huge doses of scepticism.
They may not know it but they have lost a lot of maruah (dignity) for pursuing this course.
Maruah being an important element of Malay culture, reasonable and self-respecting Malays would surely not want to lose it themselves.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, available in bookstores together with its Malay translation, Jangan Kelentong Lagi, Kita Semua Orang Malaysia.