By Erna Mahyuni | The Malaysian Insider
MARCH 6 — To paint the Sabah situation as “virtuous Sabah natives” against “invading foreign terrorists” is far too simplistic.
The reality is as complex as Sabah’s political landscape, enmeshed in history and complicated by the notion of statehood.
Farish Noor explains the complicated history of the various people of North Borneo and the Philippines in his column where he says:
“In the midst of the chest-thumping, saber-rattling jingoism and hyper-nationalism we see rising in both Philippines and Malaysia today, we ought to take a step back and look at ourselves honestly in the face.”
Historically the people of Sabah are a complex mix. With the formation of countries and borders, people who are connected by history and blood are now separated by that thing we call “citizenship.”
Sabah artist Yee I-Lan sums up that divide in one of the pictures from her “Sulu stories” series.
Of the subjects in the photo, Yee says: “One carries Malaysian identity, the other Filipino. They come from the same sea and place and knowledge.”
But while we must acknowledge history, we have to address present realities.
Whatever the Sulu descendants claim, their kingdom is long gone. Their attempt to supposedly reclaim their birthright is now seen as an act of violence.
You cannot resurrect ghosts with blood and threats.
But to people like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia is first and foremost the land of the Malays. Sabah and Sarawak do not fit in with his tidy narrative of the country being led by Malay Muslims.
Dr Mahathir for all his statesmanship could never wrap his head around the fact that in Sabah, Muslims were not always Malay. Nor that the Malay narrative could include non-Muslims.
All you need to do is look over at Bali in Indonesia with its predominantly Hindu and unmistakeably “Malay” population. But then, this is a country where many Malays live in ignorance of, or patently deny that, their ancestors ever being Hindu.
PBS’s defiance of the federal government disturbed the status quo for Dr Mahathir. For him it was unacceptable that Sabah could be led by a Christian indigenous leader instead of a more “acceptable” Malay-Muslim.
His reasoning was to address the “problem” of a non-Muslim native majority by parachuting in more Muslims.
But the problem, Dr Mahathir, is that while the Suluks from the south of Philippines identify themselves as Muslims, they do not call themselves Malay.
Nor are the Bajau “Malay”. Neither are the Muslim indigenous peoples “Malay.”
Dr Mahathir’s poor attempt at social engineering has instead created a dangerous imbalance. The fact is that the Malaysian Sabah state cannot sustain the huge numbers of immigrants from across the border.
There are hardly any jobs for locals. Imagine how slim the pickings are for the many “visitors.”
Once, commerce was fluid and people from the Philippines would come, trade and most importantly, leave. It is when they refuse to leave that we have a problem.
The Philippines are also at fault here for long neglecting its citizens in the south. It is laughable that only now it is “showing concern” for its citizens in the state. If the southern regions of the Philippines were not so economically barren, their citizens would have no need to make livings in Sabah.
How do we go forward from this? For starters, the BN government has to stop the practice of handing out ICs like candy when elections are around the corner.
Both the Malaysian and Philippine governments have to start thinking of the welfare of their citizens, regardless of race or religion. No more meddling in the name of protecting the interests of any race or religion.
Put to rest the ghosts of the Jabidah Massacre and the Sulu kingdom.
History matters. But we can no longer let it dictate our futures.