“Neo-bumiputeraism” – clarification

Clarification on an idea called “neo-bumiputeraism”
(Follow-up to article “Let’s de-segregate our schools”)

– Azly Rahman

‘Bumiputera’ is a problematic word. A word that conveniently equates race and religion as inseparable. To say that a Malay is generally a Muslim and hence a ‘bumiputera’ and therefore have special rights and privileges is an imprecise way of explaining a concept. It is an old-school approach to defining that word.

We must find ways to enrich the concept better so that it will become inclusive. Who toils for the soil? Labour, more than language, seems to be more a more linguistically just way to look at the definition of bumiputera and how we will go about the peaceful evolution process.

We need a premise for this process though. Let’s begin with this phrase:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident and Divine-ly sanctioned that All Malaysians are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator the inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, happiness, justice and social equality… and we shall resoundingly declare that from now on we will be constructed as equal and be called ‘the new bumiputera’…”

Sounds like a Rousseauin, Lockean, and Jeffersonian ideal locked in one, with a Malaysian ethos as its foundation. Sounds like what the Quran, Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Sutras, Puranas, Tao Te’ Chng, Granth Sahib and Tibetan Book of the Dead would advocate.

That can be our premise for this radical change.

We must do something different to ourselves if we are to move to the next level of evolution as Malaysians.

Let us reconstruct the old concept of ‘bumiputera’ so that we will have a better foundation in preparation for a redefinition in the Federal Constituition – so that the constitution can now protect all rather than the few. Isn’t democracy for the powerful few only good for plutocracy?

Yes – who is a ‘bumiputera’? After 50 years this term should have evolved and changed. The base and superstructure, the ideology and material foundation, and the body and spirit of this nation-state called Malaysia have changed.

The old definition has run its course. It is fine to see this as the right time to change. We must remember that words get refined and redefined in the course of history. Ask any linguist in Universiti Malaya or Universiti Utara Malaysia.

Words like democracy, freedom, justice and equality get reconceptualised after every social revolution. Words like Malays, Indians, Chinese, East and West Malaysians used as classification systems are good during the colonial period and in the early years of independence. They have lost their connotative and denotative power as we approach our 50th year of independence.

Language is reality – words become flesh, inscriptions become institutions.

Wec need to redefine what ‘bumiputera’ means, so that we will not be forced to sing more propaganda songs composed by those in the Biro Tata Negara.

After 50 years of Merdeka, aren’t we all bumiputera now?

Keep up the good work with this difficult dialogue.

Dr. Azly Rahman,
Educator & Adjunct Professor;
Foundations of Civilizations, Education, & Politics

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 28 February 2007 - 3:18 pm

    One must encourage Dr. Rahman attempt to reach for higher ideals. We should not take for granted such liberal ideals no matter how impractical or unrealistic. It is liberty of human spirit that we add meaning and find progress. It is impractical and unrealistic ideals we find our conscience and our humanity.

    I can see the merit making a new term that for once and for all commit us to final equality of all citizens. However, I don’t see how our founder’s Malaysian and Bangsa Malaysia really substantially differ if we refuse to rid ourselves of caveats of old race terms. The problem is not about the ideals we all want to get there but rather HOW to get there and especially about history and old scores. Unless we are willing to leave our past behind and old crutches, there is no way to move forward to any new terms..

  2. #2 by greenacre on Wednesday, 28 February 2007 - 3:55 pm

    The word Bumiputra is actually a Tamil Word which means sons of the soil…..Under the international law there are two way a person could become a son of soil…i.e jus soli..a legal principle where a persons nationality is determines by place of birth and the other by jus sanguines…right of blood ,at birth a person acquires the nationality of his parents.

  3. #3 by william tan on Wednesday, 28 February 2007 - 5:50 pm

    Hello guys,
    Its it just me or do you experience a delayed action in scrolling and typing as well ? Hmm..Why change previous format ah ?

  4. #4 by undergrad2 on Wednesday, 28 February 2007 - 9:42 pm

    “After 50 years of Merdeka, aren’t we all bumiputera now?” Dr. Azly Rahman

    If we read the Malaysian Federal Constitution of 1957, we will not find the word “bumiputera” – hence some would say the origin of the word is grounded in the political agenda of some politicians to discriminate against citizens not of Malay ethnicity. In short there is no constitutional legitimacy in the use of the term “bumiputera” except for its purpose which is to discriminate for the sake of discriminating.

    Some fifty years after independence from the British, the demographic profile of its population has changed. Most of the Chinese today are no longer foreign born, and through the principle of ‘jus soli’ (Latin meaning ‘right of the soil’) are citizens by birth.

    The word “bumiputera” (Sanskrit meaning “sons of the soil”) which came into popular use after the riots of 1969, is a convenient term not grounded in the science of anthropology but in the politics of race – in other words its use is a convenient invention by Malay politicians and Malay leaders to justify the policies of UMNO which dominated the ruling alliance, which came to be known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). It could have been called “The Great Affirmative Action Policy” but the architects of the NEP are visionary leaders whose motives go beyond affirmative action. It is not a coincidence that post-1969 saw the rise of business oriented leaders in UMNO and the political demise of the Malay school teachers whose hold over power in the Party suffered a setback. The labeling is important as events many years later are to demonstrate to us that more is envisaged rather than just affirmative action.

    So where is the need, Dr. Azly Rahman, to add yet another dubious sounding term like “neo-bumiputera” which could only lead to the continued use and justification of yet another phase or another policy not unlike its precursor the NEP? I respectfully submit to Dr. Azly that it only serves to perpetuate the state sponsored and sanctioned racism in Malaysia. Let there only be one class or let Malaysia be a nation of the ‘classless’. Malaysians do not need a caste system like we find in India. The introduction of yet another artificial class of Malaysians albeit in substitution of or in addition to an earlier one, like “neo-bumiputera” and “neo-bumiputraism” would not draw us from the brink of possibly yet another tumultuous phase in the nation’s short history.

    Enough is enough. The word “bumiputera” creates a class of Malaysians based not on ethnicity but on some dubious criteria with religion factored into it. It is conceptualized for the convenience of policy makers who rode on the wave of Malay nationalism unleashed after May 13, 1969 to maintain their position of power and influence.

    The faster we do away with the word “bumiputera” the better it will be. The use of the term “bumiputera” post-1969, I submit, has less to do with affirmative actions but more to do with politicians who see in it the opportunity to maintain their hold over power.

    It is time power be handed over to a fresh breed of Malaysians who think less in terms of Malay, Chinese and Indian or ‘bumiputera’ or ‘non-bumiputera’ but more in terms of Malaysians of different ethnic descent. But let us not lose our perspective. The United States has been independent for more than 200 years but is still today struggling with racism. Malaysia is still politically a toddler learning to walk. Success is about what happens when we fall rather than in the walking.

  5. #5 by accountability on Wednesday, 28 February 2007 - 10:10 pm

    i totally agree – “After 50 years of Merdeka, aren’t we all bumiputera now?”

    the only difference is probably, we don’t expect any special favours, just for the country to reciprocate our love (labour and contributions) for her.

    can’t say the same though for the politically corrupt and religious zealots who abuse this colonial term for their own political gains and mileage!

  6. #6 by Pengajar on Wednesday, 28 February 2007 - 10:30 pm

    First of all, I must thank you for repairing the scrolling problem. Our Bapa Malaysia was a Malay and Malays played the leading role in gaining independence for Malaya with support from other races. This we cannot deny. Neither can the Malays deny the fact that their ancestors had the support of other races in getting independence for Malaya and later Malaysia. When there is a mutual acknowledgement on who helped in Malaysia’s independence, there should also be a mutual agreement on being fair to each and every race in the country.

    To boast of oneself in any way including calling oneself
    ” Bumiputra ” is like telling the world that one does everything for Malaysia and other races have very little or no part to play in this country. Probably, this special term gives a sense of great pride. Then, what is the meaning of ” I am proud to be a Malaysian ” when said by non Bumiputras ? Do you want this pride to be inferior to the pride of ” Bumiputras ” ? Bumi means earth. Putra means prince. Prince of the Earth.

    So we are celebrating the 50th birthday of Malaysia. In any official document, are we still asked about our race, our religion in addition to other biodata ? In some developed countries, all these are not asked when it comes to seeking employment and others. But they are important when one commits a crime.

    In another 13 years, we are supposed to be industralized. Are we going to show the world that Bumiputras get the best education opportunities in Malaysia while the non Bumiputras have to find their own future ? When we reach industralization, others will be looking to us for help. If we cannot help our own fellowmen; Bumiputras and non Bumiputras, how can we help a foreigner from another country ?

  7. #7 by undergrad2 on Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 12:21 am

    Dr. Azly contradicts himself when he said:

    “We must create a new breed of bumiputera – the neo-bumiputera class.” and then followed that with another statement:

    “After 50 years of Merdeka, aren’t we all bumiputera now?

    My criticism of his thesis earlier is based on this schizophrenic expression of what our national goals should be fifty years after independence.

  8. #8 by DarkHorse on Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 3:59 am

    “Words like democracy, freedom, justice and equality get reconceptualised after every social revolution. Words like Malays, Indians, Chinese, East and West Malaysians used as classification systems are good during the colonial period and in the early years of independence. They have lost their connotative and denotative power as we approach our 50th year of independence.”

    I think you have been a lecturer for far too long. You gotta have your feet back firmly on the ground like the rest of us.

  9. #9 by greenacre on Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 7:45 am

    Dr.Azly has good intentions about the theory of neo bumiputra. However one need to ask one simple perhaps compounded question. Why people carry flags; willing to fight and shed blood and even willing to die for the soil of their picking? All for one one and one for all; that is what it is.simple but complex…being the citizen of a nation which is just and equitable and any citizen should be able to partake in his nations joy and sorrow. jus soli and jus sanguine it shall be and nothing else shall matter.

  10. #10 by DarkHorse on Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 7:48 am

    “We need to redefine what ‘bumiputera’ means, so that we will not be forced to sing more propaganda songs composed by those in the Biro Tata Negara.”

    We got to drop the term “sons of the soil” or “bumiputera” because we are made from dust and to dust we shall all return.

  11. #11 by blueheeler on Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 9:51 am

    Dr Azly, if only you spoke for everyone in M’sia, including the xenophobic politicians from all the different parties.

  12. #12 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 11:29 am

    Dr. Azly – In conjunction with yr efforts to re-define ‘Bumiputra’ or rather to define it accurately as Greenacre has done (‘jus soli’ or jus sanguine’), could you perhaps work on the benefits of a FTA between the races to replace the NEP. Imagine getting a BIG WORLD POWER to tell us to clean our backyard on transparency and laissez faire. Really malu-lah! But BN government is so thick-skinned to defend the vested interests of UMNO-putras, not BUmiputras. Hope the Americans are sensible enough to know that the FTA will benefit primarily UMNO-putras and the crumbs that fall off their tables, if at all, will be spread very thinly amongst the Bumiputras (Orang Asli excluded; Ibans, Kadazans and other aborigines also excluded not!).

    READ ON (extract from AP):

    By PAULINE JASUDASON Associated Press Writer
    Feb. 27, 2007, 5:13AM

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The window for Malaysia to ink a free trade agreement with the United States is closing fast, Washington’s top diplomat to the Southeast Asian country said Tuesday, and another opportunity like this may not come again for awhile.

    Trade talks between Malaysia and the U.S. appeared to have hit a deadlock as Malaysia refuses to budge on its procurement policy that favors ethnic Malay-owned companies.

    The key obstacle to the talks is Malaysia’s affirmative action program that awards government tenders to Malay-owned companies to give them an advantage to compete with the wealthier Chinese minority. While some government contracts are open to bids from foreign firms, Washington wants more clarity
    and transparency in the bidding process.

    Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz said Malaysian authorities would not alter the affirmative-action program.”

  13. #13 by democrate on Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 1:22 pm

    Bumiputra is a word of weapon for the UMNO , a weapon that is able to buy over the heart of a particular race and a political weapon that is able to beat the opposition at time of emotion.
    They hv been enjoying special rights and priorities bcos of the word BUMIPUTRA. but to the non bumiputras they are struggling to work hard for paying taxes to feed these cripples.
    Tell me which stupid fool will like to surrender their special right when they hv already deserved as claim ? the worse is that the rich multi millionaire bumiputras and the high salary drawer kaki tangan kerajaan like Dr. Azly if i m not mistaken still enjoying 10 to 15 % discount for a new house in the sacrifice of the poor non bumiputras. Do they hv a feeling and do they hv what so call timbang rasa. Come on lah compare to the time b4 the May 13 riots, you will see 7 out of 10 cars on the road are belong to bumiputras and if you analyse there are so many things around in the country are now being own and occupied by the bumiputras.IT is already a reverse history of what DR. mahathir was saying in the book The Malay Dilema. He should now change the book title to the ‘ Non bumiputra Dilema ‘instead ! by now All the races has already got a fair share in the country the word bumiputras should
    Fxxx off and lets call ourself a Malaysian as we used to tell the foreigners when we are away form the country. Surely you will not tell to foreigners that you are a Malay or Chinese OR Indian. you love Malaysia just address that you are a Malaysian.
    Anyway, Abdul Ghani will not agree lah !!

  14. #14 by undergrad2 on Thursday, 1 March 2007 - 8:14 pm

    “Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz said Malaysian authorities would not alter the affirmative-action program.” Rafidah Aziz

    Malaysia’s Fat Lady ought to know better.

    The U.S. is not asking Malaysia to drop her affirmative action policies but to open up the process and make it more transparent. The United States has its own affirmative action programs – minorities who deserve financial grants and assistance are still getting them, be it in education or business.

  15. #15 by DarkHorse on Saturday, 3 March 2007 - 12:44 am

    “The word Bumiputra is actually a Tamil Word which means sons of the soil…..Under the international law there are two way a person could become a son of soil…i.e jus soli..a legal principle..” as per greenacre

    Jus soli does not mean “sons of the soil” but “right of the soil” – no relation with midnight soil carrier.

  16. #16 by shortie kiasu on Saturday, 3 March 2007 - 2:31 pm

    “Bumiputra” is used by Malay political leaders to “protect” themselves and the Malay race in this country; but protect against what/who? Chinese? Indian? Who else.

    With such “protection” in place everything will be given away to them without sweat and toil, ultimately crippling the race that they wanted to “protect”. They cannot stand on their own feet.

    Continued “protection” further weaken the protected species, meantime, draining the resources generated by other races that form the backbone of support to the system of “protection”.

    Eventually, when that backbone snaps, the “protection” rendered will dissipate into thin air. They will all perish together consequentially.

    Such policy is shorted-sighted, myopic, selfish and lack of visionary outlook. But its existence persists for the last 50 years, to protect the Malays so that can catch up in the economic race, but no, no to the sharing of political power and government in the country!!

    In the eyes of the outsiders, it only goes to show how hopeless and disdainful the protected species is.

    Everything, assets, businesses, projects, licenses, permits, lands, development… they must take first, and take they do in large near-all portions, and that, those they have not laid their hands on yet, they will start the process to lay their hands on without delay and hesitation indeed.

    Look at how other neighbouring nations flourish and progress and here we stagnate and regress while neighbours are rocketing forward.

    Though here we are endowed with all the natural resources plentifully, due to greed under the “protection” system of Malay race and bumiputra, the endowments are all squandered with minimal benefits to the people at large. Worst off in the game will be the non bumiputras and non Malays.

    Give this country another 50 years, other nations will be way ahead by leaps and bounds. The disparity will be widened.

    The bumiputra will continue to feel a false sense of security with the cocoon around them to provide “protection”. It is pity indeed and I think people in his right mind will not want to be bumiputra because it connotes weakling who needs “protection”.

    So why bother to redesignate bumiputra in any sense of the word? Given equal chance to every citizens, encourage meritocracy as a way of life and ingrain good virtues in the culture, they all the children of the soil here. The nation will prosper at an accelerated rate.

  17. #17 by shortie kiasu on Saturday, 3 March 2007 - 2:42 pm

    Malaysia has lost its credibility and locus standi, long ago, to criticise other countries for racial discrimination and apartheid because it is breeding such discrimination in its own soil here through the “super race” of bumiputra.

    Some times we just wonder how the country’s PM and FM can brag about in international fora about racial discrimination against other nation without a wink of an eye. That is inredible indeed but cheeky to be more precise.

  18. #18 by pezze on Monday, 5 March 2007 - 12:44 am

    I think and strongly feel that after 50 years of independence, there should not be anymore differentiation of bumi/non-bumi. We are all born in Malaysia and we all speak Bahasa, at least to some extend. Why do we must put religion as s differentiator?

    Kita semua anak Malaysia.

  19. #19 by Maddresearch on Friday, 23 March 2007 - 5:36 pm

    It is difficult to cater for everyone who passes the SPM, STPM or its equivalent into our public universities. It is not a good solution to build more and more universities to churn out graduates unwanted by the employment market! Are we heading towards the same direction as in some of the Asean countries where everyone is a graduate but without jobs?

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