Dear Brother Anas

by Art Harun
The Malaysian Insider
Jun 27, 2011

JUNE 27 — I am moved to comment on your “Open letter to Lim Guan Eng.”

First of all, I have no doubt of your centrist stance. Having known you for close to 27 years, I think I could state, with some level of authority, that your centrist stance is one which you have embraced all this while. Now you are just utilising that stance for what you think is for the good of the society. I respect that.

As unity is a subject which is really close to your heart, allow me to put my thought to that subject, especially in relation to what you had written in your said open letter.

Unity is a concept, an abstract, if not an intangible one at that. Being an abstract, it cannot be physically measured. It is a state of mind. It exists within parameters of perception. It is not like health or financial success, where someone could declare that our nation is full of healthy people, or that it is full of wealthy people.

By contrast, unity is like the concept of safety. One can declare that statistical data shows that crime rates have fallen by, say, 20 per cent. But one cannot, armed with that statistical date, conclude that the country is safe.

In similar fashion, with respect, one cannot just create a slogan and a nice little symbol and paste the slogan and symbol on banners and shirts as well as bombard the media with them and declare that unity has magically, if not miraculously, delivered itself to this country and her people. It does not work that way when it comes to unity.

When we speak of unity, or rather the concept of unity, we have to understand what the concept entails; what it really means and what it is all about. Please don’t take me wrong. And when we want to achieve unity, we have to have a definite and tangible plan to make it a reality.

An intangible and abstract concept such as unity cannot be achieved or brought to reality with intangible and abstract moves, such as the creation of a slogan or symbol.

To me, unity, in so far as a nation — more particularly, Malaysia — is concerned, consists of two kinds. They are:

• situational unity, and,

• transcendental unity.

Situational unity is pockets of one-ness shown or practised by the people as individuals or as members of a group which they belong to. It arises out of cultural practice or individual beliefs. It might even arise out of certain circumstances and even out of purely selfish reasons and not precipitated by any altruism at all.

Examples of these situational unity are seen daily in our lives. People of various races and faiths sit together at a stall sipping their teh tarik while talking about how our magistrate’s courts turned into a sex video cinema, for example.

When the Malaysian football team won the Suzuki Cup not so long ago, Malaysians of all races went berserk with a little burst of spontaneous patriotism and nationalism everywhere; at teh tarik stalls; at homes; in cyberspace over Twitter or Facebook, etc. A long time ago, when Malaysia beat Saudi Arabia at Stadium Merdeka, I spontaneously stood up together with 45,000 other Malaysians to sing “Negara Ku”, without being prompted by anybody or anything.

In my office, I, a Malay partner, am in unison with my partners of other races, for a purely self-altruism purpose, namely, to make a living.

Those are what I call situational unity.

Although at macro level, these pockets of situational unity may seem insignificant or even irrelevant, to me, they are reflective of a positive mind set. They show that there are certain situations or set of situations where people of various races and faiths are driven to disregard and put aside their cultural and genetic differences and spontaneously unite and become one.

That is proof that while unity, being an abstract concept, cannot be directly engineered, situations or circumstances conducive or leading to it may be created to foster unity.

Meanwhile, transcendental unity, in terms of a nation and nation building, would mean the people, regardless of their race, faith and cultural background or even genetic make-up, coming together and moving in unison towards the greater and common good of this nation while at the same time, putting aside self-altruism and interests.

I call this concept of unity transcendental unity because it is an ideal and not real. A complete transcendental unity, I would dare say, can never be achieved because it is against human nature.

Human beings are by nature selfish. Francis Fukuyama, in his book “The Origins of Political Order”, pointed out that human beings, for example, have the propensity for favouring their family and friends, something which Fukuyama calls “patrimonialism”. If I may, I would stretch Fukuyama’s patrimonialism even beyond family and friends. I think it is also human nature to prefer one’s tribe, race or community.

Notwithstanding the fact that an absolute state of transcendental unity can never be achieved, a civilised society led by a government which is committed to achieving a common good for the nation must, at great cost and effort, work to achieve a state of transcendental unity or as close as possible to that state.

It is of course easy to disunite the people, especially when the people consist of various races and faiths and coming from diverse cultural background, than to even maintain a facade of unity.

Unity exists even as a facade. History would of course show that facades of unity were often created by dictators, authoritarians and totalitarians. These facades of unity would soon disintegrate as the dictators, authoritarians and totalitarians fell.

As soon as Saddam Hussein was defeated, for example, the almost serene and tranquil racial, religious and cultural “melting pot” of Iraq became a boiling porridge of tribal and sectarian divisiveness. Just as the Berlin Wall fell, glasnost and perestroika liberated the Russians from years of communism, the country broke into pieces and some former colonists, like Yugoslavia, descended into hellish war fuelled by centuries of racial and religious wounds.

The danger with creating a facade of unity, instead of working towards the establishment of a transcendental unity, is that we might be lulled into sleep with a dream-like belief that our people are united for the better good of this country while on the ground, racial bigotry and hatred are allowed to fester and infest the very fabric of our society, hidden behind this facade of unity which we created for whatever purpose which only we know. Deep underneath this veil or facade of unity, there is a virulent form of disease working insidiously. God helps us if or when this viral infection becomes too late to treat.

As I had stated earlier, there are innumerable pockets of situational unity displayed by us day in and day out in Malaysia. This proves that if left behind on their own and without interference by politicians and self-altruistic rebel- rousers, we, Malaysians, regardless of racial, religious or cultural background, are able to switch on our natural love for a peaceful co-existence. We are able to put aside our differences and become one if a situation conducive for such unity is present.

Towards achieving a state of transcendental unity, it is therefore the duty of a responsible government to create this conduciveness. This conduciveness will not be present when there are newspapers like Utusan Malaysia being allowed, by the continued patronisation of the biggest political party in the ruling government, to spew racial hatred and bigotry almost on a daily basis.

This conduciveness will also not be in existence, regardless of how loud we shout 1 Malaysia and 1 this-and-that if at the same time ultra-right-winged organisation such as Perkasa be given a free hand — and mouth and leg — to threaten bloodshed and create racial fear by issuing warnings and mongering fear with impunity as if these people are above the law.

This conduciveness will not exist when a rational discourse is not granted to minority groups who are trying to voice out minority’s concerns, insecurity as well as well as fight for the recognition, at least, of their rights.

At this juncture Anas, your call for the acknowledgement by the DAP that this land had always belonged to the Malays and that the Malays have been kind enough to let the non-Malays to be here and that the DAP should be grateful for this kindness come into play.

Although various historical as well as anthropological studies could very well be used to at least dispute your assertion that this land had always belonged to the Malays, I do not wish to go into such dispute in this post.

For the sake of argument, let’s just assume for a while that you are correct, that this land, i.e. this land which was otherwise known as Tanah Melayu, had belonged to the Malays.

With respect Anas, you had failed to recognise, or give any consideration at all, that such acknowledgement had been given by the non-Malays during the inception of this country as an independent state in 1957.

I say so based on the argument which has always been used by the likes of Dr Mahathir and his ilk. Not based on any arguments made up by myself, the so-called Melayu Liberal who has given a bad twist to the word “liberal” and “Melayu”.

Dr Mahathir and his band of nationalistic scholars argue that in 1957, there was a “social contract.” This social contract, in effect, consists of the Malays being kind enough to “grant” citizenship to the Chinese and Indians. Because of that kindness, and to show gratitude towards the Malays, the Chinese and Indians agreed to grant “special rights” to the Malays. These “special rights” are enshrined in article 153 of our Federal Constitution.

I have written so many articles on this subject. I will not argue with Dr Mahathir anymore on this.

Now, let’s just assume that what Dr Mahathir said about the compromise to be a correct and true historical fact.

If the Chinese and Indians who were given the right to citizenship by the kind and gracious Malays had in turned gladly conceded that the Malays have special rights under our Constitution, that would of course mean that the Chinese and Indians had in fact acknowledged that Tanah Melayu had belonged to the Malays before 1957.

The acknowledgement which you sought dear Anas had been given in 1957 by the Chinese and Indian community. This acknowledgement, based on Dr Mahathir’s won historical theory, took the form of the concession of special rights being given to the Malays in Article 153 of our Federal Constitution.

If that is so, why is there a need for the non-Malays, especially the DAP, to make such acknowledgement again, in 2011?

While I agree that acknowledging the past is sometimes good for us — just so we do not forget our roots — a demand for such acknowledgement time and again would be regressive in terms of achieving transcendental unity in my humble opinion.

What we need is an acknowledgement by all Malaysians and by all political parties, that all of us have our respective rights guaranteed under the Federal Constitution. The government then must assure that all these rights will be respected and they will not be trampled willy-nilly as of we are some ant colonies being ruled by a bunch of hungry ant-eaters!

As it is, we can’t even wear a yellow T-shirt nowadays! What conduciveness towards unity are we talking about?

In my humble opinion, it would do nicely for a state of transcendental unity of the government could start creating a situation conducive to unity instead of patronising pseudo-nationalist individuals and organisations. If there is any acknowledgement which is necessary for unity, I think the acknowledgement should come from the State and not from the people. That is because the people’s ability to unite is amply shown by the countless of situational unity day in day out by the people.

Before I end Anas, allow me to tell the story of the Melanesian societies of the Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.*

The societies existing in these two newly-independent “Westminster democracies” are based on tribal lineage and kinsman. To say that they are fractious would be a gross understatement. Papua New Guinea has more than 900 languages, which is nearly one-sixth of the number of languages in the whole world! The Solomon Islands are not far behind. It has a population of about 500,000 people and yet it has about 70 different languages.

Each tribe is headed by what they call a Big Man (certain tribes are headed by a Big Woman, of course). In each society, the position of Big Man or Big Woman is earned and not passed by generations. A Big Man must therefore prove himself as a leader and is constantly aware of a challenge being mounted by a challenger.

The ability of a Big Man or Big Woman is judged in accordance with his or her ability to distribute pigs, shell money and other resources to the members of his tribes.

As and when a Westminster democracy was introduced, the concept of parliamentary representative was transposed on these societies. The result was, of course, chaotic, to say the least. The various tribes do not vote based on political ideologies or programmes for the common good of the country. They vote for their Big Man or Big Woman.

In turn, when these Big Men or Women are elected, they do not work for the common good of the country or for the people as a nation or state. They are more concerned with how many pigs they could get and deliver to their tribe. If not, they would lose their respective position as the Big Man or Big Woman.

That fractious approach towards nation building makes a mockery of the Westminster democracy that these two states practise. Unity is unknown to these two as the people are only move in accordance with their self-altruistic motivations.

We might laugh when we read about this. But doesn’t it remind us of a modern and semi-developed place we know?

Unity starts with a resolution. And that resolution is a resolution to move in unison for the greater good of the nation.

Have a good day Anas. —

  1. #1 by optimuzz on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 9:52 am

    brilliant article!

  2. #2 by Loh on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 8:27 pm

    ///As and when a Westminster democracy was introduced, the concept of parliamentary representative was transposed on these societies. The result was, of course, chaotic, to say the least. The various tribes do not vote based on political ideologies or programmes for the common good of the country. They vote for their Big Man or Big Woman.///

    The smarter politicians in Malaysia recognized that so long as they could organize the major tribe to get more votes than half, they got to rule for the past 54 years. Then they organize government administration based on tribe.

  3. #3 by tak tahan on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 9:26 pm

    In the end of their hard work,popped up one cultivated tribe warrior,Ibrahim Ali aka jihad-syndrome pesakit by the dawn of Umnobaru.Betul tak En Harun?

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