On Jan 13, Ismail Mina Ahmad, the leader of Gerakan Pembela Ummah, a group of Islamic NGOs, claimed that only the Malays had sacrificed their lives for Malaya.
This is an insult to the memory of the non-Malays who died defending Malaya/Malaysia: the Chinese, Indians, Sikhs, Orang Asli, Iban, Kadazan, Muruts.
This group also includes Westerners like the British and Australians. Other nationals were also involved – Nepalese, Kenyans and Fijians fought alongside the Malays in defence of Malaya during World War II, the Emergency and Confrontation with Indonesia.
According to Ismail, he was not being racist but merely recounting history. He reeled off various episodes in the history of the Malay Peninsula, starting with the Malays fighting against the invasion by Siam.
He claimed that the Malays fought against their Portuguese conquerors, the Japanese, the British and the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).
He said: “During the Bintang Tiga (CPM) rule, the Malays were killed. I am reading history.
“Who were the members of Bintang Tiga, I will not say because I fear getting sued. Just read history.”
It is disingenuous of Ismail to insinuate that the non-Malays are not patriotic. It is also telling that he made no mention of the fact that more Chinese than Malays were killed by the Japanese during WWII and the Emergency.
A few weeks ago, Armed Forces chief Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor said they would seek to recruit 10% more non-Malays annually, to share the responsibility of defending Malaysia’s sovereignty.
His call for increased participation from non-Malays was supported by Brigadier-General (Rtd) Mohd Arshad Raji, the president of the National Patriots Association.
Arshad wanted ministers to address the factors which discouraged non-Malays from joining the forces. He said over the years, many non-Malay officers had been sidelined from promotions even though they were able and highly experienced.
He said the military had also become increasingly Islamic-centric over the years, causing the non-Malays to feel alienated.
Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called Arshad’s remarks divisive and warned that they were a normal feature of the opposition and people who were not supportive of the government.
He said: “I want to advise them, if they want to bring up racial and religious sentiments, even in politics, there are limits.”
Hishammuddin should remember that a few years ago, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi upset many non-Malays when he said they were not attracted to life in the service because they did not wish to be subjected to strict discipline, lower wages compared to the private sector, discouragement from family members and the negative perceptions of such a career.
A friend’s father served for 16 happy years in the army and was proud to serve his king and country. He was a Lt Col when he retired. He was sad to leave, but was unable to extend his service.
The retired army officer supports the call for meritocracy, but says non-Malays will still be treated as before, and will not be the first choice for promotion.
“Non-Malays are more than willing to serve, if they are given the chance and if meritocracy is practised,” he said.
“As with other branches of government, the non-Malays feel they are not welcomed and they will be passed over for promotions.”
So will Ismail get his facts right, and will the ministers address the lack of meritocracy in the security forces? No one likes it when their work is unappreciated.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.