As expected, the debate about the use of Malay (and the more hidden agenda of pushing English, and other languages) has escalated.
Someone who’s big and important proposed that laws be enacted to promote and advance the use of Malay – by sending those who disrespect the language to prison!
Ah, the “disrespect” argument. It’s bound to come up sooner or later. Unsurprisingly, sooner rather than later.
And also, the “make people love and cherish Malay by jailing them” argument, which is novel, if not very logical.
Mark my words, these laws will be enacted. Those who have the brain to understand the issues unfortunately don’t have the guts to stand up for what’s right for our country.
A plain state of flux
Sarawak has taken a strong stand on it, as is their right. They certainly see the benefit of Malay being the unifying language in the state, much like Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesia.
But they also see the benefits of English. They certainly won’t accept this neo-colonialist move to diminish English and instead have a language that’s not even native to Sarawak shoved down their throats.
Sabah, too, may follow, although Sabah politics is murkier and has been poisoned by the invasion of peninsular political malaise.
Penang is making some noise, but is trying to avoid falling victim to the inevitable racial polemics. They’d probably opt for the British approach: keep calm and do things their way behind closed doors.
The rest of the country, as expected, is following along meekly. Their mental conditioning is complete, and it’s probably too late to do anything about it.
Logic v parochialism
Let’s not rehash the arguments about the need to push both Malay and English for nation-building and for our prosperity. They are strong, logical arguments that can stand on their own merits.
Their merits alone, however, are no protection against the emotional and parochial arguments being hurled against them.
Let’s draw some parallels between this and with the way Islam has, and is, being promoted in Malaysia. This is relevant because Islam and the Malay language are such critical components of the Malay identity.
It started out well enough, with the desire to inculcate Islamic values in our daily life, especially in the public services.
Other universal values
The premise sounds reasonable but is also questionable. Why shouldn’t we inculcate integrity, professionalism, technology, customer-centeredness, life-long learning and accountability instead?
Those are also universal values, but more relevant for the tasks of being a public servant, and yet in no way preventing them from being the best they can be in their respective faiths.
Unfortunately, this happened because it’s very convenient for some people’s political ambitions. And it was easy to push through, in a society that’s been dumbed down and cowed by religious rhetoric and evocations of God and hellfire.
That agenda, well-meaning as it may have started out, has left the Muslims less well off now than they were decades ago, especially from the lens of integrity, humility and very importantly, resilience and independence.
Key perception indicators
All the corruption cases going on (or not going on) in courts, locally and abroad, show an increasing lack of integrity, and even shame, among many Malay-Muslims. We’re only ahead in metrics such as number of hours of religious classes, number of tahfiz schools, number of religious teachers employed etc.
In other words, the economic indicators seem to do well, even if the indicators of faith, belief and values don’t.
Our religious leaders seem to relish fighting against single mothers and others similarly weak. These fights are convenient fig leaves that allow them to ignore the immediate issues facing the ummah.
These leaders – the religious teachers, officials, tax collectors, arbitrators etc – are those who have truly done well from the emergence of this new, harsh, intolerant and paranoid version of Islam.
To be fair, these problems are not just found in Malaysia. They’re common human societal problems everywhere. Some societies have managed to escape from the worst of them by putting in place strong systems of checks and balances.
Insecurity and arrogance
But this requires a lot of maturity and most importantly, humility and psychological security. Insecure, arrogant people will not see checks and balances as necessary, much less beneficial.
In Malaysia, we have the worst of both worlds – the insecurity you’d expect in a minority group, coupled with the arrogance and political authority of a majority.
This creates, among others, the many statutory authorities paid for by taxpayers that come with enormous power – being able to throw people into prisons for one – controlled by people of questionable motives and competence.
Rise of the language police
What’ll happen is Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), the body set up to promote the Malay language, will become a hugely powerful bureaucracy that will hire thousands of people to handle its increasing power and reach.
It will joust for more power and money against the many public and religious authorities and bodies over and on top of an already huge civil service. And it will breed many offspring, all funded by the tax money that you and I paid.
Say something negative against DBP and it’ll be labelled as disrespecting the Malay language, and hence by extension, the Malays, just as disagreeing with a religious minister is seen as disrespecting Islam. People will literally go behind bars for this.
The Malays, for whom these moves are ostensibly meant to protect, will fall further behind economically. They’ll need even more help, quotas, subsidies and protection, all of which will be championed by an increasing number of heroes, in a Malaysia-Boleh world divorced from reality.
Ticket to power
Will the Malays be able to work in global companies at anything other than menial jobs? Will they be able to code in Python and C++ for digital unicorns? Will they even be able to work at call centres answering tech queries from foreigners in other time zones?
Not likely. Their only chance for a good life will depend on the government, whether directly as a government employee, or indirectly working in the increasing number of taxpayer-funded agencies, GLCs and even companies and businesses.
Will this scenario be bad? Yes, for all of us. But the masses, who must be kept dumb, docile and delirious, are the ticket to power and wealth for the elites.
Prosper the elites
As it is, the number of people contributing to our tax revenue is shrinking, and the revenue itself isn’t growing much. But now, that revenue has got to be cut in even more ways to feed an even larger number of hungry mouths.
All of these strong real-world arguments will have no effect against those who are in power. They’ll continue projecting their own fears and insecurities on their audience, and continue playing their usual kampung political games.
It’s nice to be up there in the kayangan, giddy with excitement, where with a stroke of the pen, you get to compel others to do your bidding, while the rest of us in the world below worry about the future.
And if they “disrespect” you? Throw them in jail.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.