I couldn’t type for a few seconds. I had both hands up. I would’ve lifted both feet up too, but that’s a bit too shameful, even in these times.
Last week I drove around a high-class neighbourhood off Jalan Duta in KL. Let’s call the place Taman Kleptocrat. I had to stop for a big motorcade escorting a luxurious SUV. In the convoy there was even a car with “Hidup Rakyat” emblazoned across it.
The motorcade had a police escort, too. I always stop for ambulances, fire engines and assorted motorcades, especially if accompanied by police escorts.
I had an idea who was in the motorcade – the current poster boy of Malaysia’s Poor Little Rich Kids club, apparently going home for lunch from a court hearing.
I looked up to the skies and offered my usual prayers to God for the honour of being able to help ambulances, fire engines and VIP motorcades pass unimpeded.
I later saw a picture of said poster boy looking lost and forlorn somewhere else that evening. I offered another prayer to God for his future to be safe and secure with no lack of food, drink and shelter.
Anyway, back to the shame part.
It’s a recurring theme in the Malay psyche. There are countless proverbs, aphorisms and fables about it. We have the shame market cornered, to be shameless about it.
A lovely proverb tells of a cockerel crowing loudly and proudly for the
whole kampung to hear, while his long tail feathers scrape the dung on the ground he stands on.
Hens are usually too busy eating or laying eggs and otherwise being productive, with their tush nicely and cleanly held up in the air. It’s cockerels that tend to be problematic.
Malay cockerels especially, it seems: they prance and preen noisily in their colourful plumage while scraping a lot of manure on the ground, much of which is their own.
Another such cockerel, a big chief from the religious side of the Malay political big tent, crows that the Malays are politically lazy and risk losing, if they haven’t already lost, political power in the country.
The cock-a-doodle argument
Given that I hear nothing but political noise every day, with intrigues and machinations from various Malay individuals and political groupings (himself included), I wouldn’t say that we’re actually lazy, politically at least.
I do believe in at least one part of the “Malays are lazy” argument, however.
In Malay society the intellectuals – the cerdik pandai or literally the “smart and clever” – love the lazy argument of speaking from both sides of their mouth.
One side says the Malays are the best, smartest, hardest working and most honest race there is, at least in the Nusantara region (sorry Indonesians). The other side says we’re lazy, weak and easily confused.
If it wasn’t for our “cerdik pandai’ and kris-wielding heroes we would have disappeared from the face of the earth already, as Hang Tuah the fabled warrior (a movie coming up…) once said.
Too clever by half
Apart from this special skill, the Malay cerdik pandai and heroes are able to succeed at this because nobody dares to tell them to their faces that they’re full of the stuff dropped by hens and cockerels.
The kampung masses, whether in the actual kampungs, or more likely nowadays the kampung in their mind even while they reside in Taman Kleptocrat, are easily persuaded with these arguments.
The argument flatters the Malays and makes them feel all puffed up and important. Along the way, if need be, they invent some tales or rewrite some inconvenient history to support the narratives.
Or even better, make some movies: in two hours you can rewrite the entire history of the country and enthrall the masses with the intoxicating khayal world they find so comforting.
Rewriting history, books and movies are also good because they’re easier than real life. You can write about the good guys (us!) beating the bad guys (them!), and always get to live happily ever after in the end.
But don’t overdo it. The Malay masses may get uppity and start believing they’re really good and start being ashamed of…you! They may ditch you and look for somebody better to lead them instead.
The lazy argument, chop chop
The other message – that we’re easily confused and weak and are under constant attack – must then come in.
If you feel you’ve a direct line to God, and many such cockerels do, you don’t even have to be oblique and indirect in delivering this brutal message.
Just call the Malays stupid or lazy to their faces. Juice it up by blaming the non-Malays somehow. This satisfies another kampung criteria – always find somebody else to blame for your problems.
Inevitably the non-Malays/Muslims get riled up and push back, which then becomes proof positive that these people have been after you all along!
Occasionally, when pressed, you condemn big things like corruption. But your focus is always on chopping people’s hands off if they steal a chicken, rather than going after the corrupt who steal your children’s future.
Heroes and villains
The fact is in the seventh decade of independence and after tons of money thrown at (or lost) solving the Malay problems, we’re still weak and frightened. This just shows the scale of the failure of these cockerel leaders.
All they’ve succeeded in doing is imparting their own fears and prejudices to the masses, keeping them confused and frightened, and hence pliable to being controlled and exploited.
We Malay-Muslims suffer from having too many heroes sacrificing and fighting on our behalf and getting very rich from it, and too few ending up in prisons for abusing our trust (though I live in hope on this one).
These Malay-Muslims leaders can’t handle the big problems – of our nation’s defence being compromised, our economy being plundered, our children’s future being destroyed etc.
These are too complex, too dangerous and, luckily for them, too remote from their daily lives and certainly of their audiences too. So best to just ignore them and focus on the mundane and the trivial.
Shame on them. And on us, too, for tolerating them.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.