Everybody has been lamenting on the Malays issues beginning with Mahathir’s “Malay Dilemma” and followed by all the subsequent political leaders. Most, if not all, shares a pessimistic, if not dismissive view on the predicament and the future of the Malays. In some ways I share the same feelings and views; at times this sense of hopeless can be rather daunting and very discouraging to your human fortitude. But does the issue deserve such judgement? Do we have to give up so easily?
Before proceeding further, let us bring forth two ways of problem solving, namely: a top down approach, and the other one, bottom up approach. While the jargons are not new to us, it has significant impact in terms of the thinking process in approaching any societal problems. Let us see an example how the two approach works. Global warming and climate change challenges – is an issue that has taken global attention today, whereas ten years ago they appeared to be just a concern of some small interest groups. Now it is a worldwide movement with supports from all classes of society and even by well known political leaders. How does the issue achieve such prominence?
Global warming used to be discarded by the top leaders of the major industrialized world, mainly by the US administration, business leaders and many alike. It was seen as an extremist environmental movement which like many other fads, will eventually fade away as time goes by. However, they underestimate the resiliency and the ability of the people to reach a wide audience and win over some celebrities, manage to get their organizations funded and organized, with which they became a potent force of opinion makers; and finally get the politicians, businesses, and others to succumb and accept their cause and agenda. They achieved this through a bottom up approach of problem solving.
In fact, many other examples of social changes and issues, were addressed successfully through the bottom up exercise; and very rarely that we can find cases whereby the top down approach as the main driving force. Why that is the case? The answer lies in the power of masses. People with a unified view and organized movements, can and do affect the position of these leaders. But the leaders on the other hand rarely would be willing to take positions or courageous move to defy past and acceptable practices, as they care first and foremost, about themselves and their position. Therefore they will not dare to make the first move, even though they know in their heart that certain things are out rightly wrong.
So what went wrong with the approach that we have taken on the Malay issues? The Malays and their leaders, unfortunately, over the years since independence has relied on the top down approach, and has since believe that this is the only approach in overcoming the problems. After a while, the whole thought process becomes ingrained in peoples mind as the only acceptable way. There is a real merit to why that is the case: the early years of the policies and actions proven to be right and bear the fruits. Furthermore, after a while it has become the norms and it was accepted society wide with little critics and questions. Whatever the Government and UMNO do is right, and it is for the good of the country. Why should we fix something that has worked time and time again? That is the so called universal wisdom to the whole thing.
Without realizing, these processes have eroded many things that the Malays do not even realize themselves. This is exactly the same thing that happens to many civilizations in the past: after hundreds of years of doing exactly the same thing, they resists any forms of changes and kills off any new innovations; as the old ways are the best that has worked in the past, and hence will also works for the future. That is the exactly formula that cause these civilizations to collapse, and eventually gone into oblivion.
Let us take for example the NEP. It works before; through the process many Malays came out of poverty, a good sum even becomes filthy rich; many earn good educations and now enjoy good paying jobs. So what’s there to worry? Actually, in my opinion: a lot. For example one thing that the Malays have lost is the competitive spirit and will power to innovate. The Malays becomes so dependent on the Governments and handouts such that without it, it seems impossible for them to compete and survive in open economy. Take for example, Malay contractors: how many of them laments that they can’t survive if they do not get government jobs? Why after all these years of favouring them, we still have so many cry babies? The NEP, while useful in getting Malays to walk in the beginning has now become a crutch!
Many would groan in hue and cry if anyone proposes that NEP be abolished. You just see how the recent backlash by Malay media (and UMNO politician) when some quarters proposed to “review” the NEP. Off course I do have my sympathy with the Malays and in particular those who worry about the loss of NEP. The problem is that they do not see (and blinded) that in the longer haul NEP will do great harm to them more than helping them. This is off course much truer now as UMNO and the Government, who are empowered to implement the NEP, are corrupted and use it for personal gains. But even without these distortions, my view remains that NEP should be changed and a totally new approach must be undertaken.
For this, let me then go back again to the earlier discussion that I have made: for social change to truly have an impact, bottom up approach is the most effective way as it eventually will bring the right results; and finally will dictate how a top down solutions be implemented. If the Malays as a whole did not wake up and realize that it is they, and only they will make the difference. If they don’t take matters into their own hand, and keep on hoping that everyday someone will continue to feed them, then they are totally wrong.
Our society has grown into a more complex society. Even the Malays have become a diffused race with many conflicting forces at play. The demands by non-Malays are getting stronger; and they are doing rightly so. You can’t deny any other Malaysians to get the same share of benefits as any other Malaysians. Even if that is not true for them, they would like their children to grow up as equal citizen of the country. As I have said before, Malaysia has to integrate and that’s the only way Malaysia can be Malaysia. Time and globalization will dictate that it will happen – not because you want it or you don’t want it.
So what can be done? To start this bottom up movement is not easy; because we have so many legacies of the pasts that have its remnants in our society today. In the pasts, the Malays used to have associations that’s speaks on their behalf, for example the “Farmers Association” (Persatuan Peladang). I remember that in most villages, they were among the most influential and vocal voice of the society. In fact almost everyone is a member of them. Today, it exists as names and becomes almost obsolete. Another example is the Malay Chamber of Commerce. It supposes to spearhead and lead the Malays into the business world. However, it was hijacked by politicians and becomes a ground for many to promote personal agenda and became totally ineffective and useless. We can keep on going with numerous other examples. The point is, the Malays have lost their bottom up movements.
These legacies further add up insult to injury: some politicians and individuals did try to promote new organizations to replace the older ones. But they fall into the same trap of politicizing and personal enrichment agenda. Therefore, most Malays will be sceptical of any new movements and organizations to this effect.
If we expect that the new bottom up movements to come out through organizations as such, then I am sure that it will not work. Most movements started off with an impetus, such as a crisis or events that shake up people from their dormancy. For example, the Global warming was ticked off by many environmental disasters that started many to take the issues seriously (such as the Exxon Valdez oil spills, Bhopal incident, Chernobyl, etc.). But this is a rather shocking approach as a wakeup call, as many would agree with me that we don’t want another May 13 in our society.
We need to get our young people to be engaged very early. Student movements and universities has always been a good start. But the College and University Act and the way the students have been suppressed in their activism render them to be inert. The village people on the other hand are too busy with their daily lives and routine; the mosques and religious institutions unfortunately has become the worse place to start – as there are two extremes: the mosques can breed extremism if unchecked, and the institutions on the other hand are too weak even to take care of themselves.
In short, we can conclude that all the traditional channels and methods of organizing are ineffective and becoming obsolete. So what choice do we have now? Fortunately, in my view, all is not lost. In fact as we have evolved, so does the channels and ways we communicate. The new channels and ways are proven to be more successful of late – namely the internet medium and mobile communications. It has proven to be the most important medium for Global warming advocates; and it also has helped Obama in his quest for US Presidency. With the progress of blogging and medium such as Facebook, I am sure that they are a potent starting point for the bottom up movement to take place.
I do not claim that I posses all answers to how to start the process, but it has to start with realization and awareness. We have to be politically savvy and wake up from inert and political apathy. People have to voice out their concerns through the political process and by speaking out. We must encourage debates and discourses about the issues. We must use the new medium to the maximum and encourage more people to join this medium.
As for me, I believe that I have to do a lot more research and studies in order for me to effectively contribute to whole cause. Economically speaking Malaysia is extremely fragile as we lack many amenities to be self sufficient. We live among neighbours (Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, etc.) that are even more fragile. The challenges for us ahead are rather hard and daunting. The global resources are getting scarce and many experts are forecasting that crisis after crisis will ensue our future. If we looks ahead to the next twenty years (for us when we gets old); and the next fifty years (for our children when they become adults), you will be terrified at what kind of prospects that are facing us and the human race. Globally speaking, we are at the brink of catastrophic phenomenon of global scale and some problems will be too late for us to solve. While we don’t have to be sounding like a doomsday prophet, we can’t simply turn a blind eye to it and assume that all is well, while in truth, all is not well.
I have started this series of article by tracing back the origins of the Malays (“the Origins of the Malays and Malaysia”); and then I exposited the weakness of the Malay race (Part 1) with the purpose of not to undermine the Malays, but to let them realize their limitations in the face of many upcoming challenges. In Part 2 of the article, I addressed the social transformations that has took place over the last thirty years in order for us to realize that we have changed; and the way we think must also be changed as some of the old ways may not work anymore. If the Malays want to survive and thrive, they have to understand that societies in the past do emerge and failed, while some others succeed. They have to think hard to know what are the things that either help them to make or break. And this article, I put forth an approach that I believe will be the right way forward; namely a bottom up approach for the Malays to start seriously looking into themselves and finding solutions that may work. They can’t sit back any longer and hope that someone else will solve their problems. The worse hope is to expect the politicians to solve their problems. The message is: there is still hope while it is not too late.
That is the message I am trying to convince myself and all of the readers – Malays and non Malays alike.