Sunday, 9 November 2008

Art Harun on "Ketuanan Melayu"

For me, one good thing about the release of RPK has been the limelight on his legal team and one of the members, Art Harun. I had heard of him but did not know that he blogs until I clicked on a link in Haris Ibrahim's blog entitled, "The road to liberty".

Art Harun's blog is called, "
Navel Gazing" and it is insightful and interesting. I cannot resist reproducing below his piece on "Ketuanan Melayu" and the "social contract", but before that, please check out Haris Ibrahim's, "An ounce of courage, a few good men, and the prayers of the good people of this nation" that sums up well the roles that led to RPK's release.

Front L-R : Azhar (Art Harun), Malik Imtiaz, Chandra. Middle L-R : Neo ( behind Azhar ), Ashok, Sreekant, Amarjit. Back : Salim Bashir & Dipendra

Art Harun on Ketuanan Melayu

I have refrained myself from writing about politics for the whole of October. I was so muak of Malaysian politics that I felt I had to get away from it all. It is now November. And here I think I should say something about this subject.

I am normally very good at grasping a concept, understanding it, differentiating it from other not dissimilar concept, identifying it's positive and negative points and using it. However, try as I might, I just could not understand the concept of Ketuanan Melayu aka Malay Supremacy aka Malay Dominance. Let alone identify it. Now I wonder whether I have lost it. I have lost my intelligence. That could be it. Or perhaps, just perhaps, there is no such concept to begin with. And that is why I can't identify it.

Throughout my years in government schools and later in government university, as well as my one year in a Mat Salleh university, I have not come across the concept of Ketuanan Melayu. And that despite the fact that history was my favourite subject. That also despite the fact that I took not only the Malaysian Federal Constitution as a subject, but also the Malaysian Administrative Law as well as Comparative Constitutional Laws as optional subjects. Not to mention the Study of Politics paper which I also took in the Economics faculty for fun.

No. I did not come across that concept in all my school years. Nada. Zilch! I must have missed the lectures or tutorials when the subject of Ketuanan Melayu was being taught or discussed (which is likely) or I was then asleep (which is likely too!). Or, it could be that that subject was never ever taught or discussed. And if it wasn't so taught or discussed, the most likely explanation to that omission would be that there is no such thing as Ketuanan Melayu. That is my logical mind at work. I can't put illogical reasoning to this conundrum because I am a logical person. Perhaps YB Zulkifli Nordin has a different view. I don't know. He probably has one. And then some. Because he is a clever fellow. Sorry, I digress.

So, if Ketuanan Melayu was never ever taught or discussed in my 18 years of studies, when it was a fact that I took subjects in which the matter would have ordinarily been discussed, I can make a reasonable conclusion that the concept never existed. If it did, it was insignificant or irrelevant to our history or laws so much so that it was not worth a mention.

How then this so called concept manage to infiltrate our socio-politico scenes lately? Dr Mahathir talked about it. Zaid Ibrahim said the concept was a failure. Shahidan Kassim said Zaid should repent for saying what he said. Syed Hamid Albar asked Zaid to apologise and branded Zaid a traitor! Shahidan went even further to say that Zaid should cease from being a Malay and that he should repent!

The question is, if Zaid was or is a Malay ,(is he? Am I? Are you?) how could Zaid cease from being one? How does one un-Malay oneself? Or was Shahidan talking about the legal concept of being a Malay? Under our Federal Constitution, a Malay is defined as being a person who:

i) practices the Malay adat and ways of living;

ii) professes the religion of Islam; and,

iii) speak Bahasa Malaysia (aka Bahasa Kebangsaan aka Bahasa Melayu which later became Bahasa Malaysia and then turned into Bahasa Melayu yet again and now is known as Bahasa....well...I don't know).

Following such definition, I suppose Zaid can un-Malay himself by not doing either or all of those things. We should pause here for a while. Note the first criteria above. One is a Malay if one practices the Malay adat and way of life. That's like saying one is an English if one is an English. Like how are we going to know what Malay adat is and Malay ways of life is when the word "Malay" is not yet defined? Jeez... The Malays used to carry the keris all over town. Nowadays no Malay in his/her correct mind would do so. Does that mean there are no more Malays around? The Malays used to be able to visit their neighbours without an appointment or pre-set date. Now most Malay urbanite don't even dream of doing that. Even the hari raya "open house" is only "opened" to invitees only. Does that mean most Malay urbanites are not Malays anymore? I don't know. I am just asking.

Back to Zaid and Shahidan Kassim. I was saying, rather, asking, how does Zaid un-Malay himself?

Then, apparently Zaid should "repent". Repentance connotes an act which is religious in nature. One repents if one has committed a sinful act. If so, since when, may I ask, has disputing or "challenging" the efficiency of Ketuanan Melayu become a sin?

Shahidan was also quoted as saying Zaid should leave the "rumpun Melayu". Yea...rite. Typical. Remember the MP's remark in the parliament not so long ago? "If the "pendatangs" don't like it here, then "they" should leave the country!". Very intellectual. Very stimulating engagement. What a polemic! Shahidan, ur da man.

Lets just for one moment accept that Ketuanan Melayu exists factually and conceptually. And let us all hypothesise that the Federal Constitution was premised upon such concept.

Question: what is the use of the Malays being a Tuan all the way if the Malays are still lagging behind in all aspects of achievements in their "own" country?

Question 2: how does one reconcile the "dominance" or "supremacy" of the Malays with the fact that the Malays, according to UMNO and our leaders, still need subsidies and preferential treatments - in Dr Mahathir's words or terminology, this is called "affirmative actions" - in order to make them successful?

Question 3: when we speak of the Malay Dominance or Malay Supremacy, what is the subject over which the Malays are supposed to be dominant or supreme?

In the phaleo-worlds, the concept of "dominance" connotes the physical power to assert control over a subject matter. "Supremacy" on the other hand is a state of being supreme. In terms of socio-politico outlook, the Malay Supremacy would mean the installation and maintenance of the Malays as the supreme authority of the society or the land. Historically, we would probably have to go back to the 1400s, during the era of the Melaka Sultanates, to find, if at all, such a level of dominance by or supremacy of the Malays.

The arrival of the Portuguese, Dutch and later the English as well as the Japanese had completely destroyed such socio-politico status of the Malays and their rulers. History would show that the English made our Rulers agree to the appointment of various advisors, the advice of whom must be accepted and implemented by the Rulers. That completely banished any iota of dominance or supremacy of the Malays over the society and the land. If the effect was immediately felt in the socio-politico arena, soon it would also have an economical consequences as well.

The Japanese were however more accommodating to the status of the Malay rulers and the Malays in general. However that was borne out of the necessity to win the support (or at least the acceptance) of the Malays as the Chinese was far more physical in their opposition of the Japanese. That was due to the historical animosity between Japan and China. And so preferential treatments were accorded to the Malays and even their rulers by the Japanese.

That was however to change when the British came back. The proposed Malayan Union would render the Malay rulers, and the Malays, as normal and equal citizens as the British were more interested in establishing a Westminster based democracy. The British ideals were however not well met by the Malays, who claimed historical dominance and "supremacy" in the phaleo-world.

Here lies the claim for the "social contract". This hyphotesises an agreement between the Malays and the British - some sort of a modern aged Magna Carta - whereby the Malays would agree to the Chinese and Indians being granted citizenship to the fledgling Malaysia as long as certain Malay rights and the position of the Malay rulers are preserved. Hence the provisions of Articles 152 and 153 in the Federal Constitution.

If we accept therefore the existence of the "social contract" - and I have no doubt that it existed - surely the concept of Malay Dominance or Supremacy could not have existed anymore. That is because such concept would have been superseded by the "social contract" which our politicians so readily embrace and protect as a sacrosanct deed as well as the provisions in the Federal Constitution. Surely the establishment of a Westminster styled Federation and democracy would run repugnant to the concept of Malay Dominance or Supremacy as the two could not walk with each other on the same road.

A lot has been said about the social contract. But what is being focused at is the citizenship rights which have been so graciously granted by the Malays to the non-Malays (some called the non-Malays "pendatangs" or "immigrants"). However, no effort is being done to look at the social contract from the viewpoint of the non-Malays. Surely the non-Malays, in accepting the social contract, also had their own expectations. Surely the social contract is a contract which impose obligations and rights to both the Malays, on one side, and also the non-Malays, on the other side.

Consequently, would it not be unreasonable to argue that in entering into the social contract with the Malays, the non-Malays would have expected that they are not going to be dominated by the Malays and that all citizens are to be equal before the law and that no particular citizen shall be regarded as supreme?

I would have thought not.

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