CERITALAH By KARIM RASLAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Where in the past we would have dealt with controversial matters surreptitiously, nowadays such delicacy and tact are considered old-fashioned if not deceitful.
TO most onlookers, it would appear as if Malaysian public life had been hijacked by extremists – with Perkasa fronting ethnic nationalists and PAS’ ulama leading the religious fundamentalists.
Indeed, the notion of ‘Malay-ness’ is increasingly being determined by these two forces alone – leaving the “middle-ground” empty and forgotten.
At the same time, there’s also been a noticeable spike in identity politics as more and more people seek to define themselves according to race, religion or sexual preference – witness the Seksualiti Merdeka festival.
The once-hesitant ways in which Asians regarded hot-button social issues has been replaced in some parts by a more open, Western assertiveness.
When these two very different forces collide, the net result can be combustible. Moreover, it’s hard to see how these controversies can be resolved given the starkly opposing world-views in operation.
One thing’s for sure: we can’t turn the clock back. Public advocacy is here to stay. Where in the past we would have dealt with such matters surreptitiously, nowadays such delicacy and tact are considered old-fashioned if not deceitful – the hyper-transparent Wikileaks culture cuts all ways.
This also applies to hard-charging NGOs like PAGE who have been in the vanguard of the pro-PPSMI camp.
Looking back on the past, I cannot help but feel however that our previous willingness to live with internal contradictions and differences was also a hallmark of the “Malaysian Consensus” – basically an unwritten understanding to tolerate our country’s myriad complexities.
In essence, your private life and intellectual beliefs were your own business as long as you ‘towed the line’.
This epitomised the “middle-ground” of national politics. It wasn’t necessarily honest or straightforward, but it did steer us away from potentially destructive confrontations.
However, there are some figures who are trying to champion the “middle-ground” even though the Malaysian Consensus has to a large extent been lost.
These leaders are very important, since they act as a balancing force, bridging, negotiating and then resolving tensions between the various pressure groups.
At their best, they act as a kind of social and moral anchorage for the Malay community.
They’re definitely proud of being Malay and Muslim. On the other hand, they aren’t alarmist or defeatist like Perkasa. They refuse to exclude anyone due to race or religion and civil liberties matter to them. They also understand that politics is about discussion, debate and compromise.
Some are in PKR (Rafizi Ramli and Nurul Izzah Anwar), while others remain in Umno (Deputy Minister for Higher Eduction Saifuddin Abdullah). It could be argued that former minister turned maverick Datuk Shahrir Samad is their standard-bearer.
By certain measures MPs Khairy Jamaluddin and Nur Jazlan Mohamad also belong to this amorphous group.
They’re complemented by civil society stalwarts like the passionate activists in PAGE and the IDEAS Malaysia think-tank.
PKR state assemblyman for Seri Setia, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, is this group’s most prolific and impressive writer.
Just 28-years-old, he has published his second book Coming of Age: A Decade of Essays 2001-2011. I reviewed Nik Nazmi’s first offering Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century in 2009 and was eager to read his second.
Coming of Age is a collection of Nik Nazmi’s writings from his student days to his unexpected win in the 2008 general elections and his on-going career as a legislator. It covers an eclectic range of topics from Islam to football.
Thankfully, Nik Nazmi’s journey has not been at the cost of his belief in the transformative power of politics. From his writings and actions, he is able to straddle both Malay- and non-Malay milieus.
Indeed – and he freely admits it – Nik Nazmi is a product of the NEP’s success in creating a viable Malay middle-class. These are confident, public service-oriented young Malays who aren’t bound by the legacies of the past.
Born of the rakyat, they have the credibility to speak with the masses.
Malaysia needs these leaders to succeed. We need them to moderate and modulate the political and moral absolutes that Perkasa and the Islamists are trying to ingrain into the Malay psyche.
As Nik Nazmi writes: “At a time when people are talking about globalisation, communalism seems to be an outdated ‘ism’. Being open-minded about the realities of the world does not mean that we should forget our roots. We should all appreciate differences in heritage. We should not look at our respective cultures as a barrier, but an opportunity to learn from one another.”
Of course, there are differences amongst this new “Malay middle-ground”, such as over PPSMI — but that is to be expected.
What is more important is for them to continue to take a clear, principled and moderate stand on the great questions of the time, and show the world that not all Malay voices are reactionary or fearful.