Last days of Malay nationalism?

What is a Malay? What is a Malaysian? What is a nationalist? What is a 'nation'? How are we becoming "re-tribalised" in this world of increasing restlessness over a range of issues that are not being resolved by the current regime.

Azly Rahman

As the world continues to revolve around this demigod called Capitalism, bathed in the glories of a failed Raeganomics and Thatcherism, drowned in a "blue ocean" soaked in blood-red tapestry of ethno-religious-class-based conflicts, and inhabited by a global population of the haves and the have-nots and modern-day indentured servants, I ponder the question of  Malay nationalism vis-a-viz post-industrial tribalism and how we can deconstruct ourselves to escape through the walls of the neo-colonial shackle. We must destroy the matrix we have allowed others to construct; these soul cages for each one of us.

These bring me to the question of the dying days of Malay nationalism and its imagined community.

What is a Malay? What is a Malaysian? What is a nationalist? What is a 'nation'? How are we becoming "re-tribalised" in this world of increasing restlessness over a range of issues that are not being resolved by the current regime. These are burning questions as we become more mature in discussing race relations in Malaysia – almost 40 years after the May 13, 1969 incident.

Ernest Renan, Anthony Smith, Benedict Anderson, Harry Benda, and John Funston – major scholars of nationalism — would agree that Umno does not have an ideology except to sustain its elusive political superiority via the production of post-industrial materials and human beings.

Elusive word

Even the word "National Front" (Barisan Nasional) is elusive. It is surviving as long as means to cling on to power – by all means necessary – becomes more efficient and sophisticated. Its survival lies in the way people are divided, conquered, and mutated into 'post-industrial tribes'; market-segmented-differentiatedly-sophisticated enclaves that are produced out of the need for the free market economy to transform Malays and Malaysians into consumers of useless goods and ideology.

Post-industrial tribalism is a natural social reproduction of the power of the media to shape consciousness, and to create newer forms of consumerist human beings. Nationalism, including Malay nationalism of the Mahathirst era, is an artificial construct that needs the power of "othering" and "production of enemies" and "boogeymen and boogeywomen" for ideological sustainability.

But what is "nationalism" and does "Malay nationalism" actually exist in this century? Does the idea of 'natio' or "nation" or "a people" survives merely on linguistic, territorial, religious homogeneity when these are also subject to the sociological interrogations of subjectivity and relativity?

Nationalism is a psychological and cultural construct useful and effective when deployed under certain economic conditions. It is now ineffective as a tool of mass mobilisation when nations have gained "independence" from the colonisers and when the "enemy" is no longer visible. All that exist in this post-industrial, globalised, borderless, and mediated age of cybernetic capitalism is the idea of "post-industrial tribes" that live and thrive on chaos and complexity and on materials and goods produced by local and international capitalists.

Revise the old formula

We are in the 21st. century. About three years from now, we will arrive at the year 2010. The non-Malays and non-bumiputeras have come a long way into being accepted as full-fledged Malaysians, by virtue of the ethics, rights and responsibilities of citizenship. They ought to be given equal opportunity in the name of social justice, racial tolerance and the alleviation of poverty.

Bright and hard-working Malaysians regardless of racial origin who now call themselves Malaysians must be given all the opportunities that have been given to Malays since 40 years back.

Islam and other religions require this form of social justice to be applied to the lives of human beings. Islam does not discriminate one on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, creed nor national origin. It is race-based politics, borne out of the elusiveness of nationalism, that creates post-industrial tribalistic leaders; leaders that will design post-industrial tribalistic policies. It is the philosophy of greed, facilitated by free enterprise runamuck that will evolvingly force leaders of each race to threaten each other over the control of the economic pie.

The claim of 'civilisational Islam' or "Islam Hadhari" must be backed with a philosophy of development that restructure society no longer on the basis of newer forms of post-industrial tribalism that accords the political elites with the best opportunity to amass more wealth, but to redesign the economic system based on an efficient and sound socialistic economic system. It might even require political will to curb human enthusiasm of acquiring more and more of the things they do not need. In short, it should curb temptations to out-consume each other in the name of greed.

To be civilised means to wake up to the possibilities of humanism and not plunge into a world of more sophisticated racism. The universal principle of humanism requires the privileged few to re-examine the policies of national development that prioritise the creation of more real estate projects than the construction of programmes that meet basic needs of all races and classes of peoples. To civilise a nation means to de-tribalise the citizens into a polity that will learn to share the wealth of this nation by accepting this land as the "earth of mankind" (bumi manusia) rather that a land belonging to this or that race.

In a multi-racial, multi-religious, country such as Malaysia, nationalism is a complex yet withering concept. In a globalised world of globally- and government-linked companies this concept of "fatherland" or "motherland" is a powerful weapon of the wealthy to mount arguments that hide the real intention of empire-building. The lifestyle of the country's rich and famous require nationalist sentiments to be played up so that the more the rights are "protected" the more the political-economically rich few will have their sustained control over the people, territories, natural resources and information.

This, I think is the picture of post-industrial tribalism we are seeing as a mutation of the development, appropriation and imitation of the Malay feudalistic mentality. The clear and present danger in our post-industrial tribalistic world lies in old formula we are wrongly using.
The essential question now is – as a 'Malaysian nation'/Bangsa Malaysia haven't we agreed upon a common history and a common destiny?

Where do we go from here as we usher debilitatingly  into this new year? Is race still a relevant analysis? Or is class and post-industrial tribalism the issue?


While the opinion in the article is mine,
the comments are yours;
present them rationally and ethically.

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And here's a New Year message for all:


Let us go back to the cave, this new year

Let us move forth
beyond the hypocrisy of New York Time Square's ball-dropping
of those screaming and yelling amidst confetti falling
More than just a night of fireworks in the sky, adorning,
Of drag racing,
Of disco-dancing
Of well-wishing
Of drunk-driving
And next, another year of national forgetting

… a nation in amnesia we are made to be in

Let us not forget what must lie ahead
As we retreat to the "cave"
To think of shadows on its wall
And to reflect upon the "doctrine of reminiscence"

… the river of forgetfulness we drank from, intoxicated therein

In this cave we congregate
And begin to look at this Reality we have constructed
Inside and outside of us as we are made to become cogs
in the wheels of Industry
Inside and outside of us we build Neon Gods and bow down to these
and their creators
Inside of us we have become these Gods

In the cave we must contemplate
The nature of revolution we must initiate
One that must begin with the mind and end with the mind
And in-between these we gather all those
Not yet intoxicated by the fireworks displays nor the hypocrisy of celebrating
Against the backdrop of world's poor suffering
And in between these– come forth will those be in full force
to bring this corrupt system down its knees
From inside of us, into the outside of this

… a revolt that must begin with the end in mind

In this cave
We are one
We are many
We are the powerful and the powerless and we are once the power abusers
We speak the language of Nature
Of one that will bring down this world of Materials Culture
Of one that will rewrite our History
So that the past will be closer to our Primordial Nature
So that the future will be close to our Heart's desire

This will be our cave
In it we will speak of Politics and Culture in its most Ideal form
So that we may speak of The Culture of Vultures outside this cave
this vulture culture that is corrupting Human Nature
making the rich filthier
the poor poorer, trampled upon easier

This will be our cave
Wherein we no longer speak of the national economy
Calibrated by statistical lies only, trumpeted globally
In fine imitation of the language of composite indexes and standards and poor
And how bulls and bears will roam the streets running amuck
to the tune of the velocity of money
as currencies move globally creating national tragedies

This cave will be the place
Wherein we no longer speak of how many billions and gold bullions we will need
To prop up the next emperor with a kris
Nor a place wherein we talk about curbing corruption
Whereas we ourselves are too corrupt to curb ourselves

In this cave
There shall be no fireworks to burn
There shall be no slogans to clutter the timid mind of the people we govern
There shall be no strategies of deception and intrigues of politics to renew
There shall be no plans of monopolizing the prime media to honor
the Neon Gods anew

In this cave
There shall be dialogues our politics and pedagogy once knew
There shall be conversations around the idea of
Who should rule?
Why should we be ruled?
What is a just government?
When does a government become ineffective, abusive, oppressive,
and tyrannical?
and what then must we do?

Must investment bankers become emperors?
Must future leaders ally with global corporate raiders?

Must we disobey unjust laws?
How must we learn to question authority?

How must our children be taught?
How must their intelligence be respected?

Must these young minds be developed by State-conditioned educators?

How must we stop the decay in our universities?
How must we reclaim its prosperity and recapture its dignity?
And vote out those who rule with arrogance and intellectual brutality

What is an ideal society, a perfect government, a philosopher ruler
How might we create a messiah out of wisdom and virtue?
How might we make these possible?
Through a revolution of Pure Reason
That will overthrow governments run by robber barons

This will be our cave
As what Socrates once spoke of
In which Muhammad the prophet of Islam found illuminations in
In which Lao Tzu would had also once retreated to
Let us all go back to the cave
Let us first make our way to the mountains
There is no mountain high enough

Come into our cave—

Educators, university professors, Vice Chancellor, students, activists, enlightened politicians, social workers, farmers, rubber tappers, fishermen, doctors, lawyers, engineers, entertainers, religious leaders, military officers, artists, artisans, musicians, comedians, petty traders, currency traders, multimedia producers, princes and princesses, schoolchildren, …

Come into our cave—

Revolt we must against the Gods of Materials Culture and Political Vultures
Who reign through the Divine Right of Kings
Reigned through Hidden Terror
Mandated by the Modern State it Legitimates
Through the use of The Ideological State Apparatuses it Finely Decorates
So that the Masses will be cleverly subjugated

Let us, when we are ready, come out of the cave—

To create a new social order
For—this world is too much for us.
But we are not merely a speck of dust
We have choices. And we evolve.