I am Malaysian first

I am proud to call myself Malaysian first and Chinese second. And if I were to tell other Chinese Malaysians that, I don’t think they will shun me.

By Kee Thuan Chye

Even if they do, so be it. Let them. If they are so narrow-minded as not to see the beauty of calling oneself Malaysian first, I don’t want to have anything to do with them.

I have two children to whom I have given Malaysian names, i.e. Malay, Indian and Chinese names. It is my contribution to Bangsa Malaysia. Their identity cards bear their full names.

In both cases, their Malay name comes first. And that is the name my wife and I call them by. We call our daughter Soraya and our son Jebat. To us, Malay names are also Malaysian names, and our children are Malaysian. We have no hang-ups about it.

Now, why can’t this be the norm in this beautiful, rich, multi-racial nation – a nation that is beautiful and rich because of its many races and cultures? Why must we separate ourselves into divisive categories? Why can’t we take the inclusive approach, consider each of our fellow citizens as being part of a whole, as part of us instead of as the Other?

Why is it so hard for someone no less than the deputy prime minister of this country to acknowledge that he is Malaysian first and Malay second? Why does he give the excuse that if he were to do so, he would be shunned by the Malays? How does he know for sure? Why does he presume the negative? Why would they shun him?

He is a leader of the country. Should he not instead be leading by example? For all we know, if he were to actually declare himself Malaysian first and Malay second, he might find others doing the same – and they may well be not just Malays but people of other races as well. Why does he fear to lead and instead prefer to take the safe and untested route? Why does he even take the exclusive line and say, “I am a Malay first”?

The basic function of leadership is taking the first step before anyone else, isn’t it? Especially if it’s a step in the right direction, towards the noble purpose of bringing the people closer together. It may be a risky step to take but if it’s the right one, morally and logically, who can judge you harshly?

PM waffles in interview

Walk the talk, leaders. Do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient. Why does the prime minister defend the deputy prime minister for saying he is Malay first? Why does the prime minister himself not say he is Malaysian first and Malay second when the TV station Al Jazeera put the question to him?

Granted, the Al Jazeera interviewer didn’t pose the question sharply. Instead of saying to the PM, “Let me then just ask you, are you a Malay first and a Malaysian second?”, she should have asked, “Would you say you are a Malaysian first and a Malay second?” That would have been to-the-point.

He would not have been able to wriggle his way out by saying, “Well technically, if we talk about the Constitution, I am a Malay but I’m comfortable being a Malay in a Malaysian society …” He wasn’t actually answering the question. And the interviewer wasn’t on-the-ball enough to pin him down.

Perhaps someone else should now pose the proper question to the PM so we can see how he responds. I would be disappointed if he waffled again. He is, after all, the man with the 1Malaysia slogan, the one that aims to unite all Malaysians. If he can’t walk the talk, how much credibility can we give the 1Malaysia concept? In fact, if he can’t walk the talk, how much trust can we give the PM?

At the end of the day, will it only be left to ordinary citizens like me to declare ourselves Malaysian first and whatever our race is, second? I’m sure there are many others out there – ordinary citizens – who will make that declaration with readiness and sincerity. Perhaps if our leaders won’t take the lead, we ordinary citizens should do it, ironic as it may sound. Perhaps we should show our leaders how to walk the talk. Why not?

Let’s band together and exercise our right, our power, as the rakyat. Let’s show Malaysia – and the world – that if our leaders will not take the lead, we the people will take up that responsibility. We will not be doing anything wrong. In fact, we will be doing what is good for our country. We will be bringing about the real 1Malaysia.

How about it? I am a Malaysian first and a Chinese second. What about you?