Do We Want to Be ‘Greater Malaysians’?

 By Kee Thuan Chye, Malaysian Digest

Last May, PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim came out with a new catchphrase which was rather compelling.

While addressing a PKR-organised dinner at Gelang Patah in Johor, he told his mainly non-Malay audience, “To those who say this country is for the Malays and that they are under threat in their own country, I say you are a greater Malaysian when you fight against the plunder of your country’s wealth by a few.”

The “greater Malaysian” refrain was the centerpiece that resounded through his speech and found connection with those who shared his sentiment.

“You are a greater Malaysian when you are concerned about the rights and welfare of the poor among the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Dayaks and Kadazans in the whole country,” Anwar asserted. 

“You are a greater Malaysian when you decide not only to be good at Bahasa Melayu but also at English and then go on to learn Mandarin because that would help your country economically in a highly competitive world. 

“You are a greater Malaysian when you are not only roused to indignation by the shooting death of an Aminulrasyid Amzah but also over the deaths of Teoh Beng Hock and A. Kugan while they were under investigation.

“You are a greater Malaysian when you say, ‘Enough is enough, this country is mine as much as it is yours’, and you decide to use your vote for a new future for your country at the next general election.”

Anwar should use this catchphrase repeatedly from now on, especially in tandem with the examples he cited to illustrate what it means to be “a greater Malaysian”. If he uses it to great effect, he could change some minds.

After all, what he proposes in that speech should, to any level-headed person, sound sensible. Isn’t it “Malaysian” to care for the poor, the downtrodden and the victimised regardless of their race? Isn’t it “Malaysian” to care about what is happening to our country – the plunder of its wealth “by a few”, the ever widening of the racial rift?

That same night in May, after leaving the dinner event, Anwar proceeded to Plentong, also in Johor, and spoke to a largely Malay audience. He reportedly told them that he felt more authentically Malay and Muslim when he fought for the rights of all Malaysians, regardless of their race or religion.

“Am I not a greater Malay for doing so?” he asked them.

“Greater Malay” and “greater Malaysian” are indeed potent catchphrases. They may seem to pander to different ethnic groups but in terms of the larger idea of forging a Malaysian consciousness, they are at least consistent with each other. And they could capture the imagination of Malaysians who respect democracy, justice, fairness, and who believe in the paramouncy of the human race. 

In any case, while spouting either, Anwar cannot be accused of speaking in forked tongues, saying one thing to the Malays and saying the total opposite to the non-Malays, as has been the practice of most of our politicians, particularly those of Barisan Nasional over the decades. Both “greater Malay” and “greater Malaysian” are aimed at the same goal.

Anwar should perhaps have been in Johor last week and speaking these words, in light of the controversy over the school principal who is alleged to have exhibited traits directly opposed to those of a “greater Malaysian”. She had reportedly told the non-Malay pupils in her school that they were merely “penumpang” (passengers or tenants), and that the Chinese could go back to China. She apparently also insulted the Indian religion by likening the Indians to dogs for wearing prayer strings around their neck and wrist.

A task force has been established by the Ministry of Education to investigate this matter even though 50 police reports have been made against the principal by students of the school and parents. The authorities seem to be taking a serious view of the matter.

But then, what Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has said in a statement last week is ominously telling. “There are contradictory claims to what [the principal] said,” he declared, somewhat diminishing the testimonies of the 50 police reports. Already, too, the Education Director-General, Alimuddin Mohd Dom, has said that it was all a “misunderstanding” and that the matter has been resolved.