As a Malay, I’m a little hesitant to say what I need to say here. My focus is on the shame of our entire community, but generalisations sometimes miss specifics that may be important. I acknowledge that not all Malays share the same sentiments about everything, but I believe that in quite a number of ways, we are more alike than we’ll admit. So, alang-slang menyeluk pekasam, biar sampai ke pangkal lengan (if you’re dipping into the fermenting pot anyway, you might as well dip all the way up to your elbow). Let the chips fall where they may.
So here it is. Najib and his administration are the shame of the Malay community. The public spats. The open condescension displayed by his administration. The scandals. The dirty smear tactics. The bare-faced bribery during election periods. None of these are values traditionally associated with the Malays, and yet they seem to be espoused so readily by our government and the ruling party, Umno, which claims to represent us.
Our history speaks of noble, honourable leaders, from Parameswara all the way to Tunku Abdul Rahman. They did their utmost for the people they ruled and they served with integrity and efficiency, taking Malaysia into periods of incredible growth and advancement. Despite what others may say, we used to be a hardworking race, used to labouring for long hours in the fields. And yet, even as our politicians squabble in our name, we languish under the radar, unable to use the “advantages” set out for us by the government.
We used to be traders, hunters, farmers, fishermen, miners, sailors, adventurers, warriors. Now, the most prominent members of the community are associated with corruption, inefficiency, laziness, arrogance, and many other unsavoury descriptions unbecoming of our heritage. We have forgotten our pride, and more importantly, the wisdom that comes only with humility, as enshrined in the proverb “biar ikut resmi padi; makin berisi makin tunduk” (follow the way of the padi; the plumper it is, the lower it bows).
We are torn apart and divided by the political machinations of those who use our religion as a tool to divide and not unite. Our Prime Minister, the most powerful member of our community, pays lip service to the idea of unity, while dragging our name through the dirt with smear campaigns against his rivals, implementing policies that effectively rob the rice from the people’s plates, all the while protesting his innocence despite mounting evidence, forgetting that “kalau tak ada berada, tak akan tempua bersarang rendah”, meaning there’s no smoke without a fire.
As our representative not only on the national stage but the global one, Najib has shamed us. His practice of saying different things before different audiences shows a weakness of character and a lack of principle. We can only shake our heads as he paints rosy pictures of our country when the reality is not quite as pretty. Our community is diplomatic by nature, but we are, or were, not given to outright lying, and Najib has come close to doing that often enough when he addresses the international stage. How, for instance, can we claim a position of leadership in the field of human rights when we are barely, if at all, compliant with the standards agreed upon by civilised societies?
We used to be more than this. We have forgotten the roots of our culture, “seperti kacang lupakan kulit”(like the peanut that’s forgotten its shell), and we find ourselves heading down the same direction as our leaders. Our leaders must be the ones to light the way for the rest of the community because, for as long as they feel it is all right to indulge in corruption, in blatant disrespect for the laws and for the common decency of mankind, so might the rest of the community. After all, politicians represent the most prominent members of the Malay community.
Pride, honour, and humility were once synonymous with the Malay character. They were once inseparable from the Malay identity, “bagai kuku dengan isi” (like the fingernails and the flesh), which makes our current sorry state even more disheartening. I believe these characteristics are still in us, deep down. Our leaders need to pave the way, to set examples so that the worst among us may be inspired to mend their ways. I fear a time when we become past saving as a people.