Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A good article,

Sharyn Lisa Shufiyan’s blogpost ‘What Malaysia’s Independence Means To Me’ has been circulating the net and I’ve just come across it today although I haven’t been able to find the original link. Sharyn is also the great granddaughter of our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. It’s a pretty simple piece considering it’s actually attached to a much larger issue.

Ati and Odu

Ati and Odu

My cousin sent these photos to me via email the other day and it’s the first time I’ve ever had a good look at my great grandparents on my mum’s side. You wouldn’t think that they looked like a typical picture of Malaysian heritage, would you? They don’t look Chinese, Malay or Indian. Both my great grandparents are Sino-Dusun and my grandmother on my dad’s side is Dusun mixed Tagalog and Spanish. The only remote Malay lineage I have is through my grandfather whose parents might actually be Javanese.
Yet from the day I was born, I have been submitted to the government as ‘Malay’. My heritage, what should have been a celebration of a personal cultural diversity was claimed by the government for demographic purposes.

It is mandatory in Malaysia to have a religion so that: the government has an idea of how to sway votes according to their demographic; so that other Malaysians know how to measure your morality and how to tiptoe around other races’ automated cultural beliefs. How do I know that our racial labels are merely demographic? Because if you’re not Malay, Chinese or Indian, you’re ‘bumiputera’ or ‘lain-lain’ – indigenous others. This works perfectly for Barisan Nasional, the people who first built this nation: the Malays have UMNO, the Chinese have MCA and the Indians have MIC, there’s no room for Parti DLL (dan lain-lain). East Malaysia has so many different races – you have the Dayaks, Ibans, Kadazans, Dusuns and the list goes up to nearly a hundred other indigenous races that your average Malaysian may not acknowledge. General Malaysian politics which is so embroiled in its triad of racial politics doesn’t have any more room for the indigenous peoples and therefore we are neglected.

I know it sounds negative but growing up under Malaysia’s race politics, it’s bright as daylight that it has been traumatic on all Malaysians. In the first place, my dad was hardly educated in Malaysia and my mum is not Malay at all. Malays are not indigenous to Sabah at all but somehow I inherited being labeled Malay because my father is half Malay? I grew up in Kota Kinabalu, did 7 years of Chinese school and I must have only had two Malay friends up till I was 13. I don’t know the first thing of what it means to be Malay.
In some respects I could be envied for being Malay and Muslim because it means that I get monetary benefits, land et al. Contrarily, to be honest, it can be scary for me to be a Malay-Muslim in Malaysia. I’m afraid of Syariah law, raids, khalwat and all the idiotic rules that have been perverted and enforced onto every existing Muslim in the land (See: As a progressive, liberal individual, someone somewhere has made me feel very unwelcome in my own country. Turkey is 99.9% Muslim and even they are embarrassed of how we conduct ourselves as a Muslim nation.

If you want to talk about racism or how awesome it is to be Malay, try having a ‘Siti’ in your name throughout primary school and a Chinese one, at that. I was 7 and my Chinese teachers automatically thought it normal that I was stupid or slow in class. I was never a good student because I didn’t come from a Mandarin speaking household. It took me ages to figure out for myself that I wasn’t at all stupid. In fact, after all the years of getting smacked and screamed at for being a bad student, I grew up to be what some people actually consider to be – intelligent.
I resented being called ‘Siti’ because I was embarrassed for having to be an outcast for the sake of a race that I did not even identify with. I sat through a Pendidikan Moral class once and the teacher told the class that Malay people wash themselves with their hands after they go to the toilet and every person in the class looked at me straight away and laughed long… and loud… and hard. I had 59 other kids and one adult in that room picturing me touch my own shit. Woe. If I wasn’t in Pendidikan Moral, I was in Pendidikan Islam where they told me that the rest of my non-Muslim classmates whom I spent 7 hours a day, 5 days a week playing and studying with, were going to hell. Talk about your mindfucks.

To all my friend’s mums who hid the pork when I visited their homes, the guys who I met when I went clubbing who said I was pretty but it was too bad they couldn’t marry me so they wouldn’t buy me a beer; my Chinese teachers who thought being Malay meant being stupid and the I.C. people who gave me a ‘binti’ in my name when I was 12 – thank you for messing with my childhood. All for a religion that was imposed on me and a race that the government wanted me to have. Malaysia went through so much trouble to control my identity but my accent’s almost American and my Bahasa Malaysia sucks. Now what was all that trouble for?

If I had a say, I wished my I.C. said I was sino-Dusun. I wish that I could marry outside of my religion without my partner having to convert into a religion that I myself don’t practise because I believe in a non-fascist God.

So what do I have to say about Najib’s 1Malaysia? That’s nice… can I change my name now? Can Muslims convert to other religions? And while you can’t decide whether to have your education syllabus in Bahasa Malaysia or English, can there be more facilities for indigenous races to learn indigenous languages? Where were the Sabahan and Sarawakian filmmakers in 15 Malaysia? Do West Malaysians know what native Borneon languages sound like? And once and for all can someone explain to me how come we can’t change our religions but Yasmin Ahmad (God rest her soul) managed to change her gender and marry her husband? Cos I’ve been wondering for years.

Nenek Jantan and family

Nenek Jantan and family

Now take a good look at my grandfather in the family photo. He’s the tallest one standing in the middle. It all started when he converted into Islam during Tun Mustafa’s time because when UMNO came to East Malaysia, a lot of politicians converted into Islam to gain favour. But then my mum would have had to convert into Islam anyway when she married my dad. In other Muslim countries you don’t have to convert to marry but in Malaysia, we do. So literally speaking because of Malaysian politics either way, I would have been born a Muslim. It was a fate bestowed onto me in what could be interpreted as an un-Islamic way.

What does 1Malaysia mean to me, Najib? It means that you leave the religion out of the politics and you don’t forget about the indigenous people. In a lot of ways, they need much more help than just the Malays. I want them to have a face that every Malaysian can acknowledge as a Malaysian face. East Malaysia has bled for the West, destroyed its forests and polluted its oceans to be so neglected, to be ‘dan lain-lain’ and dirt poor while your Petronas twin towers stand tall above KLCC. You’re not doing anything when Penan women are getting sexually abused yet you want to cane a woman for having a beer? Prioritise, damnit!

To me, 1Malaysia means bridging the oceans. It doesn’t mean Indians, Chinese and Malays or indigenous peoples can just be friends, it means they can love or have babies together if they so choose and still keep their personal heritages. To me it means more religious freedom, more education, less petty hatred and Muslims who can go see the Black Eyed Peas if they want, because it does send the message out there that it’s okay for the non-Muslims in Malaysia to have distorted moral compasses. That’s not right either.
My main hope out of this 1Malaysia crock is that Malaysians stop just talking about the Chinese, Malays and Indians and start to acknowledge the indigenous people too. Are we also in the picture of this 1Malaysia you speak of? Will the government just let us be ourselves and not only what they want us to be?

Nonetheless I have a lot of faith. I think that under all this madness there are a lot of Malaysians are on the right path, who go against the grain of a government that wants to pigeon hole us in an effort to keep us under control. Just keep doing what you’re doing, being free to do what feels right in your heart, love who you want and be compassionate to others. In the last few years I think we have proven to ourselves that there are enough sane people out there who will stand up for their fellow Malaysians if they are wrongfully persecuted. It goes to show that we’re not that far gone into becoming an uber conservative nation.

Being Malaysian to me means protecting those who are weaker or different from you. Do not let the a government’s fascist, petty threats make you afraid if it means that we are to neglect each other of our basic human rights. They may represent us but we are bigger than them.

Article obtained from

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