I am disappointed that Dr. Kua Kia Soong has misrepresented my position in his “Rehabilitating Ketuanan Melayu: A Bad Attempt at a Discredited Concept.” ( 9 February 2011). In his eagerness to denigrate me he shows very little concern for facts or historical truths.
1) He proclaims that the term “ ketuanan Melayu” is not in the 1957 Federal Constitution. Who has suggested that it is in the Constitution? This is a clear example of setting up ‘a straw man’ and hitting him down.
2) He appears to equate Ketuanan Melayu with “Malay political dominance” a’la Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad. Both the term “ketuanan” and its underlying meaning have a long history behind them. As I have pointed out elsewhere, “ketuanan” is related to the Malay monarchical institution---- “tuan” as in Yang di Pertuan Agong, Yang di Pertuan Besar, Yam Tuan, and so on. The term implies sovereignty of the Malay Rulers. Since the Malays, in the historical sense, were subjects of their respective Rulers, “ketuanan Melayu” --- the sovereignty of the Malays--- came into vogue in the early decades of the 20th century as part of the growth of Malay nationalism. When the Malayan Union scheme threatened the Malay character of the land the Malays naturally rallied to protect the identity of the land --- hence the goal of restoring Malay sovereignty. Do not forget that the British colonial power recognised Malay sovereignty in their treaties with the Sultans of both the federated and un-federated Malay states, though we know that in reality it was the British who were in effective control.
3) Kua should also be reminded that even after Merdeka, ‘Ketuanan Melayu” was a central feature of the Islamic Party’s (PAS) political struggle. “Restoring Malay ownership of the land”, “defending Malay sovereignty,” “protecting the Malay birth right” were among PAS’s slogans in the fifties and sixties. Pas was totally opposed to what it perceived as UMNO’s generous conferment of citizenship rights upon the non-Malays.
4) In my writings, from my Master’s thesis in 1974, right through my tenure as Aliran President from 1977 to 1991, and up to the present, I have always sought to understand Malay sentiments surrounding concepts such as “Ketuanan Melayu.” But at the same time, I have maintained consistently that it is a divisive idea that jeopardises the quest for a united nation. There is no contradiction at all between elucidating a concept and rejecting its usage.
5) In fact, Kua’s strenuous endeavour to show that I have been inconsistent is actually part of his subtle attempt at character assassination: portraying me as someone who has betrayed his principles. He suggests that I accept Malay political dominance today when I had rejected it in 1986 in my critique of Abdullah’s assertion about the legitimacy of Malay political dominance. I challenge Kua to reveal to the public a book, or article or even a sentence that I have written anywhere that seeks to justify the dominance of one community over another. I have always subscribed to the view that dichotomising power on the basis of a superior and subordinate relationship demeans human dignity, and is antithetical to national integration. My A Plea for Empathy (Kuala Lumpur: Zubedy Ideahouse, 2010) testifies to this.
6) Nonetheless, I have also maintained in the last 40 years that while Malay political dominance should never be elevated to an immutable principle of governance “the nucleus of national political leadership will remain Malay for many years to come.” These words are taken from the very essay that Kua refers to in his attack on me. How is it that he can excerpt at length from my essay and yet ignore this sentence and six other paragraphs that explain why the Malay nucleus in leadership is logical and understandable? To quote from that 1986 essay, I had stated, in reference to the Malay nucleus, “This is only logical considering the political historical background of the country. The present Malaysian state evolved from a Malay polity.” ( K. Das Malay Dominance The Abdullah Rubric ( Kuala Lumpur: K Das Ink, 1987, p 88)
7) The truth is that Kua and his ilk have always sought to repudiate this fundamental historical fact. They just cannot accept the fact that this nation has a Malay root. It is a root that is explicitly acknowledged in the Constitution through the position of the Malay Rulers, the role of the Malay language and the status of Islam. For people like Kua this is “Malay dominance” while Malaysians who have a better grasp of Malaysian realities will see this as an essential dimension of the equilibrium that sustains this nation. It is an equilibrium which at its best expresses itself through a profound appreciation of the Malay position, on the one hand, and a genuine accommodation of non-Malay interests, on the other, embodied in the incorporation of their languages and religions into the nation’s social fabric. Because Kua views the ethnic situation in our country from a skewed perspective, he has very little empathy for the Malay position.
So after more than 30 years, Dr.Kua Kia Soong and I have changed very little. He remains, as he has always been, an ethnic hero who camouflages his tracks with his human rights postures while I am still true to my calling as an inter-ethnic bridge-builder in an increasingly challenging environment.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan 1Malaysia and Professor of Global Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
15 Febraury 2011.
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