I wasn't initially interested to write a response to the Open Letter by Anas Zubedy in TMI- 24th June. But as I read the comments to his letter, I thought perhaps sharing my experience would allow some of us, if not all, tolook at things from a slightly different perspective. But before that, I have a request, before you start reading, put aside your identity, your race, your religion and read it with an open heart.
I grew up among Malays. Not just having Malays as my neighbor or friends but I stayed with Malays. In other words for the most part of my teenage life- I had Malay brothers, sisters, teachers, wardens, makcik dewan makan etc as my family. I went to a boarding school where the Malay population of that school was perhaps 90% or even more. So I literally grew up with them. We slept together- tidur lambak sometimes, ate together, studied together, had fun together and spent our teenage life together. I am used to hearing the azans, kuliah subuh , ceramah agama, marhabans etc. I even listened to the Ustaz during the agama class since we didn't have moral class back then and I will normally sit in the class.
With these experiences, I have a different perception. After all, our life is all about perception. I am able to see things from a perspective that I wouldn't have been able to see had I not grown up with Malays. So I agree with Anas' view in his letter. I may not be able to argue on points 5-7 as I lacked the depth on topics related to politics but I can relate to points 1-5 in his letter.
Let's start with the bigger picture. We all want to live peacefully. Deep inside most of us appreciate the fact that we are Malaysian, from a diversified culture. We want to be a successful nation. One of the deterrents standing in our way is a little more understanding and empathy with one another. We have to acknowledge first and foremost, we cannot have equality in everything in a multi-ethnic nation. Everybody has to sacrifice something for us to live in harmony in a country with a diversified background.
With that in mind, I do not see what Anas suggests by "Acknowledge that we sired from a Malay polity and appreciate the fact that the Malays shared the land" as something wrong. The only thing that may get hurt in the process of doing so is our ego. I have to qualify myself, my knowledge on the history may not be that great, but what I do know is, if we were to track the history of who were the natives of this land, it will go a long way but it will not give us any solution. In fact the closest we could all probably agree upon is Orang Asli. But then again we are agreeing to that fact only because the Orang Asli communities in Malaysia are not politically powerful, so they are not a 'threat' to us.
Let's just assume they form 60%-70% of the population and they are in power and we are faced with similar challenges as now. Will we gracefully acknowledge and appreciate that they are the rightful native and the country came from an 'Orang Asli Polity' and that they shared their land with us? We may then try to prove that they indeed were not the native, it was someone else or we will find other avenues to disagree with them. So when and where will we stop? I see nothing wrong in acknowledging that the country was sired from a Malay polity and the Malay shared their land. The colonists, kings (Indian and others) may have once conquered the land centuries ago. When they were here, they left some of their cultural identity here for example temples. But they came and they left. The last living polity was a Malay polity. Its people were Malays and then came independence. So why is it wrong to acknowledge and appreciate that fact?
Having lived with the Malays, I fully concur with Anas when he says 'generally the Malays are gracious people and they are more inclined to giving not taking, just a word of thank you would warm their hearts'. Now, I am not talking about just the urban contemporary Malays. We have to also look at those living in the rural that form the mass of the Malay population. I am also not referring to the Malay ultras. I don't see that it's a smart thing to keep fighting over issues raised by a group of Malays, who don't represent the Malay majority. We hear it because they managed to get public with their opinion. That's all.
From my experience with Malays, the Malay-ness in them is very much influenced by their religion Islam, in fact you can never separate them both. And no religion teaches you to harm another person so being gracious; give not take; is part of it too. And "Saying sorry in Malay culture is definitely not an act of losing face. It is an act of giving the other party 'face' - an act of high culture'. Truly agree. In my experience I have come across all these qualities from the Malays that I have known. You may not be able to relate well to what I say unless you have mixed with the Malays.Which is the point Anas makes in point No3- Get to know the Malays.
I have read Anas' articles before and his writings in his blog. His articles are balanced in nature if you read it with an unprejudiced mind. Sometimes he may appear to be inclined to the left and sometimes to the right. But in actual fact, he is in the centre. That I do agree. I have also read a book published by his company, A Plea for Empathy: A Quest for National Unity by Dr Chandra Muzaffar. It's a compilation of Dr Chandra's articles that I think every Malaysia should read with an unprejudiced mind. As I mentioned earlier, we need to have a little more understanding and empathy with one another Everybody has to sacrifice something for us to live in harmony. So we have to start somewhere. It doesn't mean only the non-Malays need to do something. The Malays too, need to do something. Dr. Chandra's book gives some insights into this. So when I read the letter by Anas, his suggestions did make sense to me. His suggestions, I thought are few approaches we can take.
Let's not argue on who is right and who is wrong or the problem. Let's look at the best solution given what we have in this country. There is no ideal world. We try to do the best with what we have. One man's meat is another man's poison. We just have to find the middle ground so nobody dies. Even the fundamental of spirituality lies in finding balance. :)