Side Views

Umno in the fierce light of day — Rama Ramanathan

DEC 8 — I am restless. I slipped into this condition when I started observing the Umno general assembly last week.

The word which best describes the theme, tone and thrust of the assembly is racism (of the Malay superiority variety).

I shudder when I think of Umno leaders: Prime Minister Najib, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin, Home Minister Hishammuddin, de facto Law Minister Nazri. They spew racism. They speak as if Malay means Umno. They methodically attack other Malay parties, PKR and PAS, saying the latter will sell their racial privileges. Meritocracy. Many years ago I believed fear of meritocracy was the primary engine of Umno’s racism.

In “The Malay Dilemma”, probably the most racist book I’ve read, our former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir even suggested Malays are dim due to inbreeding! Mahathir, of course, has been proved wrong. Malays now dominate the civil service, the judiciary, the armed forces and the majority of large Malaysian public companies. You don’t dominate by being dim. You dominate by using power and threats.

Egotism. Prior to the Umno assembly, I thought the primary engine of Umno’s racism was egotism, i.e. a grand sense of self-importance, with boastfulness. What did they boast about? They boasted about remaining entrenched, sustaining the “special position” of the Malays, maintaining “national security” and retaining Islam as the official religion (as if it was ever under threat); boasts which are more implied than spelt out. The venue, dress, food, cars, etc helped reinforce the wealth of Umno leaders.

They mainly demeaned “the opposition” — many of whom were elected by citizens despite the whole machinery of the state being directed against them: the media is flooded with stories of phantom voters and the trading of citizenships for votes. They ignored the good news from Selangor and Penang: freedom of information Acts, transparency in awarding contracts and few prosecutions for corruption despite the outpouring of police investigation resources against small-time “crimes”.

Unlike Mahathir, I have never believed Malays are dumb and lazy. Whenever I encounter anti-Malay rhetoric, I recite the names of the best people I have worked with: many of them are Malays. Some Malays have reformed long-broken institutions: some government departments now provide great service.

I also point to the leaders of Umno: just look at their success. Look at their cars, clothes, jewellery, mansions, weddings, etc. Umno can boast of enriching many! What is the primary engine of Umno’s racism? Is it fear of meritocracy? Is it egotism? Or is it something else? Terror. I think it’s terror. Terror of being found out.

Consider this: in Perak and Selangor, when BN lost the majority, they destroyed evidence before departing: files went missing. Soon after “the opposition” took office, many misdeeds became public. Umno even protects those who put their hands in the kitties of charities. Do you remember the misappropriation allegations against the Umno -BN wives who were the charity organisation Balkis? Do you wonder why Khir Toyo remains free to stir up distress? It’s because many more Khirs will be flushed out if the ship sinks!

I think the root of my restlessness is this knowledge: desperados will do desperate things. They’ve created restrictions on the Freedom of Assembly Bill. They are taking oaths in the name of Allah. They are terrified; therefore things will get worse before they get better. I am restless. Some say it’s because I’m not sufficiently kind-hearted; I’m too focused on the wrongs; I should think more about the good Umno has done, the stability we have.

I disagree with them because I am driven by another engine. The black South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the white English parish priest Trevor Huddleston as the greatest influence in his life. Huddleston wrote of why he refused to see good in the bad, and why he opposed every race-based thing: “It is always possible, I suppose, even in the most vicious enactments of the most vicious governments to see elements of potential good. But Wilberforce would never have succeeded in abolishing slavery if he had listened to the arguments of kind-hearted but wrong-headed slave owners. No advance can be made against prejudice and fear unless these things are seen as irrational and brought out into the fierce light of day. There is no room for compromise or fence-sitting over a question such as racial ideology when it so dominates the thought of a whole country.” [Trevor Huddleston, “Naught for Your Comfort” (Glasgow: Collins, 1956), 17.]

I too will oppose everything that is race-based. I will name and shame all racists. I am not free of anxiety, impatience and restlessness. But I am confident I am on the winning side. It’s just a question of endurance. (Incidentally, I do not believe Umno has a monopoly on racism.)

* Rama Ramanathan reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.

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