Zaid Ibrahim is Malay, too By Commander (Rtd) S THAYAPARAN Royal Malaysian Navy
Sunday, May 07, 2017
Malaysiakini : “The real world is much bigger than that created by Umno.” - Zaid Ibrahim
The last time I wrote about Zaid Ibrahim was when he joined the DAP. I said
- “Here is a man who has done everything to alienate the political
establishment by espousing views that are anathema to mainstream
Malaysian politics.” Reading the latest edition of his book, ‘I, too am
Malay’, what sticks out is that Zaid Ibrahim, despite what his critics
claim, has pretty much carried the same tune ever since he quit Umno.
Discussing “Malay” issues is problematic. The race discourse in this
country - as it is everywhere else - is toxic. Non-Malays either
venerate Malays who think their way or mock those who are on the
opposite side of the political divide. Malay oppositional politicians
have to navigate between conforming to mainstream non-Malay expectations
and Malay communal concerns, which is often mischaracterised by people
who claim they are not “racist” but have no problem attributing damaging
stereotypes on the Malay community in their war against Umno.
Zaid Ibrahim’s book - its various editions have been translated to
Chinese and Malay but sadly no Tamil version (yet) - is a narrative that
seeks to explore his “Malayness” that goes beyond the constitutional
definition of his community and reaffirm values, both secular and
religious, in a time when the country is at a crossroad. Since this is
the latest edition, what we soon begin to realise is that the country
has always been at a crossroad.
Nothing is off limits in this book and Zaid Ibrahim pulls no punches
when it comes to Umno, “Malay” supremacy, Islam and the future of the
Malay community. This is a book by a political insider who has no
problem burning his bridges in an effort to expand upon his greater
truth. While some view his “not playing well with others” reputation as
detrimental to the groupthink of the opposition or establishment, I
believe the unpredictability serves a purpose.
The problem with Zaid Ibrahim is that he is a politician who believes
in ideas when he is operating in an environment that rejects grand
ideas in favour of banal pragmatisms and political bromides. One of the best chapters in the book, ‘What happened during Ramadan
(2016)’, is a chronology of public events that show the
mean-spiritedness of public officials and religious bureaucrats at a
time when they were supposed to demonstrate piety and compassion. It is a
description of events that is related in a matter-of-fact manner, but
underneath the placid prose is a disdain for the hypocrisy of those who
claim to have the moral high ground but are willing to use the low road
to achieve their goals.
It is also another opportunity for Zaid to elaborate on the inner
workings of a system and officials who have very little to offer when it
comes to ideas that encourages inclusivity in a month that demands
such, but rather the hypocritical pontifications on race and religion is
all that the regime and Islamic types could muster.
Sometime back, when I interviewed Zaid Ibrahim, the discussion
revolved around Islam. When it comes to “Malay” identity and Islam,
Zaid’s answer was interesting because as usual it touches on issues
which he has been talking about for a very long time.
From the 2012 interview
- “Islam in Malaysia will not allow a Malay to be a non-Muslim. Some
Islamic scholars however say that there is no compulsion in the
religion. But scholars have no influence in Malaysia; only religious
bureaucrats. Nurul (Izzah) is brave to express an opinion; but in
Malaysia, Muslims have no right to an opinion on their own religion.
They can be punished. Only the state can issue opinions.”
Not a ‘greatest hits’ compilation
However, do not think that this book is just a “greatest hits”
compilation which would be dated and of no real contemporary interest.
Nearly every chapter in the book is relevant to what is going on now and
Zaid Ibrahim has this knack of linking issues faced by Muslim minority
communities elsewhere as a mirror to Muslim majority rule here.
For instance, in a chapter titled ‘The marginalisation of the
Malays’, Zaid compares the issues facing the minority Muslim community
in India with the marginalisation of Indians in this country and how the
two communities deal with their respective marginalisation. He also
argues that the majority Muslim/Malay community is marginalised in this
country “but this is a self-imposed condition made without the coercion
or intent of others”.
This is more or less Zaid’s thinking when it comes to governmental
policies and communal expectations. When I asked his opinion on whether
affirmative-action policies contributed to the ghettoisation of the
public and private sectors along racial lines, he answered:
“The problem we have is the inability of some leaders to see the
long-term pernicious effects of discrimination. They want instant
gratification and support and so they tell the Malays they have special
rights. When you take that path, you then will not see you are
practicing discrimination. “Only enlightened Malay leaders can tell the difference between
outright discrimination and affirmative support programmes. The Chinese
then retaliate and would gang up and support each other, thereby making
the situation worse. It's only the Indians and other natives who are
left alone; desolate and poor.”
Now many Malays would not agree with what Zaid Ibrahim has to say
about their community and the issues facing their community. These
Malays are not necessarily Umno Malays. They are Malays with opinions
and perspectives of their own. In his book, Zaid acknowledges this and
his ire is against the state propaganda organs and former Umno comrades
who attack him with invectives like “liberal”, “ungrateful”, “traitor”
and the host of other titles that they bestow upon someone who has left
What this book attempts to do is to make a rational argument that
Zaid, too, is part of the Malay community and that the policies that
supposedly favour the Malays are in reality policies that are there to
maintain hegemonic control.
This is where the book shines. Moving beyond race and religion, the
book is a narrative about failed policies which supposedly exist to
maintain racial and religious supremacy but in reality, constrain the
Malay polity which in turn creates a toxic environment where Malaysians
are at one another’s throats instead of working together for the
betterment of all communities.
What I really want is for a Chinese or Indian politician to write
about his or her community the way how Zaid Ibrahim has written about
his, with a critical eye that exposes the lies and deceptions we have
about our individual communities.