Anwar Ibrahim and the politics of race - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Malaysiakini : "And criticism is healthy, an essential element of any
functioning democracy. In any event, I can take a lot on the chin, let
alone a couple of bum raps and innuendoes." – Anwar Ibrahim
COMMENT | People have asked me what I think of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s review of former attorney-general Tommy Thomas’ book My Story: Justice in the Wilderness. Well, the answer is simple. I think it is an interesting review.
the best part of the review is when Anwar disputes Thomas’ racial
narratives in the book by offering up his own take on systemic racism,
something that Anwar acknowledges exists.
is a whole passage where Anwar decries the former attorney-general for
laying “the preponderance of the blame being levelled on Malay leaders,
giving the impression that racism is a malady afflicting only the Malay
Keep in mind that most establishment Malay leaders
claim that they are defending race and religion and they do so because
they represent the Malay community. Also, keep in mind that Anwar
acknowledges “racism in Malaysia is a systemic cultural and political
problem, which has been exacerbated by government policies”, which also
means that the people with the most political power in this country
define the system and political operatives defend such racist policies
even when they are from Pakatan Harapan.
Remember when I started
dogging Anwar on his “don’t spook the Malay” narrative? Some folks have
forgotten how it all started. It started in an interview where Anwar was
asked about what he thought of Hindraf 2.0 demanding that UiTM should
be open to all races.
Anwar said: "It gives a very negative perception.
The Malays are worried, the government has only been formed so if we
demand that they surrender, it is too soon. What is important now, for
me, is to instil a strong confidence that we will defend the rights of
all people without sacrificing bumiputera interests as enshrined in the
In other words, here is a Malay
leader defending a Malay-only institution on behalf of the Malay
community which he believes would want him to defend such issues, thus
his warning of not spooking them.
if Anwar who always has to flash his bone fides when it comes to race
and religion because of the relentless attacks by the Malay
establishment on his credentials, what more the average Malay political
operatives, some of whom have gone so far as to claim that non-Malays
have to be “pak turuts” or that Malay special rights should remain in
Hence, feeling aggrieved when someone points to the
racism promulgated by Malay political operatives using terms such as
privileges, rights and “in the constitution” is strange, especially
considering that we have had Malay political operatives in the
opposition and the establishment claim that Malay rights should never be
challenged or this would lead to communal violence.
Don't get me wrong. In my last piece,
I argued how non-Malay political operatives support and sustain a
system which they claim is racist and bigoted and all the while decrying
such a system. Knowing Thomas, I doubt he believes that racism is only
confined to the Malay community, but racism and bigotry define the bumi
system and is the language of mainstream politics in this country.
for instance, Anwar’s defence of the civil service. First off,
mainstream Malay politicians always claim that the civil service is one
of the bastions of Malay privileges, hence any attempt to reform it to
make it more egalitarian and diverse is trampling on “Malay rights”,
whatever that means.
Look at the kind of racial politics at play
when Anwar gets miffed at this passage from Thomas - “public sector
lawyers had public service attitudes (and) were civil servants, earning a
fixed monthly income and awaiting pension upon retirement” – which
Anwar implies has racial undertones to it and even Anwar even references
the myth of the lazy Malays.
Honestly, this is a generic
perspective held by many all over the world when it comes to public
servants. The idea that a government gig offers you job security which,
in turn, diminishes professionalism and proactiveness becomes toxic in
this country because of the narratives promulgated by Malay leaders that
the civil service is a "Malay province”, hence criticism against it
becomes racially charged.
Just last year, Akhbar Satar, in an op-ed piece
about making the civil service great again, wrote of former senior
civil servant Abdul Halim Shah Abdul Murad lamenting that “the quality
of civil service recruits has deteriorated to such an extent that there
is a gradual dilution of services and efficiency, referring to the
Administrative and Diplomatic Service. We must select people with the
right skills to do the job right. Candidates, therefore, must be
screened thoroughly to ensure those making the cut are people with
So, is this civil servant also disparaging
the civil service and engaging in racial stereotypes? Or does such
criticism only extend to a non-Malay who criticises the civil service?
is the main point here. Non-Malay political operatives are always
bending over backwards to show loyalty to the civil service because, so
ingrained is this belief that the civil service and the Malay community
are not mutually exclusive, that attacking one is also attacking the
In addition, we could go into how the private sector is
dominated by one ethnic group that is mired in racism too, and yes, we
will hear the aggrieved screams of how the private sector is based on
egalitarianism and meritocracy, which is nonsensical.
What we have
to remember is that political operatives use these systems to divide
us. It is beneficial to them that these divisions are defined by
systems, hence some sort of false equivalency can be made for political
purposes or parity in political power is achieved between dominant
ethnic groups through the nexus of corruption and patronage.
the government could point to reforms that dismantle the systemic racism
in government and political ideology, then the state would have the
moral authority to tackle the inequalities in the private sector. But
remember this is not in the game plan.
I am sympathetic to Harapan
political operatives. “Bad government” is the establishment – Harapan
and BN – and Harapan will always find it difficult to reform the system,
because as de Tocqueville reminds us:
“The most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it seeks to mend its ways."