Published in The Malay Mail Online
Most Malays would like to think that their race is one that is proud and as old as time, and thus will remain pure and noble until the end of it all.
“Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia,” (Malays will never become extinct) they would repeat ad nauseam, parroting the words allegedly spoken by the icon of that noble Malay man: Hang Tuah.
Bereft of achievements that they can be immensely proud of as Malaysians, numerous Malays have retreated into a cocoon, where race and religion have become their defining marks.
I had the most interesting opportunity to immerse myself in this mentality last weekend as I sat in on a symposium called “Mendepani Agenda Asing” (Facing foreign agenda), or MEGA, co-organised by the Islamist NGO Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA).
The main theme of MEGA had been “Malays in a leadership crisis.” It was divided into two sections, the first of which was on so-called “foreign threats” to Muslim Malays as identified by ISMA such as the teachings of the Shiah school of Islam, free trade agreements including the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Americanisation, and Christianisation.
There was even a presentation about “Nam tien” which generally refers to the southward expansion of Vietnamese territory between the 11th and 18thcentury.
While sourced from historical texts, the presentation sounded as if there was a conspiracy: an invasion of Southeast Asia which started from South China cutting through the ancient kingdoms of Champa, Funan, and afterwards the Malay peninsula.
This “invasion” had victimised several ancient natives, such as the Cham people, who all share the same lineage with the Malays. Ancient Malays, if you will.
These transgressions has continued, with the latest victims being the modern Malays.
The historian who presented that paper had previously been part of a study to ascertain the origin of the Malay people, through archaeological and genomic studies, covered previously in the media for their infamous Konvensyen Asal Usul Melayu (Convention on the Origin of Malays).
While the intention of the study was nothing less than charitable—there are so many benefits from such studies, mostly in medicine—the way it has since been promoted is problematic.
In announcing a book on the topic, former Malacca chief minister Ali Rustam, who is also the president of the Malay World Islamic World organisation, had presented its findings by saying that Malays originated from the Middle East.
But Malays were not from the Middle East, as much as almost everybody is from there. The Out of Africa theory posits that modern humans originated from a single point in East Africa.
The allusion is obvious that some Malays would like to link their race directly with the Biblical and Quranic “father of all men”, not unlike how Malay kings had boasted themselves to be descendants of Alexander the Great, or some Malay clans advertising themselves as descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
Just like the self-proclaimed ancestors of Aryans who believe that theirs is the master race, these groups would like to believe that Malays have also been responsible for birthing many of the other races.
Some believe the ancient Malays were rich in knowledge and treasures, but were stripped of them by “invaders” which sometimes were backed by foreign Western powers.
After years of ethnic cleansing, these knowledge and riches were gone and stolen by these “jealous” races, leaving modern Malays just shells of what they were.
Which is where the “Aryan dream” must have ended. A once proud race was humiliated through years and years of subjugation by foreign powers, one after another. It is as if the Malays have never recovered from that dark period in their history.
Ironically, the way some Malays are acting now is probably closer to that of another group who were also historically oppressed: the Jews.
The Jews are another race who mostly feel that they are “God’s chosen people.” After thousands of years of oppression, the Jews are obsessed with the concept of their Promised Land.
One can almost see the parallel in the Malays. The Malay origin study has been presented as proof that modern Malays have always been in the Malay archipelago, and subsequently Malaysia.
Malaysia is the Malays’ Promised Land, as some see it. The Malays deserve their land, and they deserve to rule it.
Not anybody else, and certainly not the Chinese nor Indians who were “just immigrants.”
If these people had it their way, Malaysia would only be for Malays, and ruled under Islamic law. After all, the Malays are paragons of Islam—surely “Malays” and “Muslims” are interchangeable?
Which is why Sabah mufti Bungsu @ Aziz Jaafar—also part of the same MEGA symposium—is so fond of converting non-Malay Muslims into Malays. After all, aren’t Malays and Sabah natives all from the same ancestry?
A country where its people are of the same race strictly tied to a religion. Where somebody critical of that race easily gets labelled as an anti.
I could have sworn I have heard of another country just like that before.