The Book Launch
On Saturday I attended the launch of two books at Rumah Gerakbudaya: Young & Malay, and Merdeka For The Mind. It was launched by A. Samad Said (or better known as Pak Samad), a National Laureate for his outstanding and creative contributions to Malay Literature.
Yes, that guy with the white Confucius-like moustache-beard (a combination of both that looks like it’s one piece).
He addressed the audience in Malay, which means I couldn’t catch most of what he said because I don’t speak Malay much. But there were brief mentions of silat and his hopes for the books to be foundations of further discussion. I should really bring a Malay friend along to be my translator next time.
Amir, Zaim, I’m talking about you two.
Did you know Pak Samad joined DAP in June this year by the way? What a move to dispel the myth that DAP is a party meant for the Chinese only. Of course, it’s not just him: Zairil and Dyana are another two examples.
The Public Forum
Syerleena Rashid, councillor of Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang (I have no idea what a councillor does), moderated the forum by posing insightful questions to the panel, which was made up of Wan Hamidi Hamid, Ooi Kee Beng, Zairil Khir Johari, and Raja Iskandar Fareez.
Never has the world “Malay” conjure up so much emotion. Young & Malay is a collection of essays by nine brilliant writers who share their own tales and insights on what it means to grow up in a multicultural Malaysia, she explained.
Wan Hamidi Hamid, co-editor of the book and advisor of the Impian Malaysia Initiative, was first to speak.
Q: How did you choose the other eight writers for this book?
A: Quite easy. I just chose my friends. [crowd laughs]. The project was originally thought out by Ooi Kee Beng. As we now live in times where things are getting more and more racial, we wanted to find out, “Why?” So we gathered young writers to share their tales to answer these question. They are all from different class backgrounds. But class was never a problem. It has always been about race, race, and race.
Q: Did you tell them what to write?
A: Quite easy. I told them to just write. However you grew up. Your experiences.
Ooi Kee Beng, co-editor of the book and Deputy Director of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, was second. He writes a lot. Like a lot la. Check his work out at Wikibeng.com. (I know. How witty).
Q: Why did you choose this theme?
A: I wanted to work with him (Wan Hamidi Hamid) because he was in the scene of KL, a part of the new urban class. I’ve always believed people needed to write to express themselves. Read also. However if you read but don’t write, that’s constipation. People should write to know themselves. Secondly, I believe in autobiographies. We live in a time of nation-state building where the control from the centre is very strong. When we oppose that, we usually think of the alternative history. Like Singapore, it’s not all about Lee Kuan Yew.
Looking at the title, I would have called it instead “Relatively Young & Relatively Malay”. We’re all relatively something, not completely Malay or completely young. What does that even mean – completely? Even I’m relatively Malay.
Q: Why is it called Young & Malay, not Malaysian?
A: It occurred to me in the past fifty years of nation building that there has been a lot of brainwashing. The control over the young Malays is most important in this process, and we wanted to dive into this ethnic group. Besides that, there are plans to publish Young & Chinese, and Young & Indian too, but we’re not sure yet.
Zairil Khir Johari, Bukit Bendera MP and Executive Director of the Penang Institute, was third to answer questions.
Q: “It is critical for Malaysians and even more for Malays to unravel themselves from the ideological prison” This is the first line of your story in the book. September 16 is an example of this prison. Why did you write The Real Malay Dilemma?
A: In a forum in Penang, a Malay guy got up and said,”The Chinese have Chinatown, the Indians have Little India, how come we Malays don’t have Kampung Melayu? This is Malay land. We should have Kampung Melayu!”
It was strange. You don’t go to China and ask where is Chinatown, because everywhere is China. You don’t go to India and ask where’s Little India. You already in Big India.
It is a reflection of a perverse inferiority complex. You have a majority talking as though they are the minority. At the same time, you’re expressing self entitlement. Malay supremacy. It is superiority and inferiority at the same time.
You have the laws enshrining the special position of the Malays. You have the Malays in the army, stock markets, healthcare, banks, the GLCs – all of them are Malay dominated. Yet there are Malays acting like they are the minority?
That is the intuition of all Malays. There was even a Merdeka Centre survey which showed that.
On one hand, Ketuanan Melayu; the other, Ketakutan Melayu. This paradox justifies UMNO’s existence, the ruling class. It suppresses Malays, making them very dependent on crutches, on the government as Pak Lah put it.
This whole idea can be found in Tun Dr. Mahathir’s book called The Malay Dilemma. The Malaysia we know today is his image. We are all in his dilemma. Marx and Engels once said, “The ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas.” That is why I thought it was important to revisit and debunk this book in my article. He used all these traits in his book – defeatist, uncompetitive, don’t know how to appreciate money and time – to belittle the Malays. In every story, there is a good side and there is a bad side. The bad people in this book are the Chinese, everything the Malays are not – competitive, hardworking, enterprising.
The problem of this book was not that the scientific arguments were unsound. It was because it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When he became Prime Minister, he enforced all these ideas. This is colonial ideology. Lazy natives are a basis to justify colonisation, and this was Mahathir’s way to justify the relevance of UMNO, which were internalised and institutionalised in UMNO’s policies. The New Economic Policy is one example.
Raja Iskandar Fareez, entrepreneur and member of DAP, was the last to speak.
Q: What drove you to write about your experiences in this book?
A: First, I’d like to share an analogy:
There are a hundred dollars on the table. The ruling class takes ninety-nine, then tells the Malays that the Chinese and Indians that they are taking away the one dollar from them. The ruling class is painting a picture that they are under threat.
There was something I experienced while being in Biro Tatanegara. At first, it looked like any motivational camp from the outside. In more Malay-exclusive groups, they will be more Malay-centric. “You are Malay, this is your land, and you are under threat. The Malays have political power; the Chinese, economic power. Never fight the Malays although they are corrupt. We must stick together,” they will tell them.
I fear we are growing divided day by day. We need to go out and seek experiences, meet people, ask them to join you for football, at the mamak, instead of just sticking to the community you know.
I’d like to share another story. There was a Malay in the restroom, and I was washing my hands in my Bersih t-shirt. He approached me and said, “A Melayu wearing a Bersih t-shirt? But I thought only the Chinese go!” Then he continued to ramble, and after some time then asked what was Bersih’s agenda. Proudly, I showed the back of my t-shirt which contained the four things we fight for. He replied, “Oh, but don’t you know our government protects Islam and Malay rights?” I left. It was already 12 a.m., and I would have told him patiently about the ruling class, and how they want you to believe their narratives.
It is all these experiences that drove me to write what I wrote in Young & Malay.
Gerakbudaya regularly organises public forums and book launches. I’d call the place the Kinokuniya of Malaysian Literature. The bungalow is located along Jalan Bukit 11/2, Petaling Jaya, and you can follow them here on their Facebook page.