This time I came prepared: I had my laptop, phone, and glass bottle with me to last me throughout the whole session. Beside me was a lady with a thick posh accent. She had an A5 notebook on her lap and in her left hand was an iPhone 6 with its microphone facing the panel. She must be a reporter, I thought.
Today I see reports of the event being published. However, none of them were about the book launch and public forum organized by Gerakbudaya, the Kinokuniya of Malaysian literature. It seemed that all the news sites cared about – The Rakyat Post, Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, Malay Mail – was what Zairil said.
To be fair, it was the juiciest thing in the whole forum: Zairil mentioned how we were living in Mahathir’s dilemma, referring to the former prime minister’s book The Malay Dilemma.
According to him, UMNO’s policies enforced the idea of Malays being lazy and how the government ALWAYS needs to help them. Because of this, Malays end up having a “perverse inferiority complex” or more simply, acting like the minority when they are actually the majority.
My favorite way to summarise his point?
“On one hand, Ketuanan Melayu; on the other, Ketakutan Melayu.”
I thought what Zairil said was important for us to know, but that meant that 99% of the others things brought up during the forum was left out. None of the news sites actually cared about the books; they only cared about what Zairil said. That’s a shame, because there were tons of great stuff that the other speakers brought up.
One example is Raja Iskandar Fareez’s analogy of the racial conflict we face today:
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.
Another great example was Dr Ooi Kee Beng’s insight into how the more he travelled, the more he felt that the level of him being treated as a Malaysian changed:
When I travelled to Europe, I felt the most Chinese because they didn’t want to accept you as one of them although you spoke English well. When I was in China, I felt the least Chinese because the difference of a China Chinese and a Malaysian Chinese was very clear. When I was in Singapore, I felt the most Malaysian. Although we look the same, the minute differences became very clear.
And yet, the politicians want to tell us that our identity is fixed to one race, one ethnicity.
He mentioned how stereotypes are inevitable too, and its dangers when we view people around us:
If ten Nigerians fooled you and cheated you by stealing your money, it is extremely strange for you to view the eleventh Nigerian under a positive light. We form theories from empirical evidence, from observations. But the danger of that is when we use these theories and form our own realities of the people we meet.
Not only that, another writer in the Young & Malay anthology shared how his Malay friends didn’t necessarily become less racist although they joined a Chinese school:
Why your parents send you to Chinese school, I asked. Then he said, “Supaya tak kena tipu org Cina.”
These were just some of the things which I felt should have been shared with the public by these news sites. But all news sites always have an agenda – unfortunately not everyone knows that – and it is extremely difficult to get the bigger picture… of anything in this world!
To make Malaysia better for everyone, it is not as simple as supporting either the opposition or the ruling coalition. To make Malaysia better for everyone, we as Malaysians need to understand other Malaysians at a much deeper level.
These books and forums are so beneficial because they delve into the heart of how to understand certain types of people – in this context, Malays – and all these news sites can only care about what sounds the most juiciest, what sounds most anti-government, and what sounds most viral.
From such an informative and enlightening forum about Malay culture, this Gerakbudaya event was reduced to a mere insult to UMNO and Tun Dr. Mahathir.
I imagine a person viewing one of the published reports, and feel just so bad thinking that a simplistic phrase was all they can take away from their five minutes of reading it, instead of the vast amounts of rich, insightful information that they could had, that The Malaysian Insider, Malay Mail, and Malaysiakini cut out to push whatever agendas they have.
The world is so much more than a juicy anti-establishment one-page article. It is a two hour forum about how the Malays are facing an identity crisis, and what we should do to break free from the shackles of the narratives fed to us by the ruling class, the government, and the mass media.
Be a skeptic and never stay comfortable with whatever you know, no matter how smart you think you are. To make Malaysia better, Malaysians need to become better as individuals. It’s a long way to go, but it’s worth it.
You can find the bulk of the forum’s details here, including questions and answers from each of the panel’s speakers.