“The Malays today are no longer a rural agrarian society, but rather has been urbanized and the lifestyle has becoming more urban like and facing a challenging demand of urban living and environment. This has caused a severe pressure and in many ways reshaped their thinking and way of life”.
Malays used to be a rural based society, whose predominant occupation was agriculture, in another word, a rural agrarian society. This is true until the 70s, during which time Malaysia undergo a modernization program which shifts the focus into urban development and modern infrastructure, which then shifts the focus and importance into an urbanization program – where migration from villages into major cities in search for better jobs and life, where development of major industries in Penang, Johor and Kelang Valley attract workers; and more importantly, the rural society, due to lack of development can no longer support the population and hence force the young people to migrate out. At the same time, more Malays are going through the education program, which creates a new class of educated working Malays. All of these plus other factors contribute to these transformations in our society.
Today, we can see that the villages are mainly left with older people and pockets of the younger people who didn’t partake in the migration process or some of the people who have migrated, and returned back to the villages after they have retired from some other place, as they have nowhere else to go. The Malay rural society today, are far different from the rural society of the 70s or prior to that. At the same time, the urbanization process does not only cover major cities such as KL, Penang, Johor Bharu, it also started to spread out into smaller centres such as Kuantan, Kuala Terengganu, Alor Setar, and other regional centres. It also pushes the smaller cities such as Kluang, Segamat, Sungei Petani, Gua Musang, Bentong and numerous other smaller cities to follow suit. If we take all these cities and centres, I would imagine that by now we have more than half of Malaysian populations living in the cities and these centres. Over the last twenty five years, the Malays (and Malaysian) society literally have abandoned the style of living of their forefathers, and has somewhat urbanized and exposed to the modern day living.
As abandonment of village living took place, so does many values that used to be the core of the ways the Malays used to adhere to. Today, the main focus is livelihood and how to struggle to keep the ends meet. Costs of living have become higher as the lifestyle demands higher expenses that used not to be there. Malays are less concerned about the welfare of others, but more concerned about how they can be ahead of others, regardless of race. That is the nature of urban life and modern society.
“Today’s Malays are concerned about himself, his future, and his well being; but very rarely they worry about the Malays as a whole. This is a total shift of paradigm from what it used to be, that Malay (leaders) worries about the Malays as a race. Therefore, any discussions about Malay rights etc., today, mainly exist in the first context but very rarely in the second context.”
One clear results of Malay urbanization is the shift from communal thinking into individualistic thinking, driven by material well being, and individual pursuits. It is very ambiguous for any Malay individual to think otherwise, because, gone are the days where you can’t see Malays that are successful, driving luxury cars, maintaining a very posh lifestyles. Why can’t he be like them? It is no longer the privilege of a specific race, but rather a common object of everyone.
Their preoccupation is not to worry about what will happen to the other Malays; it is about himself, being Malay, whether will he survive? Can he succeed? This whole context can be seen clearly within the UMNO of today. Anyone who joined the party ranks, think in this manner. What can I get for myself and my relatives? What are the rewards or monetary compensations? What prestige can I get so that I can further myself and my family? This goes through all the way from the branch heads to the National level. So what Malay rights and Malay struggle UMNO is talking about?
Yes there are some genuine worries about what will happen to the Malays. However, these worries are deeply clouded by personal worries and ambition; about personal well beings and the future of his family and children. This is unsustainable, and in fact very much misleading and misguided. If ones want to worry about the Malays as a whole, one should ask – whether the Malays can compete in a global environment? Can we raise our standards and competency such that we can become a better race? Can we overcome any social ills that befallen our society such that we become more resilient to the changing environment? Can the rural and urban Malays cope with the future challenges that are facing them?
However, the preoccupied questions instead are: will the Malays lose their grip on power? Will the power the Sultan be challenged and hence challenging the Malay sovereignty? Will the Malay be marginalized economically? All of which are imbued in the “self-interest” paradigm as I have explained above.
“Many Nations and societies of the past did rise and fall. It is their choice that is to fail or to succeed. The Malays are at this crossroads in defining themselves moving forward; and at the same time lost in transition on how to define their future.”
There are many studies and books being written about the rise and fall of nations (e.g. Paul Kennedy), and how societies sprung up and then totally collapse (e.g. Jared Diamond), as well as we can see the physical ruins left behind by these people (the Pyramids, Angkor Wat, the Mayan’s Pyramids, etc). One thing common in all is that it took hundreds of years for the society to grow, and then suddenly in a period of less than 100 years, the society suddenly collapse, and then gone into almost an oblivion.
What are the common traits of these societies prior to its collapse? After years of prosperity, these societies fail to rejuvenate and redefine it selves. It got lost in its own self and started to be myopic in its outlook. It cares about immediate gains or short term priorities and failed to look beyond very immediate future. The society as a whole began to develop the sense of self interest over communal interest – whereby individuals worry about their personal being first, rather than the interest of the whole community at large. At the same time, their leaders are busy in glorifying themselves, building mega monuments, corrupted, and fighting for positions and could not care less about the people save for their own interest. At the same time, the society also developed an elitist group that by and large hold the grip on the society, and they together with the leaders dominate and pursue their own self interest and preservations of their privileges.
These many signs of problems among the Malays are clear. Failure to realize the signs of trouble and the source of it are going to further exacerbate the collapse and breakdown of the social fabric. Some of you may not be convinced of the arguments that I have put forth, but in reality it easy enough to realize that the Malays today are a bunch of unhappy lot. To borrow the quote from Leo Tolstoy: “Happy family are of one kind; but unhappy families are many kinds of its own.” (Anna Karenina). It is easy to know that a family is an unhappy one – as it is easy to see that the Malays is a problematic unhappy group.
“To sustain and to excel, the Malays need to realize that their worries are misdirected and the solutions offered are outdated. Much of the old discussions and genuine efforts about raising the Malays have gone. The last thirty years has transformed them into a modern society with better standards of living (compared to the agrarian rural society of before). The yardstick for success has also changed. If we want to look into the future, the outlook, thinking and paradigm has to be changed – from a pure measurement of political power and economic aggregates into a more relevant and much specific targets in today’s global environment”
Globalization has reached us long time ago before we even noticed it. What does US subprime market have to do with us? Yet, their impacts are global and even the farmers (e.g. rubber planters) in remote villages are affected. Despite all these, many Malays are still trapped in the NEP thinking, that Malays should have special rights and privileges to protect them. This exactly the wrong recipe for the future, as it does not matter how much protection you try to bring, you are not shielded against the prevailing global economic forces. Most solutions offered by the government and its leaders are becoming obsolete, and does not help the Malays to prepare for the future.
If we care to realize, our public education system has deteriorated to a degree that even though we produce more students, the quality is much doubtful. We have built more schools, and yet the teachers are ill equipped and under paid. The ratio of our teachers to the students keeps on getting higher (i.e. higher number of students per teacher). The students were being burdened with so many subjects that are non-core to their education, and hence wasted a lot of time in their studies. The Malays are the main group affected by this phenomenon.
The urban Malays now constitute the largest “urban slump” that anyone could see. Most of the public housing (erected by the Government) and low costs housings are filled with Malays (originally from the rural areas) which are slowly transforming itself into slumps and ghettos similar to the Blacks and Hispanics slumps in the United States. Parents in these places lost control over their children, and they ended up growing to be “wild” and developed violent and virulent attitudes. The girls are gone with the boys at very early age and sexual misconduct are rampant (I recall reading an interview with a 15 year old girl in JB, boasting of having more than five sexual partners!) These urban slumps are definite time bomb of the near future.
So what are our yardsticks of success? Does the NEP as it is being practiced (something that was crafted more than 30 years ago), still relevant? Or do we need to rejuvenate and rethink about all the issues? Will 30% equity ownership by the Malays solved the problem of Malay’s economic well being? These are serious issues that do not seem to be addressed with sincere efforts and genuine thinking. The politicians are trapped within their own game and priorities. The business people only think about making money for themselves. The media is too busy spinning political issues for their masters – rather than addressing serious and important social issues. The academicians are too passive to become social critics and critics of the Government; and if they do so, they will not last in their positions. The people at large are too ill equipped to think for themselves. This is the predicament of the Malays today.