25 Moderate Malays: A One Hit Wonder or The Tip of the Iceberg?

Just before UMNO held its recent general assembly, I had written the following lines:

But I, and many other Malaysians, have not lost hope entirely. There must be individuals and groups in the party that know of the cancer and culture of corruption, authoritarianism, greed, self enrichment and opportunism within the party which many of the top leaders are bent on spreading to the rest of the country. 

Surely, in a party with millions of members, there must be many of integrity, decency and sensibility who know that the party – in its present condition – is the Malay community’s worst enemy. Surely realistic platforms for real reform and change can be put up for discussion instead of the bashing of vernacular schools and self concocted enemies of Islam, royalty and the Malays. .

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The main aim of this UMNO meeting should be to formulate policies to make Malaysia a developed nation; and to make the Malays a respected community that can stand on its own feet and without the need for crutches, keris-wielding or name-calling.

This group of moderate and honorable members must change the policies that have not worked. They must push out the leaders who have not performed and replace them with new blood that does not seek to make the non-Bumiputra the scapegoat for everything wrong or bad that happens in the Malay community.

  Answer to my plea

As if in answer to my plea, a group of 25 prominent Malays has now issued a public statement on developments regarding race relations, Islam and extremist behaviour in Malaysia.  Describing themselves as “deeply concerned about the state of the debate on many issues of conflict on the position and application of Islamic laws in Malaysia”, the signatories wrote that “[i]t is high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out.” In their statement, they noted that “extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices as represented by Perkasa and Isma do not speak in our name” and called for an informed and rational dialogue on the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in Malaysia.

Since the statement appeared, there has been an outpouring of support and encouragement for the group. But the reality is that they number only 25. Although the signatories include good and respected top ranking civil servants and prominent personalities, the group can be considered to be a drop in the Malay ocean. 

All patriotic Malaysians hope and pray that this group of 25 will multiply quickly and is the tip of the iceberg of Malay and Muslim moderation.

But frankly, can the group of 25 leave its mark? Yes, but only if the group is not satisfied with being what some critics would describe as “a one hit wonder”.

Plea to Group of 25 Moderates

I am not so immodest as to think that my earlier commentary was the catalyst for the statement by the group of 25. I am sure that the group has been in the making for a long time and that the close timing of my commentary and their open letter was entirely coincidental.

But I hope that this new plea can reach the group and can be considered by them in their struggle to right the course of Malay political development.

For the group to be really effective in its mission, I would like to propose the following:

  1. Use your considerable intellectual and financial resources to place advertisements/commentaries carrying your viewpoints in the Malay media
  2. Have members of your group and younger members especially appear over radio and television to explain your mission
  3. Organize a mass movement of moderates to combat the Perkasa/Isma/right wing and supremacist organizations

In your statement earlier, you had argued that you were counting on the Prime Minister to exercise  his leadership and political will to establish an inclusive consultative committee to find solutions to the intractable problems that have been allowed to fester for too long.

I beg to disagree with this approach. Too many consultative committees and councils have already been established to look into this and that reform. The truth is that the Prime Minister is a politician, first and last. Please do not expect a tiger to change its stripes.

If you are really committed to leaving a better Malaysia for your children and grand children, you

yourselves must lead in changing Malay and Islamic society by deeds and action, not simply words.

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