Adam Reza

AS we celebrated our 58th year of independence, and approaching Malaysia Day, I believe there is still much that we can learn from our forefathers.

A lesson of significant importance is the role that Malay leadership played in achieving nationhood. This was a Malay leadership spearheaded by Umno that was compassionate and progressive, providing citizenship status to those of Chinese and Indian ethnicity without sacrificing Malay interests, and avoiding the extreme paths then occupied by the communists and ultra nationalists.

It is thus unfortunate that this progressive leadership is absent today, especially in an increasingly polarised Malaysia.

The only way we can turn the corner is for the Malay community and its leaders to step up, not only for themselves but also for all Malaysians. In doing so, as a young Malay myself, I believe that these three things should govern our approach.

Firstly, we need to restore faith in our leadership and it starts by doing away with the rhetoric of inferiority. Conventional wisdom dictates that Malays are somehow born lazier and weaker than other Malaysians. Books are written about it and our community and leaders perpetuate such talk to the point that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’ve always found such talk to be self-defeating and insulting. It’s an insult to the makcik who works as a clerk by day and sells nasi lemak in the pasar malam by night. It’s an insult to the fresh graduate who just moved to the big city and looks to provide not only for himself but also his parents.

My fellow Malaysians, laziness is a personal choice that transcends creed or race. We know this and we shouldn’t let anybody lead us to believe otherwise.

Hence, the sooner we do away with such talk and generalisations, the better.

Malays can’t expect to inspire Malaysians if we continue to have this self-defeatist attitude. Instead, we need to be a community of ambition, aspiration and hope.

This should be the new mindset that drives us. With self-belief, only then can other Malaysians have faith in our leadership.

Secondly, respect must be earned. We can’t go around demanding respect especially if we don’t accord the same respect to others.

For years now, very few Malay leaders have actually stood up to condemn the rise in anti-Chinese, anti-Christian and anti-Indian sentiments driven by extremist groups. Contrast this to the speed and urgency that is applied instead when it comes to Malay sensitivities, where even the sight of a wombat draws a quick response. Can we blame our fellow Malaysians if they feel hard done by?

The critics may argue that the actions of bigoted Chinese and Indians mean we should also do the same, but then what is the point of our leadership?

The Malay community must come to terms with the fact that with our leadership – accorded to us because we are the majority – comes responsibility and not superiority. Our leadership should not be concerned about nitpicking; instead we have a responsibility to rise above the politics of division perpetuated by both Malays and non-Malays alike and provide a better path – a path of mutual respect.

Finally, we need to carve an agenda that appeals not only to Malays, but also to all Malaysians.There’s a tendency for Malays to view national issues from a Malay lens. Granted, there are certain fault lines, yet we should not get distracted from the bigger picture.

The fact of the matter is, the big issues affect all of us. We all feel the pinch every time costs go up and our paychecks don’t rise.

For every capable Malay that suffers from hiring discrimination, there’s also the Chinese and Indian kid who fail to acquire a scholarship or a place in university despite having good results.

If we are to solve these issues, we need to get out of this “us against the world” mentality.

Malaysians need to start looking out for each other. We need to start placing as much importance in Malay issues as we do with non-Malay issues.

Thus, the onus is on our Malay leaders to be braver and more vocal about the plight of all Malaysians. It won’t be easy. There will be critics who dismiss this as some sort of liberal agenda that will sacrifice Malay interests and goes against the core principles of Malay leadership.

Yet to do that will be to dismiss the moderate leadership shown by our forefathers.

Originally published on The Star on Thursday September 10, 2015 MYT 7:20:24 AM