Identity politics – core basis or hindrance to national unity?

In the clarion call for Malay unity, proponents would inevitably fall into the rhetoric of reviling the advocates of national unity above racial unity.

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Published in Astro Awani, image by Astro Awani.

Proponents of identity politics like to claim that they are promoting and reinforcing the basis for national unity by prioritising the unity of the Malay race first above all else.

While it’s logical to assume that the unity of the Malays as the core race of our beloved nation is essential pre-condition to national unity, it’s also equally feasible and reasonable to assert and insist that the former could come at the expense of the latter.

Talks of Malay unity is never abstracted from partisan politics and it’s stereotypically associated with Umno – as the Malay party par excellence due to its background, history and track record as the government for the past 60 years.

So, as it is, identity politics in the form of the Malay-Muslim unity (perpaduan ummah) agenda tend to be politicised and polemical in nature.

Meaning to say, in the clarion call for Malay unity, proponents would inevitably fall into the rhetoric of reviling the advocates of national unity above racial unity.

Even worse, historically the proponents would objectify certain minorities as pendatang (immigrant) with the aim of sowing the seeds of distrust and discord – undermining the basis of national unity.

In the past, a certain minority community would be tarred collectively – i.e., as a group – no different than how the Jews were similarly branded and dehumanised as “parasites”, “bloodsuckers”, etc. By default, they’re painted as greedy, heartless, and kiasu (Hokkien for “afraid of losing”) – determined to win at all costs.

The fear is that the Malays are easily taken advantage of – due to their easy-going, relaxed demeanour. Should the Malays continue to accommodate, they’ll appear as weak to the minority community and will end up being stepped all over the head.

The oft-quoted saying is, “in giving an inch, the Malays will end up giving up a mile”, so to speak.

The Malay character of bertolak-ansur (compromising) will see them beransur-ansur ditolak (i.e., incrementally pushed back).

There’s some truth or reality in that – undoubtedly as real-world experience.

But, all of this still ignores the fact that, for example, the sale and transfer of Malay reserve land can only take place with the connivance of the powers that be and authorities which in the immediate case would be Malay entities.

So even if, hypothetically speaking or in the ever-remote possibility, the Malays unite under the banner of the protagonists of identity politics in whatever shape or form of coalition or a single party as in Umno or even Pas, it’ll surely come at the expense of national unity as a whole.

In other words, despite the claim to the contrary, the call to Malay unity is made at the expense of national unity. Malay unity is to be achieved by inhibiting national unity in the first place.

How contradictory one can get?

This happens precisely because the national ideology, social contract, and the non-negotiable provisions forever enshrined in the Federal Constitution – race & religion – become intensely politicised and politically manipulated for purely personal gains, no less.

So, how to de-politicise race and religion?

Simple.

Just don’t.

Have the political will to draw a clear line between politics and policy.

Instead of harping on race and religion to satisfy base instincts and for self-satisfaction, articulate ways in which these two fundamental categories of our constitutional identity can be deployed to promote and develop national unity and nation-building.

The Malay character of the Federal Constitution is the basis and core by which the national character is fostered, forged and to be understood and conceptualised.

As renowned academician and scholar Dr Chandra Muzaffar has aptly pointed out, the Malay character of the Federal Constitution is simply derived from the Malay character of the land, historically speaking.

On the one hand, this isn’t a rationale to push for ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy). But on the other hand, the sovereignty of the Malay rulers (kedaulatan Raja-Raja Melayu) and Malay leadership (kepimpinan Melayu) must be deployed towards national unity and nation-building in its full force.

That’s to say, negatively, not politicised so as to “divide and conquer” between the majority and the minority within our beloved nation. Not to objectify the minorities – as if individual guilty by default equates collective guilt.

Of course, it’s a two-way relationship. Minorities must respect and accept the Malay character of the Federal Constitution.

But proponents of Malay unity have to show real leadership in this respect – articulating in a reasoned and intelligent and sophisticated manner the nuances involved in understanding our national identity.

Rather than expressing in “troglodyte” terms, logic and demeanour. Is this a sign of inferiority complex and self-denigration?

And it’s also in line with the role of our constitutional monarchy – which isn’t purely symbolic as constitutional law expert Professor Dr Shamrahayu Ab Aziz, likes to remind.

Ironically or paradoxically, proponents of identity politics “run the risk” of demeaning the role of the constitutional monarchy as the very embodiment of the Malay-Muslim character of the nation and of the Federal Constitution.

The concept of consociationalism – where national unity “hinges” on the power-sharing agreement among the respective political elites (as representatives of their own ethnic communities) – also needs to be redefined, refined and readapted.

The consociationalism as embodied in the old Alliance and later on Barisan Nasional is no longer relevant, especially post-2008 general election when the then opposition made significant headway and gains at the expense of the parties claiming to represent the minorities in the Peninsula.

The breakdown in the old order signals the need to move forward on the basis of a fresh and renewed understanding of identity politics – especially in terms of Malay unity.

What’s needed to move forward would be the subsuming of identity politics under the national ideology – ironically or paradoxically separated (dipisahkan) precisely because of the confusion between the two.

Instead, identity politics needs to be distinguished (membezakan) from national ideology. At the same time, the former must be grounded in and flow naturally from the latter. It’s not enough that identity politics be within the framework and hence having the sense of entitlement and freedom to wriggle about.

But it has to understand itself has being defined by and subject to the national ideology.

Doing so will not weaken identity politics. On the contrary, it’ll only serve to make it more sustainable in the context of Malaysia by buttressing and strengthening its foundations and legitimacy.

Doing so will not weaken identity politics. On the contrary, it’ll only serve to make it more sustainable in the context of Malaysia by buttressing and strengthening its foundations and legitimacy.

It’ll enable and empower proponents of identity politics to lead the momentum to galvanise the nation on the basis of shared and common values. Again, it has to be emphasised, as grounded in the Malay character of the land and of the Federal Constitution and, not least, of the Rukunegara.

An identity politics that seeks to uphold and protect the sanctity of Islam both as the official religion of Malaysia as well as the way of life for Muslims will then be able to “co-opt” and coalesce with fellow compatriots who are non-Muslims around the universal values of morality and decency.

For example, the majority of non-Muslims are allies and stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims on the issue of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) – in terms of legal recognition, that is. This undeniably goes against the values and norms of our society. Period.

Secularism in Malaysia can never be understood in Western, liberal terms. We have our own (unique) take of secularism where it’s set in the context of Islam as the religion of the Federation and of the Federal Constitution and of Rukunegara.

In the final analysis, instead of seeking to interpret the Federal Constitution and national ideology on the basis of political hegemony (which by the way no longer exists), it’s the way around.

Identity politics need to respect and observe its inherent limitations within the framework of the Federal Constitution and national ideology.

Only then can proponents of identity politics claim the moral high ground and win support for a national consensus to move our beloved nation forward.

Jason Loh Seong Wei is head of Social, Law & Human Rights at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

Bahasa Malaysia

Diterbitkan di Astro Awani.

PENDOKONG politik identiti seringkali mendakwa bahawa mereka yang memartabatkan dan memperkuatkan asas perpaduan nasional dengan mengutamakan perpaduan Melayu.

Walaupun ianya munasabah untuk menganggap bahawa perpaduan Melayu sebagai bangsa teras negara tercinta merupakan prasyarat penting untuk perpaduan nasional, juga adalah wajar untuk menegaskan bahawa perpaduan nasional boleh digadaikan dalam usaha merealisasikan agenda perpaduan Melayu.

Wacana perpaduan Melayu tidak boleh terlepas dari politik kepartian dan ia secara stereotaip dikaitkan dengan UMNO – sebagai parti Melayu terunggul kerana latar belakang, sejarah dan rekod prestasi sebagai pemerintah selama 60 tahun yang lalu.

Oleh itu, politik identiti dalam bentuk agenda perpaduan Melayu-Islam (perpaduan ummah) cenderung dipolitikkan dan bersifat polemik.

Maknanya, dalam seruan untuk Melayu bersatu padu, para pelaung atau penyorak politik identiti pasti akan terjerumus ke dalam retorik mencerca mereka yang menekankan perpaduan nasional.

Lebih buruk lagi, secara umumnya, pelaung identiti politik akan menghina martabat minoriti tertentu sebagai pendatang dengan tujuan menyemai benih syak wasangka dan persengketaan – yang menjejaskan asas perpaduan nasional.

Pada masa lalu, masyarakat minoriti tertentu akan terpalit secara kolektif yang tidak berbeza dengan bagaimana orang Yahudi dilabel dan dihina sebagai “parasit”, “penghisap darah”, dll. Secara kebiasaan, mereka digambarkan sebagai tamak, tak berhati perut, dan kiasu (“takut kalah” dalam Hokkien) – bertekad untuk menang dengan apa cara sekalipun.

Kononnya, Melayu mudah diambil kesempatan – kerana sikap lemah lembut dan santai mereka. Sekiranya Melayu terus bersikap akomodatif, mereka akan senantiasa dianggap lemah di kaca mata masyarakat minoriti dan akhirnya akan dipijak kepala.

Pepatah yang sering disebut adalah, “dalam memberikan satu inci, orang Melayu akhirnya akan menyerah satu batu”.

Karakter Melayu yang bertolak-ansur (berkompromi) akan melihatkan mereka beransur-ansur ditolak.

Sememangya, ianya mempunyai unsur kebenaran – tidak dapat diragukan sebagai pengalaman dunia nyata dan hakikat.

Akan tetapi, tidak dapat dinafikan bahawa, umpamanya, penjualan dan pemindahan tanah rizab Melayu hanya dapat dilakukan dengan persetujuan dan penglibatan pihak berkuasa yang merupakan entiti Melayu.

Oleh itu, walaupun, secara angan-angan atau kemungkinan kecil, Melayu bersatu di bawah panji-panji protagonis politik identiti dalam bentuk gabungan atau parti tunggal seperti UMNO atau bahkan Pas, ia pasti akan memudaratkan perpaduan nasional secara keseluruhannya.

Dalam kata lain, walaupun bercanggah dengan pendirian sedia ada, seruan perpaduan Melayu menggadaikan perpaduan nasional. Perpaduan Melayu hanya tercapai dengan menghambatkan perpaduan nasional.

Bukankah ini sangat bercanggah sama sekali?

Ini berlaku oleh kerana ideologi nasional, kontrak sosial, dan peruntukan yang kekal termaktub dalam Perlembagaan Persekutuan – bangsa dan agama – dipolitikkan dan dimanipulasi secara habis-habisan untuk kepentingan peribadi politikus semata-mata.

Jadi, bagaimana untuk tidak mempolitikkan bangsa dan agama?

Mudah sahaja.

Jangan.

Ada perlunya tekad dan keazaman politik untuk membezakan dengan jelas antara politik dan dasar.

Daripada memperjuangkan bangsa dan agama kerana naluri asas dan memenuhi kepuasan nafsu, artikulasikan cara bagaimana kedua-dua kategori asas identiti perlembagaan kita dapat digunakan untuk memperkasakan dan mengembangkan perpaduan nasional dan pembinaan negara.

Ciri kemelayuan Perlembagaan Persekutuan adalah asas dan teras di mana ciri nasional dipupuk, dibentuk, dihayati dan dikonseptualisasi.

Seperti yang telah diujarkan ahli akademik dan cendekiawan terkenal Dr Chandra Muzaffar, perwatakan Melayu dalam Perlembagaan Persekutuan diwarisi daripada perwatakan Tanah Melayu, dari sudut sejarah.

Di satu sisi, ini bukan alasan bagi mendorongkan ketuanan Melayu. Tetapi di sisi lain pula, kedaulatan raja-raja Melayu dan kepemimpinan Melayu mesti diterapkan ke arah perpaduan nasional dan pembinaan negara sepenuhnya.

Maknanya, secara negatif, perwatakan Melayu tanahair jangan dipolitikkan bagi “belah bahagi dan takluk” (divide and conquer) antara majoriti dan minoriti dalam negara tercinta. Bukan untuk mengelompokkan golongan minoriti – seolah-olah kejahatan individu secara automatik disamakan kesalahan kolektif.

Sudah tentu, hubungan itu adalah dua hala. Minoriti mesti menghormati dan menerima karekter kemelayuan Perlembagaan Persekutuan.

Tetapi penyeru perpaduan Melayu harus menonjolkan kepemimpinan yang sejati dalam hal ini – mengartikulasikan dengan bernas dan pintar serta canggih nuansa dalam memahami identiti nasional kita.

Daripada menyatakan dalam istilah, logik dan sikap “orang gua”. Adakah ini tanda kompleks penghinaan diri?

Dan ini juga sejajar dengan peranan raja berperlembagaan kita – yang tidak semata-mata simbolik seperti yang diingatkan pakar undang-undang perlembagaan Profesor Dr Shamrahayu Ab Aziz.

Ironisnya atau secara paradoks, penyokong politik identiti “mengambil risiko” merendahkan peranan raja berperlembagaan sebagai penjelmaan perwatakan Melayu-Islam negara bangsa dan Perlembagaan Persekutuan.

“Konsosiasionalisme” seperti dilambangkan dalam gabungan Perikatan Lama dan kemudiannya Barisan Nasional tidak lagi relevan, terutama sekali pilihan raya umum pasca 2008 apabila pembangkang ketika itu mencapai kejayaan dan kemajuan besar dengan mengorbankan parti-parti yang mengaku mewakili kaum minoriti di Semenanjung.

Perpecahan dalam order lama menandakan perlunya mengorak langkah berdasarkan pemahaman baru politik identiti – terutama dari segi perpaduan Melayu.

Apa yang diperlukan untuk maju ke hadapan adalah pengaturan politik identiti di bawah ideologi nasional – secara ironis atau paradoksnya dipisahkan kerana kekeliruan antara keduanya.

Sebaliknya, politik identiti perlu dibezakan (walaupun tidak boleh dipisahkan) dari ideologi nasional. Pada masa yang sama, politik identiti mesti berteraskan dan mengalir “secara semula jadi” dari ideologi nasional. Tidak cukup bahawa politik identiti berada dalam kerangka ideologi nasional dan dengan itu merasakan bahawa ia berhak dan bebas untuk “bermaharajalela”.

Tetapi identiti politik harus memahami bahawa ianya ditakrifkan oleh dan tunduk kepada ideologi nasional.

Mengutamakan perpaduan nasional tidak akan melemahkan politik identiti. Sebaliknya, ia hanya akan memastikan kelangsungannya dalam konteks Malaysia dalam memperkukuhkan landasannya serta memperkuatkan keabsahannya.

Ini akan membolehkan dan mengupayakan pengamal politik identiti untuk mempengaruhi momentum bagi menggembleng dan menyemarakkan negara berdasarkan nilai bersama. Sekali lagi, ia harus ditekankan, berdasarkan landasan perwatakan kemelayuan dan Perlembagaan Persekutuan dan juga Rukunegara.

Politik identiti yang bertujuan menegakkan dan melindungi kesucian Islam baik sebagai agama rasmi Malaysia dan juga cara hidup syumul umat Islam boleh dapat “menyerap” dan bersatu dengan rakan senegara bukan Islam di sekitar nilai-nilai universal moral dan kesopanan umum.

Sebagai contoh, majoriti yang bukan Islam adalah sekutu dan teguh bersama dengan umat Islam dalam isu LGBT – dari segi pengiktirafan undang-undang. Tidak dapat dinafikan LGBT bertentangan dengan nilai dan norma masyarakat kita.

Sekularisme di Malaysia tidak boleh ditafsirkan dalam bentuk pemahaman liberal Barat. Kita mempunyai sekularisme (unik) yang tersendiri sebagaimana ditetapkan dalam konteks Islam sebagai agama negara dan Perlembagaan Persekutuan dan Rukunegara.

Dalam analisis terakhir, patutnya politik identiti perlu ditafsirkan Perlembagaan Persekutuan dan ideologi nasional dan bukan sebaliknya, iaitu berdasarkan hegemoni politik (yang bagaimanapun tidak wujud lagi).

Politik identiti perlu menghormati dan mematuhi batasan yang sedia ada dalam kerangka Perlembagaan Persekutuan dan ideologi nasional.

Hanya dengan itu penyokong politik identiti dapat menuntut landasan moral yang tinggi dan memperolehi sokongan bagi konsensus nasional dalam memajukan negara tercinta kita.

Jason Loh Seong Wei merupakan Ketua Bahagian Sosial, Perundangan dan Hak Asasi di EMIR Research, sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas berfokuskan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berdasarkan kajian yang menyeluruh.

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