(Note) I managed to contact Zaid Ibrahim about his book “I, too, am Malay”. I sent him ten questions and he has so kindly replied to me in a few days. Although Zaid’s replies are short but they are concise and I thank him for allowing his thoughts to be featured in my blog. I must thank ZI Publications too for this book, which Lori Lee has kindly sent me after my review on Ioannis Gatsiounis Book “Velvet and Cinder Blocks”.
Below is my interview with Zaid on his new book:
[SLOONE] – When you say “Saya pun Melayu”, the word “pun (also)” seem to be intentional to mean that while you are Malay, there are aspects of yourself: ideas, principles, attitudes, actions, and perspectives that separates or alienates you from other Malays. Is that true? If yes, why?
[Zaid] – UMNO has distorted the Malay character, and stereotype them to suit their political ideas. One can be inclusive, liberal, tolerant and believe in the values of a plural and multicultural society and still be a Malay. Hence the word ‘pun” to remind them that there are other Malays who are unlike them.
[SLOONE] – Mahathir wrote the Malay Dilemma when he was expelled from UMNO; and so did you write “Saya pun Melayu” after being sacked from UMNO. This book seem to be a platform, an opportunity for you to rant against a party which you were part of for many years. If you never left UMNO or were expelled from the party, would you have written this book?
[Zaid] – I wrote the book because I want to share my views with other Malaysians on things that I consider important for the country. UMNO is so outdated and dangerous as a political party that I feel necessary to forewarn others of such trend. Not just for UMNO but also for other race based parties that we will jeopardize our future if extreme ideologies rule the day, and we no longer have the capacity to deal with one another properly.
[SLOONE] – A Malay is defined in Article 160(2) of our Constitution of 1957. He speaks Malay habitually, follows Malay customs and professes the Muslim religion. Corruption is a way of life for most politicians and is not supposed to be a Malay custom, nor is it in line with the Muslim religion. Can they still be called Malays?
[Zaid] – A definition is just that a definition. It serves its purpose in the classification of the people of Malaysia as to who are Malays. Whether they want live by that tenet or not ,only they can decide.
[SLOONE] – You seemed to be shocked, at age 42, that you could not win even a low-level UMNO contest without having a “godfather”. Isn’t that a bit naïve to think like that? What did you expect before you joined the party?
[Zaid] – Maybe I was naïve, and with the benefit of hindsight everyone is wiser. But I thought a local party election should be decided by local issues and the service one can offer. Why would an endorsement by the leader necessary escaped me.
[SLOONE] – You said: Hanya dengan ilmu mereka dapat mengatasi kejahilan tentang perkara-perkara asas… Membaca Utusan Malaysia sahaja tidak akan mengembangkan pemikiran mereka…Membaca memang menambah ilmu. Dan ilmu itulah yang akan menukar nilai dan pandangan.Itulah yang memajukan orang Melayu”.
But how do you get the Malays to read something other than Utusan Malaysia? Any suggestions?
[Zaid] – Well Malaysians and Malays don’t read much so that’s why I was urging more people, especially the Malays to read. So their world view and mindset will change for the better. Knowledge is a very powerful liberating force
[SLOONE] – When writing this book, did you plan to present your ideas and stories in such a manner that when non-Malays read this book, it might just erase some of their negative stereotypes of Malays they harbor? Do you observe that non-Malays do indeed have their own prejudices against the Malays which is at times (most) unfair?
[Zaid] – We live in a country quite steeped in prejudices. We do not mix enough nor do we understand enough of one another. The school system, the religious dictates, social norms all add up to make us live separately in a more segregated society. So its good if we can have more communication. I have only a modest hope about my book, that Malays and non Malays realize that they are inextricably linked; that the future is about them getting along well.
[SLOONE] – In the chapter “Masa Depan Melayu” (The Future of Malays) in Part III, you suggests that Malays must not be obsessed with empty slogans like Ketuanan Melayu or ONE Malaysia. The road to Ketuanan Melayu, you write, is not by shouting your lungs out at every gathering, rather through diligence, hard work, and most of all, superior education. Do you still believe then in ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ ?
[Zaid] – I use the term here as meaning the malays as successful people, not as superior to others. I most definitely reject the notion of one race having more rights than others. So it means that if you want people to address as Tuan (Boss) than you have to earn the stripes and work hard.
[SLOONE] – Why is it that Malays always have to explain themselves, or assert themselves (in the case of UMNO, aggressively) although they (as Malays and as a party) are dominant in this country, and enjoy many privileges others do not (Malay Special Rights). You hardly find a Chinese or Indian or even a Kadazan Malaysian saying the same thing: I, too, am Chinese/Indian/Kadazan, etc. What is your comment?
[Zaid] – The Malays are a dominant group and politically powerful. So some people who want to maintain that dominance and secure the support of this important group do so by talking about the Malays. Well I don’t know why the Chinese don’t want to talk about themselves but they should. We should not pretend everything is well on the surface when its not. Malaysians must be assertive, bold and courageous. But not necessarily being combative or looking for a fight. But to assert ones rights yes.
[SLOONE] – Do you think Malays are aware that they may not be able to compete with others on a level playing field, that they constantly feel threatened and insecure that they need to define, redefine, and boast about themselves at all times? Eg. keris wielding and racist ranting techniques at UMNO General Assembly. Or is this just an indoctrination method used by UMNO to hold on to its leadership and dominance in the country?
[Zaid] – The Malays are successful, in all fields. They have shown their worth and their competitive spirit. That’s why I think UMNO is worried . They are relevant only if Malays are still insecure or remain uncompetitive.
[SLOONE] – After reading most of your book, I get the impression that you are attempting to explain yourself, I see reflections of guilt and remorse in some chapters, especially the chapter on Salleh Abbas. I felt deep in your heart that you feel you have been totally misunderstood, and via this book, you try to set the record straight. What do you feel you have achieved after writing this book?
[Zaid] – I have no guilt nor remorse although its true that in lifes long journey one does make mistakes or could have done things differently. Or totally misunderstood. But no guilt or remorse. I hope this small effort of mine will help explain some of the more important events in my not so successful political career