You can read my interview with him here.
I just finished reading Zaid Ibrahim’s “I, too am Malay”, the English translation from his now quite famous book “Saya pun Melayu”, and I must say this is one book that all Malaysians must read, if only to break your stereotypes about what the Malay race is or has become. I am sure many non-Malays can benefit from reading this book, because truth be told, we have our own prejudices to deal with as well, not only towards the Malays but other races, even our own.
Who is a Malay? If you do not know, you can read Zaid’s thought on this (page 81): “When Malays truly become independent in life, in whatever field through their own efforts and sweat, other ethnic groups will continue to look at their success as a result of quotas and subsidies”.
After being so long under the oppression of UMNO and Barisan Nasional, can we blame Malaysians for thinking along ethnic lines? Their racist policies were so entrenched that it would take Hercules’ power to break these shackles that imprison our minds. Perhaps, Zaid’s book is attempting to do just that? You must read the 305-page book to decide for yourself.
Just when you think there is no more hope and that the Malays cannot change, here comes Zaid’s book to tell you that hey, there is another kind of Malay that is the same like all of us: Malays who are independent, struggling in this mess just like everyone else. Truth is, in my life, I’ve known quite a lot of Malays like these. I’ve known too many of non-Malays who are no different from UMNO as well.
Zaid’s “I, too, am Malay” is an historical document that every household must have, if only for the sake of preserving historical fact, that we are so lacking these days. Through this book, he tells us some insider stories about UMNO, which I am sure everyone would like to read about (check out page 5). You’ll get an insight about UMNO politicians, and the kind of tolerance level UMNO has.
I found this book to be an honest reflection of his life’s trials and tribulations, including his not so ‘successful’ time in politics. Zaid resigned from his Minister of Law post in the government when a blogger (Raja Petra), journalist (Tan Hoon Cheng) and politician (Teresa Kok) were arrested under the archaic, draconian Internal Security Act – a law that goes against natural justice as it provides for detention without trial. He was later sacked from UMNO, for guess what? Naturally, for having a mind that’s different from his (then) party leaders – he sent an open letter to the then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Page 40). Zaid should not worry too much about this sacking. He has gained more respect from fellow Malaysians in this brief period of history, than all the decades he spent in UMNO.
This book is honest in a way, because Zaid raises issues that’s already inside everyone’s mind when speaking or thinking about the UMNO Malays: “Why would a Bumiputera need to learn anything complicated, difficult and time consuming if he could just easily earn a commission on the contract without having to do a single day’s work by passing on the work to a non-Bumiputera?” (Page 26). I am sure statements like this will bring on lots of debates among Malaysians.
You will also appreciate Zaid for his thoughts on burning issues close to our hearts like the ISA (page 35), Democracy (page 55), Malay Supremacy, NEP, Social Contract, and Meritocracy for the Malays (page 61-80), Perak Crisis (page 92), 1988 Judicial Crisis (page 202), Mahathirism (page 215) and so on.
I am keeping this book for my 11-year old niece, who’s already beginning to bring home prejudices planted in her minds by friends and teachers alike. I am glad to be here to destroy her stereotypes as it surfaces from time to time. Better to nip this in the bud! This book will be one of her compulsory readings because I want her to know, there is another world out there, a world that is perhaps more equal and just, that if we strive for hard enough, it might be a reality. Maybe not in my lifetime, but hers, perhaps there is a chance. It’s also a way of telling her life as a Malaysian would be so very sad if we allow these prejudices against our fellow brothers and sisters to cloud our minds and prevent whatever closeness/relationships with others.
We will appreciate that in his book, Zaid has written too about the contributions of non-Malays and that they are NOT the enemies of the Malays (page 112). Free yourself, dear Malays! He says at the end of that chapter.
And so, by reading this book, I hope the non-Malays, too, will free themselves of long held prejudices. It’s really the only way I know to move forward to reclaim our Bangsa Malaysia before it is too late.