By Raymond B Tombung
On the first run through of Anwar’s longish commentary on Tommy Thomas’ book, My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, I was quite impressed by the intellectual depth of his language, what with references to, and quotes of, many historical greats.
But it was a tiring read. I gave up one-third of the way, but later laboured trudging through the multiple levels of thoughts in single sentences, trying to sort out what he was trying to say in so many word play and mind-bending pomposity.
I myself, in the earlier phase of my writing life in the 1980s, was branded as “sending readers to scour the dictionaries”. But the instinct to show off a kungfu skill with the English language should wane off with maturity. But not with Anwar! He is still at that level where he needs to project pompous and verbose intellectualism. Even when he presented the national budget as the finance minister, he managed to spice up his delivery with Arabic and newly-coined Malay words which were unintelligible to most Malaysians. I remember how the late Datuk Mark Koding was had so much distaste for it that he simply refused to listen to his budget speeches.
I was surprised when Mariam Mokhtar, in her own response to Anwar’s piece, pointed out that Anwar’s rephrasing of Churchill’s words diverted the great man’s meaning to meaninglessness. She writes “Churchill’s original wartime quote during the Battle of Britain was, ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’, meaning that the general population owed so much to the Air Force pilots who fought off wave after wave of attacks from the Lutwaffe. So, what did Anwar mean when he paraphrased Churchill’s quote, ‘… never in the field of memoirs have so much been written by so many about so few’?” If there is any meaning in Anwar’s rephrasing, it is an inversion of reality – memoirs are actually written by so few about so many people!
In defense of the Malays, Anwar accuses Thomas of driving a wedge “between Thomas’s and my own experiences with this system that we both agree is in need of drastic reform. It betrays a deep seated, even Freudian like, prejudice against Malays fomented through years of racism. I am reminded of Syed Hussein Alatas’ The Myth of the Lazy Native which so eloquently demolishes the colonial construction of Malay natives (including Filipino and Javanese) from the 16th to the 20th century. With the encrustation of time, these myths coalesced into ‘a one-sided colonial view of the Asian native and his society’. It is important that we avoid remarks that could be interpreted as an embodiment of that innate sense of superiority that the white men used to have over their colonial charges.”
How many ties do you have to reread this near-Shakespearean passage to get the meaning? In simple form, Anwar is saying that he and Thomas have two different opinions on the state of the civil service. He sees Thomas as having a deep-seated prejudice against the Malays, prejudice which was “fomented through years of racism”. And to support his pro-Malay stance he sought Syed Hussein Alatas book which demolishes the anthropological theory that the Malays are a lazy people. Anwar admonishes Thomas, telling the latter to avoid making remarks that shows superiority over the Malays shown by the British colonial masters.
Well, well! Now who indeed is racist, Anwar of Thomas? Anwar remarks on the issue gives a strong tendency, or predilection (to use Anwar’s word) to be racist. I haven’t yet read Thomas’ book but I wonder if he had made any implication of anti-Malay racism. Mariam Mokhtar, though, writes: “Malaysians are not daft. They realise that Thomas did not insult all civil servants, as he was full of praise for his team and those with whom he enjoyed a working relationship. Anwar may have forgotten that Malaysia is a multicultural country. He may have neglected to realise that many of our youth have seen that Malay leaders had brought the country to its knees, long before the Coronavirus pandemic. To revive the economy, all Malaysians, from all sections of the community, must work together, and be helped by a clean, efficient, hardworking civil service. Thomas realises that race and religion are detrimental to the nation. Does Anwar?”
Would it be relevant to wonder if Anwar’s spirit of Malay-Islam struggle since his ABIM days in UM still flows too deeply in his blood?
Why would Anwar be so sensitive about the Malays being spoken over when the Malays had been in power in Malaya for centuries and have been the masters in the federation for over half a century, dominating all levels of the civil service and security forces?
Mariam Mokhtar, herself a Malay, concludes her take on Anwar’s piece by saying, “Anwar continues to pander to the Malay masses, so he may as well say goodbye to his desire to be the PM of Malaysia. A man, who cannot see how race and religious are driving the nation into the ground, is not fit to be an MP, let alone a PM.”
It’s high time that Malay leaders like Anwar wake up to the reality that ultra-Malay racism in Malaysia “had brought the country to its knees”. The Malay-centric philosophy which had permeated the country’s governance had brought about the fall of the nation to a level below the economic performance of its Southeast Asian neighbours and made Malaysia, with its runaway corruption, a total laughing stork in the international community.
And take note, Malayans, the insulting Malay-supremacy attitude had brought so much long-standing frustration and anger among the Malaysians in the Borneo states that now the clarion calls for full rights and autonomy (first promulgated by Dr Jeffrey Kitingan) has not only spiked but culminated into the now open calls for full independence – even secession – for Sabah and Sarawak!
Anwar, with his high eloquence and lofty dreams wants to project himself as a global statesman in the same category as the world’s greats. But if he cannot shed off his ultra-Malayism, he can kiss this dream goodbye.