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Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Doing nothing is very hard to do ... you never know when you're finished." - Leslie Nielsen

***

Someone: The other issue is of s 152 actually stating the indigenous status of the Malays in Singapore as a matter of fact. Of course because of the way it is worded, Malays have not been able to secure certain indigenous 'rights' or 'privileges' available to other indigenous communities the world over (such as land rights). My concern is that jettisoning s 152 because of a certain notion of equality just feeds into a historical revisionism that reinforces the idea that 'we are all immigrants'. And it also makes Malaysia's article 153 seem as if it was some strange invention that has no historical basis.

Me: Virtually all Malays in Singapore are immigrants. Hell, many "Malays" in Malaysia came from Indonesia.

Someone: Let's say the British and Dutch colonised China. And then the British took the northern half and then the Dutch took the south. Henceforth whoever comes from Dutch-controlled Guangdong/Fujian, and then travels to Beijing, is to be labelled an 'immigrant'?

Before colonial dismemberment of the Malay archipelago, Singapore was considered one of the islands that constituted the 'Malay world', being as it was part of both the Srivijayan and the later Johor-Riau-Lingga empires. The cultural proximity that Malay people feel among themselves--whatever their geographical origins--Aceh, Jambi, Malacca, Java, Sulawesi etc has always made them feel indigenous to the region.

Me: Actually Malaysians and Indonesians, like Indians, owe their sense of national identity to the colonialists - before colonialism there was no sense of a state occupying the whole extent.

The Bugis, among others, would be very insulted if you said they were "Malay". And everyone forgets about the Orang Asli.

Someone: Within the Johor-Riau empire there were many Bugis who were in high positions such as Yamtuans. They were never considered 'immigrants' the way the Chinese, Indians, British and Dutch were. I'd disagree that it only took colonial presence to establish some sense of commonality among the people of the archipelago--there was Islam, for example, and also Malay as a common trading language.

Me: A common religion, language and culture are not sufficient. Someone moving from the UK to the US or vice-versa would be considered an immigrant.

Besides which, even the languages were different - Bahasa M/I, Sundanese, Javanese, Balinese and Acehnese are all different languages.

In the year 1800, was someone whose family moved from Britain to America in 1750 more of a local than someone whose family moved from Germany to America in 1700?

Is a white whose family was in Texas when it was part of Mexico more of an immigrant than a Hispanic whose family crossed the Rio Grande in a dugout during the American Civil War?

Someone: Transfer of sovereignty to the British in the Tanah Melayu occurred between Malay Sultans and the British. They did not occur between Chinese kings here and the British. Decolonisation involved the restoration of power back to the 'indigenes'. This is one basis on which Malays here do not consider themselves 'immigrants'.

During the colonial period, there were many non-Malays whose political allegiance was towards their 'homelands'--ranging from resistance to the British Raj to the Sino-Japanese war.

I don't agree with Malaysian ethno-nationalists who keep on calling the non-Malays there 'pendatangs' (newcomers) and 'penumpangs' (parasitic guests). At the same time, I don't agree with non-Malay Singaporeans who try to diminish very valid claims of Malay indigeneity. My history does not consist of an immigrant angst predicated on being 'overseas Chinese' or the 'Indian diaspora'. Don't confuse island-hopping within a pan-Malay archipelago with monsoon migrations.

Languages were different, but Malay was a lingua franca for trade. Even though technically Malay is natively spoken by about 3% of the Indonesian archipelago (mainly in Riau and East Sumatra), its widespread use made it the basis of Bahasa Indonesia.

Me: Again, I ask:

In the year 1800, was someone whose family moved from Britain to America in 1750 more of a local than someone whose family moved from Germany to America in 1700?

Is a white whose family was in Texas when it was part of Mexico more of an immigrant than a Hispanic whose family crossed the Rio Grande in a dugout during the American Civil War?

Are Peranakans "immigrants"?

Someone: I can't answer your questions because I'm not up to speed on my American history.

As for Peranakans, the acculturation that has occurred within their community is a sign of having adapted features of a pre-existing host culture. So yes, their history is that of an immigrant community who have incorporated indigenous elements into their practices.

[Someone else]: It's not about having an identity affirmed by the state. It's about resisting homogenising discourses which try to tie my sense of being 'Singaporean' to an immigrant narrative. I want to be able to say that I did not come from a history of dislocation and transplant and rootlessness all the kinds of angst associated with diasporic communities.

Just a hypothetical question: what do you think would happen if Malay/Muslims in Singapore were to dispose of syariah law altogether and live under the civil code?

Me: Poor Orang Asli. Ousted by immigrant Malays.

Someone else: If you go far back enough, everyone's an immigrant African. On a more immediate timeline, no Singaporean is really an immigrant if they were born in Singapore. So when do we decide history begins and why? Perhaps more fundamental, who gets to decide?
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