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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Malay Marginalisation in Singapore

Basheer Khan - "The Malay community in Singapore is facing...

""The Malay community in Singapore is facing tremendous socio-economic pressures. Despite gains made, one can still observe a general lagging in comparison to other races. The factors are many and the situation is complex.

Given the situation, the "marginalisation thesis" took root. It is a one-dimensional argument: that there is a systematic effort to push the Malay community to the margins. Although one cannot deny that some aspects of Malay underdevelopment has got to do with the effects of certain policies, the "marginalisation thesis" reduces a complex phenomenon to a single blame-factor - the government - which is said to be largely responsible for the state of affairs of the Malay community.

Seductive as this may be as an explanation, one must question this by pointing out how it fails to take into account a myriad of other factors, which may or may not be within the control of the government. Yet, time and time again, the "marginalisation thesis" has been exploited by certain groups with an interest not for the betterment of the community, but for an ideological goal which is expressedly and exclusively ethno-religio-centric, with political undertone. I am wary of this utilisation of the "marginalisation thesis", even as I question some aspects of the argument, as proposed by some scholars.

Recently, a friend shared with me a Whatsapp message that is circulating among Muslim circles in Jakarta. The message calls for Muslims not to elect Ahok (the current non-Muslim and Chinese Jakarta governor). What is interesting is the citing of Singapore Malay's condition as an example of why Muslims must not allow a non-Muslim Chinese to rule over them: it will lead to the marginalisation of the Muslims, like how Malay Muslims in Singapore are "oppressed" by the Chinese non-Muslim government of PAP.

This transition from a "marginalised community" to an "oppressed community" is both amusing and worrying. Are Malays really oppressed in Singapore? Recently, I hosted a group of Malay students from Malaysia to observe and have a snapshot of Singapore, including talking to local Malays and being briefed on various aspects of Malay life in Singapore. Sure, there are issues and problems, but to call the Malays in Singapore as "marginalised" and "oppressed" seems to be largely an exaggeration that serves more of the political interest of racial/religious politics in Malaysia, and now in Jakarta. Of course, this is not to say that Singapore does not utilise its own "bogeyman" across the north and south for its own local politics. But the persistent exaggeration of the Malay condition in Singapore will not bode well for local Malays who can be swayed by such irresponsible stoking of sentiments and be dragged into the racial/religious politics elsewhere.

My worry is this: it will develop a victim-mentality that can absolve responsibility and blind analysts to other factors and dynamics in society. This will create a wedge that can cause the community to withdraw and be on a siege-mentality that will rob it of the confidence to deal with the problems facing the community, and instead be distracted by some grand conspiratorial charges, including falling into some right-wing etho-chauvinist and religious fundamentalist agenda.

Won't this give more reasons for the state to harp on the issue of "Malays are not integrating"? "

An interesting read into the Malay "marginalisation" dilemma in Singapore"

A: I don't know about you but I find that at times, this 'marginalization' is a self imposed act.

Growing up, I've always been told that we got the short end of the stick but then watched the same people who tell me that just sit back and wallow in self-pity, take potshots at those who do better than them and expect the same people whom they just 'potshot'-ed to give them hand outs.

B: How well have the privileged Malays done in Malaysia? I believe, they have been handicapped in life. For the non Malays that have been marginalized, they have to survive and become more competitive. It has everything to do with attitude

C: The marginalization of Malays is due to several factors. Yes - the Gov has its fair share of blame BUT let us NOT forget that the Malays too, contribute to their own marginalization by insisting on Islamic purity. Let me be the Devil's Advocate here and ask - had the Malays been Buddhists, would they be marginalised ? Of course not ! They would have inter-married with the Chinese and would fit right in. Indeed that is precisely what happened in Thailand. There is hardly a problem between the Chinese and the indigenous Thais because both share very similar religious practices. The Malays however, insist on Islamic purity and that keeps them isolated from integrating with the rest of the nation. I dare say this - coz its plain obvious to all and sundry.

Indeed this marginalization of the Malays is NOT unique to Malays. When Conservative Muslims live in a Non Muslim majority environment, they face severe issues involving integration, marginalization etc. Why ? Because Conservative Muslims try very hard to maintain "Islamic purity".

In conclusion - one MAJOR factor in the marginalization of the Malays is precisely their desire to maintain "Islamic purity". That is something for all of us to think about.

Of course - Islamic purity is precisely the one thing that the Malays will not sacrifice. So the wayang goes on year after year. As much as I hate to admit it, perhaps there was some truth to Hard Truths...

D: You mean like those Muslims who migrated from a 3rd world country to the west. Don't want to integrate but insist on their host country to adopt Sharia Law?

E: The victim mentality is dominant in the Gulf countries.


F: Like many here said - yes the government shares some blame but on the other hand the community has to meet everyone else halfway.

I was at first apprehensive about the counterpoint to the marginalization thesis that places some responsibility on the community itself because of unfortunate potential implications, until I heard some very close Malay friends lament about the exact same thing regarding other Malays with my own ears.

From what I understand, much of the community has this 'crab mentality', where they cannot accept that maybe a fellow member is able to break free of the mold and prosper on their own terms in spite of the odds. They simply *cannot* just be happy for and supportive of their peer's success and *must* find a way to pull that person back down and explain away their success like, "Oh he must know the right people", "Oh, he must have sucked up to the Chinese business partners and abandon the values of his own people" (and this one is particular was an especially blatant lie)...

...and the ever-favourite "Which bomoh he went to ah? So powerful one."

No - these people took the plunge, made the leap of faith, worked their butts off to get where they are, often not for selfiah reasons but to provide a better life for their families (in particular single guys trying to provide for their elderly parents) - and people only know how to criticize their career choicrs, or being a sell-out or - when they have run out of things to point at - their unmarried status.

...and it's not just in the realm of social success but also in other things, like the right to wear hijab. I was one of those who harped on and on about how solutions to integrate the hijab with uniforms (such as basically designing a uniform-centric hijab for Muslim employees to use) are well within reach if institutions could only just be bothered, until I realized that layered inside the community was, inversely, another group fighting for the right NOT to wear hijab (citing personal or medical reasons), and I would be doing them no favour.

My BF's mother, for example, is asthmatic and very sensitive to hot weather. She is all for those who feel the conviction to wear the hijab but she herself prefers not to when going outdoors because the stuffiness aggravates her condition and causes shortness of breath and energy - meaning any outing in which she has to wear the hijab has to be cut short at some point because she will need to go home and recuperate.

Unfortunately, she is caught between a rock and a hard place because whenever she steps out she stands to get judged left-right-centre by a lot of people who don't care to sympathize with her condition and instead harp on her exposed head - to the point that it actually affects her freedom to go outdoors and socialize because she doesn't want to be 'caught' by someone she knows.
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