The emotions being fanned by certain words and concepts have the potential of  being blown into raging fires if we don’t douse them early enough.  The people orchestrating the sparks of nationalism on both sides of the political divide see it fit to use language (verbal and non-verbal) to stoke extremist sentiments in the name of loyalty to king and country.

The matter is becoming serious enough for Malaysians who seek peace and moderation to speak up with a stronger and more united voice. People who articulate national aspirations must use the right communication strategies to achieve the greatest good for their country. There is the necessity of employing language which is non-provocative and neutral to put in place the discourse of peace, conscience and reason.  There is the need to use new terms to replace those that are being exploited to arouse  unsavoury sentiments.

There’s no doubt that certain concepts derived from the nation’s history are now being brandished acquiring new meanings in their modern contexts of use. Cross-lingual translation  has added cultural meaning to what the words denote or refer to, loading some concepts with more meaning than they originally had.

English nouns like “immigrant”  which refers to “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country”; and “dominance” which denotes “power and influence over others” (The Oxford Dictionary), have a way of expanding their semantic fields when they are translated into the Malay words “pendatang”  and “ketuanan”. In English it would not be offensive to refer to one’s ancestors as immigrants. Recent arrivals of Hispanics in America or Pakistanis in the United Kingdom are referred to as immigrants.

In Malaysia, however, the Malay word  “pendatang” is fast becoming a taboo as race politics sows the seeds of interracial discontent and politicians hurl racial insults and challenge one another’s ancestries. Forgotten is the historical fact that our forefathers  – Malays, Chinese, Indians and others- came to this land in waves of migration over many centuries. The original settlers were the indigenous tribes who inhabited the hinterland.   

By the same token, the historically accurate fact of Malay political dominance ( in the early days of the Melaka Sultanate right through to the fight for independence from British colonial rule) is being overshadowed by arguments of commercial dominance and equal political participation. Insecurities arising from the questioning of status and privileges are encouraging a retaliation of sorts in the use of the culturally-loaded word “ketuanan” to suggest Malay racial supremacy while the more semantically accurate term “kekuasaan” has not been used. This in itself contradicts the notion of 1 Malaysia founded on the egalitarian principles of societal fairness and justice.

Even the idea that there was a deep understanding and careful bargaining among the ethnic leaders in the run-up to independence  is being whittled away as scholars and lay persons split hairs over the notion of a “social contract”.  The efforts of the founding fathers of  Merdeka to come up with a written Federal Constitution that intricately defines and describes every aspect of the new nation’s life are being trivialised as they quibble over words and concepts.

In order to prevent the prolification of these unproductive and circular discourses,  more public platforms platforms must be established offering reasoned arguments and concilliatory engagements whether in our own immediate networks or among the larger community. They must be visible and audible enough to douse the flames of hate and bigotry being spread by the new-order political exhibitionists disguised as citizen groups.

Unless Malaysians learn to use language with greater care and accuracy, there is the danger that what we say or write will instigate social unrest. Until we learn to articulate our thoughts and ideas peacably, peace and unity will elude us.


2 Responses to “”

  1. 1 Gopal Raj Kumar
    December 9, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Whilst I do agree with you as far as interpretations of words and the effect of contextual distortions of these are concerned, especially where the use of words like Migrant or Pendatang is concerned, there appears to be an exaggerated hurt by Migrants over the use of that word Pendatang which aptly describes those of us (save the Baba’s and Malacca Portuguese perhaps) who are of migrant stock. That contrived hurt is also disingenuous and contrived.

    Where in the English or Malay language can one point out to me the word migrant in the pejorative or as an invective or as an insult? All of these sentiments lie in the eye of the beholder.

    Where some people have little else of substance to attack those they see as a lesser people, we are able to apply our creative skills to turning every conceivable word act or omission into a weapon of self destruction.

    I am of Migrant stock. In Australia as it is in the US and in most parts of the world migrants are celebrated and they wear their status as migrants as a badge of honour wherever they need to be identified.

    Henry Kissinger a Jew from Germany has not even bothered to change his deep heavy Germanic accent which bears Yiddish traits as well to it. So too it is the case with Za za and Eva Gabor Hungarians by birth, late Dr. Victor Chang heart surgeon murdered by Malaysian Chinese Triads in Sydney, Lee Lin Chin an awful but popular news reader on Australian TV , Dr. Thomas Szaz (Psychiatrist New York) and many many more.

    There is an attempt amongst some revisionists amongst us to reinvent history, themselves and their positions in order to suit their own flawed and irrelevant perception of history.

    No nation no element of international law accepts the concept being promoted by some that simply because people have come and remained and set up camp in a country it gives them a right to displace the indegenous people or the recognized owners of that country by swamping the local popolation as is the unfortunate case in Fiji. and Singapore. Social engineering is a wonderful thing if you are the recipient of the benefits of such engineering, but not otherwise.

    The Tengku in an unfortunate and conceptually flawed act of stupidity (so0me say generosity) handed out the honorarium of Malaysian citizenship to a million non Malays displacing to a large extent the Malays who were never properly consulted about his intentions. That was ta a time when the Tengku and his ministers were ‘adviced’ and manipulated by rich Chinese Towkays and manipulative Indian civil servants and professionals.

    Out of these mistakes is forced the dormant but inevitable rise of what we know as ‘Ketuanan Melayu’. It will eventually evolve into a reality. Why not be part of it, study it and nurture its course rather than demonise and resist it unnecessarily?

    Fear and ignorance are the two causes of prejudice

  2. 2 ninitalk
    December 11, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Your views are very much appreciated GRK.

    In retrospect many of the decisions of our past leaders seem “stupid” but they must have been made in good faith and with the best of intentions considering the mood of the times. What was wise then may seem stupid when seen against present-day developments.

    Today the reverse seems to be the case as many decisions made by the government are considered stupid or unwise. Even the charge of fraud against the former Selangor Menteri Besar is looked upon with distrust- as an end of year or pre-election gimmick.

    It will take a lot to restore sense and sensibility in the hearts and minds of Malaysians as it will to build a society that thinks deeply and logically and wisely. Just as it is taking a lot to convince people that bribery and corruption are wrong. Perhaps this has not been in our culture or traditions.

    I shudder to think that our forefathers were people with no integrity!

    Or were standards of morality different in the days of old? Are integrity and ethics modern Western concepts imposed on us “natives”/ slaves by those patronising colonial “Tuan”/ masters?

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