Commentary Politics

The gravity of upsetting the Malays

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

A commentary by Zaidi Azmi

September 7, 2019

ON every August 31, family members from a kampung up north would huddle up for Malaysia’s Merdeka Day celebration. It had been a family tradition that was dearly adhered to.

Their paddy farmer of a father would narrate the story of how his father had braved the Andaman sea in order to hide the gunnysacks of rice that were taken back from the thieving hands of the Japanese army- in one of the 99 islands in Langkawi.

And at night they would tune in to RTM to watch the country’s most popular historical film, Jins Shamsuddin’s Bukit Kepong. At least that was what they used to do up until 2017.

“So they’re still not showing it this year?” asked the farmer’s second son, in disbelief, after he scanned RTM’s TV listing for that day.

To the unfamiliar, the film revolves around the armed encounter between the 25 Malayan police and 180 communists of the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergency in Bukit Kepong, Muar on February 23, 1950.

Despite being historically accurate, the film has had pockets of criticisms levelled against it. For example in 2005, the Penang DAP had called for RTM to stop airing it during Merdeka as it can rouse ill will between the Malays and the Chinese.

It was a rather odd argument though, as the communist’ guerrilla assault in Bukit Kepong -which killed 14 policemen, four civillians, five auxilarry policemen and two children – was led by a Malay named Muhammad Indera.

The paddy farmer sighed. He did not utter a word. He did not need to. His crestfallen face spoke volumes. It was crystal clear. He did not like how things have turned out ever since he voted in the new government in last year’s national poll.

He however was not the only Malay who seemed to be suffering from this buyer’s remorse.

The Malays have been quite restless these days and it does not take a rocket scientist to explain why.

They feel threatened by what they believed to be the overboard antics from a certain segment of the ruling coalition’s supporters.

While interracial enmity has always been a part and parcel of Malaysia’s reality, things seemed to have really simmered ever so intensely these days to the point that a Malay-led consumer protest has managed to gain quite the buzz and traction.

Those familiar with consumer movements in the country would know that the Malays have always lacked the persistent drive to do successful consumer protest. The 2014 boycott on McDonalds which eventually died a natural death was proof of such a notion.

But things are different this time around. 

The Buy Muslim First (BMF) campaign manifests against the backdop of a series of incidents that had hit most of the Malays in all the wrong buttons such as the backdoor attempt to ratify ICERD and the peculiarities of fireman Muhammad Adib’s inquest.

But what seems to be the proverbial straw that broke the Malay’s back was the stinging remarks aired by those who continued to object to the government’s decision to add Jawi calligraphy lessons into the Bahasa Melayu school syllabus.

Especially after those critics kept on spouting acrid vitriol – with some going as far as claiming that Jawi was never a part of Malaysian culture – even after the government backtracked and made the lesson optional.

And the damage control done by the ruling coalition has worsened the situation. Education Minister Maszlee Malik argued that the lesson has no racial or political undertone and that it was to preserve a crucial aspect of Malaysia’s artistry.

If that was the case then, why didn’t the calligraphy lesson be inserted into the Pendidikan Seni syllabus instead?

Then comes in DAP’s controversial troubleshooting of an explanation to the Chinese voters by showing pictures of porn novels written in the Jawi script in an attempt to clarify that the lesson was not a subtle islamisation propaganda.

When the obvious blowback hit the party, one of its parliamentarians, Wong Shu Qi, said that they meant no disrespect but it was just that the Chinese will understand better if porn was also used as an example.

Sheesh. And they expect the Malays not to get angry?

As it is, the BMF is still going on strong. The ever-increasing list of products and services from Muslim companies is constantly being updated despite the ruling coalition leaders’ call for the Malays to stop doing so.

But the Malays who joined the BMF movement saw nothing wrong with the priority buying campaign arguing that it’s their money and they have the right to spend however they like.

They also find it hypocritical for the Chinese – particularly the supporters of PH- to criticise them given the 2011 boycott that the Chinese once did to Gardenia Bakeries simply because the company was owned by a Malay who supported Barisan Nasional.

Another instance in which the Malays found the furore over Jawi hypocritical was the use of the script on the packaging of many groceries and household items produced by non-Muslim businesses.

It is anybody’s guess how long will the BMF campaign last but the reality in Malaysia is that the Malays and Bumiputera make up 60 per cent of its 32 million populace and that is one heck of a purchasing power.

Supporters of Pakatan, especially that of the Chinese, should bear in mind that it only took 11 per cent of Malay vote swing to oust Barisan Nasional and that out of the 222 parliamentary seats, only 59 are non-Malay/Bumiputera majority seats.

If those 11 per cent Malays have swung once, surely they can do it again. Right?



About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at