Good morning. About 2 weeks ago, my wife left a collection of Farish Noor’s writings on my table. This early morning as I was hiding from my children who were getting ready to go to playschool, I read a chapter from his book on Malay identity.
Farish is a great writer and he argues that the Malays are culturally and historically not sedantry people. That they are explorers. I come from Kelantan and the Kelantanese are generally more “Malay” than say KL Malays, and there is a real culture of merantau. So his writing resonates with my perception of the Malay community.
I believe that it is through these explorations that the Malays fan out across South East Asia and have created a variety of Malay practices. From Patani to Bugis to the Javanese. Such is the influence of the Malays that very large chunks of the South East Asian region is shaped by them.
So why then are a very big chunk of the modern Malays in Malaysia, different from their more adventurous ancestors? We all know that travels expand the mind, teaches us to be critical of the place we visit and more importantly, critical of our home and own practices.
Has public policy in the last few decades made Malays too reliant on government and as such less focus on self discovery? And when it comes to Islam, why is there a general fixation to be more Arabic? Has the ruling party inadvertantly eroded the Malay spirit for travel, tolerance and diversity? Where is the critical thinking and the celebration of diverse views? Why do we now have a culture of fear, bigotry and narrow mindedness?
I was talking to Dato Saifuddin Abdullah and YB Rafizi Ramli a few months ago when we were pondering a variety of public policy issues. Both were keen to start the “Melayu Bermaruah” series of talks (they have started). This morning brings back memories of the meeting with my brothers.