Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poppycock Mahathirism

The former prime minister, Mahathir, has very conveniently and unabashedly reiterated his preference for race-based politics in Malaysia. According to him, not only is race race-based politics ‘relevant,’ he apparently even claims the practice in Malaysia has, according to a Malaysiakini report, ‘been able to reduce debates on race and stabilised and developed the country.’

Well, needless to say, I am quite struck with this man’s proclivity for dictatorial and racist politics. But of course, it should not come as any surprise to all of us – least of all those who are intimately familiar with his so-called legacy. This aside, the timing of his re-endorsement of race-based politics is also worth noting. I can’t help but wonder if, now that Badawi – Mahathir’s  self-professed mistake as his successor – is essentially packing up his stuff from the Putrajaya office, Mahathir is feeling  rejuvenated by the prospect of his true understudy and political progeny becoming prime minster. Perhaps this re-affirmation of race-based politics is but another salvo of the intensification, rather than the veining out of race-politics we can expect in the next regime.

According to Mahathir, one indication of the continued relevance of race-based politics is that even the opposition parties are in fact organised along racial lines.

Well, here’s where I think the old rhetoric fails him, and his fundamentally flawed reasoning once again becomes evident. Sure, as Mahathir points out, PAS may not be a multi-racial party; neither is the DAP genuinely so. But here’s the fundamental difference, I would argue, between a party like the DAP and Umno: the former does not profess and define itself exclusively as a race-based party; Umno's identity and reason for being, on the other hand, is based precisely on affirming itself as a race-based party and is committed to racist policies. That, Mahathir Mohammad, is the difference between the two types of politics: those parties – like Umno - committed to enforcing racist race-based politics and those – like DAP – who seek and strive to overcome it.

For this very reason, parties like DAP or Keadilan, can in principle and in practice, embrace members of all races. They can even demonstrate – as a matter of fact – that they have ranking members of the party from different races. In other words, they are committed to the vision of multi-racial politics devoid of racism. This is something Umno could never be – and certainly not so long as ardent and unyielding politicians such as Mahathir are driven by racist politics.   

Mahathir and his legacy make it abundantly clear what he stands for. Surely there is no ambiguity about that fact. However, he cannot expect to continue to get away with the kind of faulty and flawed logic - or to be more precise, the smoke-and-mirrors ploy - he persistently invokes in trying to discredit the opposition and defend racist-laden politics. Indeed, I would argue that even PAS, with its credentials as a ‘race-based’ party is at least far more committed to recognising the human and civil rights of those who do not subscribe to its specific religious (or race-based) agenda. In principle and in practice, PAS has been far more committed to respecting the rights of minorities, and willing to reconcile its priorities with those of the other opposition parties committed to a non-race-based political framework.

That, Mahathir Mohammad, is much, much more than I can say about your Umno. (Opps, I guess, it’s no longer ‘your’ Umno, right? But that will only change again in the near future, wont’ it?). And this distinction between a party like Keadilan, DAP - or for that matter – PAS, and a party like Umno (and the other exclusively racist race-based parties in Barisan Nasional) could not be more stark.

So, regardless of what the Mahathirs of this world might like to peddle to us, let us not allow politicians with deeply flawed and faulty reasoning distort the abundantly vivid difference between parties committed to racist race-based politics, and those who are committed to just the opposite.

The only reason racist race-based politics is, in the words of Mahathir, ‘relevant’ is because Umno has successfully – one way or another – ensured it remain relevant. And this has been primarily beneficial to its political agenda; and not, I would argue, as suggested by Mahathir, because it has ‘stabilised and developed the country.’ Now such reasoning is what is known as ‘a non-sequitur’ and ‘a red-herring’ simultaneously, if I ever heard one.  It’s poppycock that Malaysia’s development has been the result of racist style race-based politics. This is but another myth that keeps getting perpetuated by Umno and those few who have been beneficiaries of such rhetoric.

Indeed, Mahathir’s dubious reasoning is akin to arguing that racism enabled development! Imagine…just preposterous! Not only is this absurd, it serves to legitimate racism.

The fact is, it is far more credible to argue that Malaysia’s development has been severely retarded and hindered due to the kind of racist ‘race-based’ politics that Mahathir seemingly celebrates! Of course, we will never know; and that is precisely the point! Malaysia’s stability is also, arguably, less due to ‘reducing debates on race.’ Indeed, I submit to you that through that repressive culture of reducing debates on race, our politicians have systematically and chronically retarded our development as a society, and made us less capable of becoming a mature enough culture where we can engage in civilised dialogue – as opposed to feeling threatened about discussions about race.

And as I have argued elsewhere (click here), we would be a much more stable country with more – yes, more, open dialogue, more freedom of the press to address matters about race relations and racism – had politicians such as Mahathir been foresighted and thoughtful enough to see the value of building a culture of respect for open dialogue and a free press.   

And there should obviously be no doubt in anyone’s mind where we can look to see who the culprits are for such retardation and stifling of our national development. Race-based politics may be relevant, but contrary to what Mahathir would have us believe, racism cannot and must not be. And let us never forget that about what truly distinguishes racist parties like Umno from non-racist parties like DAP, Keadilan or even PAS; even if they are represented by the preponderance of one or another racial group.

It is time that as Malaysians, we stopped being bulldozed by the shallow, hollow, and bankrupt dogmas of racism and racists. 

I for one would more readily buy some of the ‘snake-oil’ that’s peddled on the lima-kaki of Jalan Chow Kit, before I would ever take even a sniff of the racist ‘race-based politics’ potion, which has been repeatedly peddled to us.

G. Krishnan