Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A 'Malay Liberal'?

Khairy Jamaluddin has recently drawn considerable attention (not to mention some public approval in some quarters) by presumably sticking his neck out, so to speak, in speaking out against Perkasa and Ibrahim Ali. Touting himself as a ‘reformist’ and a ‘Malay liberal’, he has seemingly set himself apart from the ultra-Malay nationalist mouth-piece, Ibrahim Ali.

This tension has evidently publicly set the two on a collision course, and some might even say helped Khairy - and some factions within Umno - to patch up the credibility holes within Umno that continue to be the source of erosion in the younger voters’ support for Umno.

Whilst I don’t deny that there is some clear underlying political agenda in the Umno Youth leaders attempts to accentuate the apparent schism between himself and the thrust of what Ibrahim Ali embodies, I for one find it utterly amusing that Khairy and his ilk within Umno are invoking the label of ‘Malay liberal’ to distinguish themselves from the ultra-Malay chauvinists.

Malay liberal? Now there’s an oxymoron if I ever heard of one. I suppose one has to credit the politician who can invoke such absurd terms and not only get away with it, but actually even garner praise from some quarters in the process. I for one am utterly amused by this convenient twist and spin being deployed, and am at the same time struck by how easily the so-called ‘Malay liberals’ within Umno are getting away with such word-games. 

It appears those who are self-defining and also buying onto this word-game have conveniently forgotten or cannot be bother with what it means to be a liberal. Regardless of all the possible permutations of liberals, one thing is certain: one cannot claim to be a liberal and also advocate the kind of race-based politics that is Umno’s bread-and-butter.

Besides, I may be na├»ve but I remain befuddled about what exactly is a ‘Malay liberal’? If there can be a ‘Malay liberal’ could there also be ‘Chinese liberals’ and ‘Bugis liberals’ or ‘Iban liberals’? And how are these supposedly different from a mere, plain, simple ‘liberal’?

The first principle of being a liberal is a commitment to and respect for the equality of all – regardless of race, religion, sex, or other social markers. This is the most elementary prerequisite of being a liberal. It should be obvious that any card-carrying member of Umno by definition fails this basic prerequisite of being a liberal.

Imagine then, the absurdity of manufacturing and invoking a term such as a “Malay liberal”. You see for this reason, whilst I may find Ibrahim Ali’s rhetoric and demagoguery repulsive, I really don’t think there is much difference between a so-called ‘Malay liberal’ and an ultra-nationalist Malay such as Ibrahim Ali.  

One can be a liberal or not. One cannot be a liberal grounded in a race-based political party perpetuating a racist system. 

G. Krishnan