“Is Malay ethno-nationalism on the rise?”

BRIDGET Welsh wrote an article on Malay ethno-nationalism recently.It is an interesting and informative piece in that it gives a new understanding of what constitutes the “green wave” and why the present Malay ethno-nationalism is different from the nationalism of UMNO in the last four decades following independence.The “green wave” phenomenon that came to capture the imagination of many, it is not about religion per se but a combination of ethnic and religious elements that constitutes the new form of ethno-nationalism.While the earlier form of Malay nationalism was aimed at addressing the Malay socio-economic grievances vis-a-vis the non-Malays, the present form is more exclusive and more elitist in nature.In other words, the present form of Malay ethno-nationalism is an admission that not the earlier elitist approach had failed in addressing the serious intra-ethnic class differences, but the coming together of the old and new elites might posse problems of great magnitude.Despite repeated failures on the part of UMNO to address Malay socio-economic grievances, the new elite minus UMNO want to control the levers of the power to have their hands on the economic cake.The new ethnic proclamations, extreme racial utterances and others have combined to give substance to the new form of Malay ethno-nationalism.Elections are mere avenues to gain power but once power is restored to them, there is no stopping them from plunging into plunder and extreme economic and financial gratifications.While the earlier form of Malay nationalism addressed the presence of the non-Malays, although not in an endearing manner, the present form seems not only to eschew their presence but to be the subject of blatant and merciless attacks, as embodied in the constant utterances of PAS president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang.In other words, while the old nationalism factored in non-Malays, the present form is exclusive. Non-Malays are condemned downright, with PAS leaders being the chief spokespersons.It is not that the new form of Malay ethno-nationalism best embodied in the political coalition of the Perikatan Nasional is a one-way street. It directly challenges the new unity government of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim which is closely associated with UMNO in Barisan Nasional.The coming state elections in June or July might be the litmus test for the forces of the new form of ethno-nationalism. If the unity government can prevail in three states, then the forces of the Opposition might be temporarily stunted.Malay ethno-nationalism is not an ephemeral phenomenon, it might be revived under propitious circumstances.As I have argued before, the unity government rather than relying on departmental propaganda must think of ways and means to embark on a counter-hegemonic pursuit to push back the “green wave”.A cultural strategy that both addresses the ideational and material grounds needs to be seriously pondered.It is not enough to think of the forces of the “green wave” but to challenge and subdue them in the process of reducing them in the larger interest of a united and integrated Malaysia.The material ground in the form of investments seems to be on a healthy trajectory but the ideational or cultural ground seems wanting. — May 25, 2023


Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the DAP state assemblyman for Perai. He is also Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


Main photo credit: Midjourney

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