Ketuanan Melayu, a tool of the oppressors - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Malaysiakini : “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” ― Steve Biko
BOOK REVIEW | AB Sulaiman’s book,
‘Ketuanan Melayu: A Story of the Thinking Norm of the Malay Political
Elite’, cogently defines the agendas of the establishment hegemon and
also the pervasive group-think that defines mainstream Malay politics.
AB Sulaiman makes the distinction between “race” and “culture” and
examines the “Malay” construct through the racial and religious politics
of the day, paying attention to history and lamenting that dissenting
voices in the community have always been marginalised.
What is interesting about this book is that AB Sulaiman passionately
(as opposed to clinically) disables narratives around what it means to
be “Malay”, viewing the Malay culture through an ethnolinguistic lens,
among various other social and political philosophies and theories. Do
not let this dampen your enthusiasm for the book because AB Sulaiman
writes in an easy-going friendly manner, even when offering up political
and philosophical “sensitive” issues, to which he devotes a whole
The most important takeaway from this book is that AB Sulaiman does
not make the same mistake that some writers make when discussing
Ketuanan Melayu. The writer understands that this is not a tool to unify
the Malay polity. Ketuanan Melayu is a tool to divide the Malay polity.
The writer makes it clear that the latter purpose is the defining
characteristic of this social-political, but most importantly,
What does this mean in AB Sulaiman’s weltanschauung? This concept is a
political tool used to not only marginalise dissenting voices in the
Malay community but to monopolise narratives to ensure that the
political hegemony of dominant Malay power structures becomes the
mainstream narrative of what it means to be “Malay”. This, according to
the writer, is why dissenting Malay voices are vilified as “traitors” to
the Malay “race” and unIslamic.
Now, some would argue that the beginning chapters of the book that
define certain concepts of different modes of thinking, linguistic
theories and concepts such as nation and statehood are superfluous, but I
presume that the author needs those chapters to set the scene, so to
speak, to explore the complex dynamics, historical, philosophical and
otherwise, of Malay society.