Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cry of Little Dragons in Kelantan

The recent Pengkalan Pasir by-election brought out a number of factors including an allegation of political motive in delaying the revelation of the Squatgate victim's nationality. Because the voting preference in the constituency is known to be virtually a 50-50 split between pro-PAS and pro-UMNO camps, the voting minorities assumed disproportionate importance in the by-election.

Post election, the MCA claimed it garnered 95% of the near 900 Chinese votes (4.7% of its registered voters) for its political master, though how could it know that if Malaysia’s election balloting was secret as it ought to be. But I suppose it has to claim credit from Taikoh. Questionable as the MCA's claim undoubtedly had been, it was still enough to send one PAS supporter into a raving ranting tantrum where he crucified the Chinese Malaysians, and may I add, also shot PAS in the foot as I posted in Loose Cannon in PAS.

Helen Ang, a columnist in Malaysiakini called the Chinese minority in Pengkalan Pasir the ‘Little Dragons’, though of course the symbol of the dragon refers to China rather than just any Chinese. Or, perhaps she had meant the significance of votes was akin to the powers of dragons.

Ang’s article is well researched and interesting. To capture in brief the essence of her article, she discussed the 4 factors at play for Kelantan and Kelantanese, namely (1) Islam, (2) Kelantan-ness, (3) Ethnicity and (4) the National Economic Policy (NEP).

According to Ang, for a Kelantanese Kelantan-ness will outbid Malay-ness most time. A Malay Kelantanese would be more likely to favour a Chinese Kelantanese of his own village over a Malay outsider. And a Chinese Kelantanese feels more comfy, safe and better treated within the Kelantan environment than he would be in another State. Total assimilation for the peranakan Kelantanese is almost complete

*Note for overseas readers: peranakan means locally born Chinese who have been brought up under (adopted) Malay customs and culture, and who speak the Malay language at home, and have assimilated into the local Malay communities.

Ang believes the peranakan Kelantanese could well have been the ideal Malaysian ‘template’ for non-Malay ethnic communities.

One factor that prevents total assimilation is of course religion. The Malay Kelantanese are very devout Muslims, and as all Malaysians are aware, multi-religious marriages for Muslims is not an option in Malaysia. Hence mixed marriages have not been as widespread as it ought to be considering how amicable the relationship between the peranakan Kelantanese and their fellow Malay Kelantanese have been.

Wouldn’t it be great if Malaysian Muslims are like their Indonesian counterparts, who seem less uptight about cross-religious marriages. I know of Indonesian families who have very tolerant attitude towards religion. One has a Hindu dad, Muslim mum with children belonging to a variety of religious denominations including the two major branches of Christianity. KTemoc’s family is similarly multi-religious although we don’t enjoy a Muslim member among us yet because, as mentioned, multi-religious marriages are still alien to Malaysian Muslims.

But the sad story that has emerged from Helen Ang’s article has been the discriminatory NEP, Malaysia’s affirmative action for the Malays. Additionally, in Malaysia, to be of the Islamic faith and adopt the Malay custom would also make one a constitutionally defined 'Malay'.

So the peranakan Kelantanese with several generations of domicile in Kelantan, participating in every facet of Kelantan life and culture, save only in religion, sees him or herself marginalised out of the benefits of the NEP while Thais, Cambodians, Pakistani, Indians and other Johnny-Come-Lately's from Indonesia, who are Muslims, enjoy those very benefits.

Ang said the cry of the peranakan Kelantanese is the same as those of the French Muslims who cried during the recent rioting in Paris, “How much more French do I have to be?”

Indeed, “How much more Malaysian do we have to be?”

Because of this frustrating and heartbreaking dead end, the peranakan Kelantanese are slowly re-integrating back into the greater ethnic Chinese community of Malaysia rather than continuing being the peranakan Kelantanese his/her forefathers had been.

Instead of having naga2 Kelantan, we indeed have, as Helen Ang indicated, little dragons.

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