Dr Lim Teck Ghee challenges Ketuanan Melayu



You can get an interesting glimpse into Dr Lim Teck Ghee’s idea of ‘ubah’ from the Who’s Who he endorses, and likewise those among the Who’s Who against whose opinions he places an adversarial question mark.

Dr Lim – an anti-establishment public intellectual – launched his book Challenging Malaysia’s Status Quo in Bangunan Sulaiman, KL today.

‘Status quo’ refers to “the existing state of affairs“. To ‘challenge’ it is to attempt to overturn things as they presently are. But in order to upend the status quo, you will need to install an alternative administration to bring about a different kind of socio-political situation.

In short, Dr Lim is a proponent of regime change.

Chinese students holding Malaysian flag upside down

Status quo enablers disliked by Pakatan supporters

Among Dr Lim’s betes noires (not quite exactly an enemy but certainly individuals opposed in viewpoint) in the academic and media circles are Prof. Emeritus Dr Khoo Kay Kim, Dr Chandra Muzaffar and Joceline Tan — personalities all of whom are mentioned in his new book.

Among other issues, Dr Lim is negative about:

  Prof. Khoo’s opinion, expressed to Utusan and featured on the paper’s front page, that many among our Chinese community do not think of Malaysia as their own country, and that this minority has strong racial sentiments;

  Dr Chandra’s decision in his later life to provide “intellectual capital” to the BN government, after having undergone an unhappy “political transformation” (Note: 1Malaysia Foundation chairman Dr Chandra had previously led the anti-government NGO Aliran);

  Joceline’s acceptance of the top media award at 2009’s inaugural Umno Media Appreciation Night, carrying with it a cash prize of RM5,000, a notebook and a certificate of appreciation handed by party president Najib Razak (Note: Joceline got RM2,000 more than even the Utusan reporter who received RM3,000 for best news article, and no notebook).

From the above, you might discern that Dr Lim’s issue with the aforementioned public figures is also partly because of their indirect association or cordial relationship with Umno/Utusan, and his perception of them as apologists for the status quo.

Among the more controversial figures in Dr Lim’s good books are Haris Ibrahim, Siti Kasim and Mariam Mokhtar. Their reputation as Malay loudmouths who stridently bash the establishment precedes them. Go ahead and connect the ‘Melayu screw Melayu’ dots.

Ridhuan Tee and his wife Norisah

Template of a Ridhuan Tee-like character

Dr Lim’s street cred as one of the country’s foremost anti-Umno ideologues is well established.

He sees Umno as being closed-minded and backward-looking – akin to the inquisitors that persecuted Galileo Galilei for daring to defy church orthodoxy, and the religious fanatics who prosecuted Socrates for being less than respectful of the gods (of ancient Greece).

The Italian inquisitors and Athenian zealots who had tormented Galileo and Socrates were on the wrong side of history.

In Dr Lim’s view, Umno too is on the wrong side of history. This, however, does not automatically put the opposing power (Pakatan) on the right side of history by default.

One of Dr Lim’s essays in his Challenging Malaysia’s Status Quo book visualizes a distant future when ‘national unity’ is achieved by the 100th anniversary of Merdeka.

He satirically depicts the year 2057 where the “sacred national mission” to entrench ‘Malay First’ has finally succeeded.

Parodying an unnamed Chinese professor – who we can safely guess to be Ridhuan Tee Abdullah – Dr Lim paints a scenario in which followers of this Malay Firster luminary in year 2057 rejoice that “the judgement of their mentor had been substantiated”.

This unnamed professor known for his criticism of the Chinese ultrakiasu-ness – according to Dr Lim’s satire – was a founding member of National Emeritus Professors Council “responsible for providing the critical breakthrough in ethnic identity and national consciousness”.

Dr Lim holds up the concept of ‘national identity’ predicated on a Malay ethnicity as the object of black humour and disdain.

The fictional future in Dr Lim’s parody is not one that he personally approves of, evidently. Based on a template of the Chinese professor who “was now classified as Malay”, Dr Lim morosely sees Malaysia in his 2057 crystal ball as a country wherein similarly all the different races are also identifying themselves as Malays.

This unwanted future scenario takes place once the “ultras” become the country’s dominant force, he predicts.

“The more things change …”

Dr Lim seemingly dislikes Ridhuan Tee, Khoo Kay Kim and Joceline Tan – the few Chinese who are immensely well liked by the pro-establishment Malays.

Going by the stance of his anti-Malay First satire, what then is Dr Lim’s own alternative vision for Malaysia 40 years down the road? How, in his considered opinion, are the minorities going to be able to manifest a fond embrace of Malaysia as their tanahair, and of the ruling monarchs to whom they’re supposed to be loyal subjects?

Does Dr Lim see no merit in a Malaysian of Chinese descent speaking Malay fluently and being conversant with Malay customs and culture as Ridhuan is?

Is it objectionable to acknowledge the historical and continued Malay sovereignty of this land as Prof. Khoo does? Is it equally objectionable for a Chinese writer to be more critical of the DAP than of Umno?

Already Dr Lim rejects the “three Ks” which he terms as “ketuanan Umno, ketuanan Melayu dan ketuanan Islam”.

Umno’s prolonged hegemony aside, what can viably fill the vacuum once ketuanan Melayu and ketuanan Islam is removed? Is ketuanan diversiti/multikulti to be its replacement? (‘multikulti’ is German multiculturalism, a term used largely in the western European context).

Dr Lim may not care which religion is ‘tuan’. Or he may prefer a ‘no state religion’ situation under the auspices of secularism. But he is a minority.

To take away ketuanan Melayu and ketuanan Islam is a nightmare scenario for the majority who fear that ketuanan Cina and ketuanan Kristian will rise to occupy the void.

Challenging Malaysia’s status quo has definite consequences. Dr Lim describes the symptoms of an increasingly right wing, nationalist state but his solutions are quixotic and questionable.

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