by azly rahman
I wish to comment on the recent interest in the term ‘Bangsa Johor’, and encourage instead for us to think as Malaysians first. We still have a lot to work on as a nation of multi-bangsa identities striving for equality, equal opportunity, equality, peace, and social justice. No need to fragment us unnecessarily - especially at a time when our nation is in deep political trouble, financial mess, and economic chaos never before seen.
Let us be more inclusive and continue to think more as a nation rather than pigeon-hole ourselves into this or that ‘bangsa’/race/nation which has no legitimate basis to secede and fight for independence later.
Of course the United Nations recognises one ‘nation’s’ right for self-determinism but only if the peoples are oppressed, criminalised, persecuted, and treated as sub-humans and their rights as human beings are violated. And only if they are relegated as a nation to abject poverty, eating dirt daily.
I grew up only hearing words such as ‘Orang Johor’, and never once ‘Bangsa Johor’. There are other ‘orangs’ as well. Oghe’ Kelate’, Orang Pahang. Oghe’ Ganoo, Owang Nogori. Ong Melaka, Oghang Perak, Orang Sabah, Orang Sarawak, Oghang Kedoh, and also Owang Peghelih. And crossing borders, we have ‘Owang Siam’.
These cover the spectrum of of people in Malaysia, each with its niceties and peculiarities and linguistically variant complexities, especially in the ‘funny way they talk’.
Those were that.
Nothing politically-charged the term ‘orang’ is. Of course growing up, I hear also terms such as ‘Orang Kuala’, ‘Orang Ulu’, and ‘Orang Bukit’ - the designation of the original peoples of Malaysia.
And of course there is ‘Orang KL or Kay Elll...’ as many take pride in, in identifying themselves and the ‘modernist look and outlook’ that they are said to embody and represent, albeit with false consciousness essentially. And of course too - ‘orang gila’ or mad men and mad women.
All ‘orangs’ or ‘folks of...’ and not ‘bangsa’, a politically-charged term that is a prelude to self-determination. Bangsa Moro of the Philippines comes into mind.
And then there is Louis Farrakhan’s ‘Nation of Islam’ as Bangsa Islam Amerika - a race-based African-American Muslim group that hailed Elijah Muhammad as ‘prophet’.
The idea of ‘nation’
But ‘Bangsa Johor’? What is this new invention? Sounds like something new that is cropping out of nowhere. Perhaps for no reason, too? I am not familiar with this term inviting Johoreans to a world of ‘nationalism’? Does anyone understand the idea of ‘nation’, originating from France? Do these people read the classic work of Ernst Renan or even recent works of William R Roff (on Malay origin of nationalism,) and Benedict Anderson on ‘imagined communities’, to throw the word ‘bangsa’ around?
Or do we need to focus urgently on building a ‘Bangsa Malaysia’, for an inclusive version of Malaysian Malaysia along the lines of the promises of the Principles of Nationhood (Rukunegara) and of the formation of Malaysia?
Why not do this as we struggle to make sense of what a ‘Malaysian nation’ is in the face of the importation of workers from Bangladesh especially, who will impact the evolutionary process of building the nation of Malaysia. Why not do this?
Why not think of how the wealth of Malaysia to be distributed with the principles of justice, so that in each state concentration of wealth will no longer be with the few - with those controlling the resources and using the state apparatuses to controlled the people and use the idea of this or that "bangsa" as a smokescreen to impose structures of domination and dehumanisation?
Reflecting on the meaninglessness of the word ‘Bangsa Johor’, or bangsa this or that, I am reminded by the great Indonesian novel, ‘Anak Semua Bangsa’, or Child of all Nations by the great Indonesian thinker-writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer or ‘Pak Prem’, jailed for 14 years during and denied pen and paper to write his thoughts on Indonesia’s social cancer.
We are a child of all nations, in this earth for mankind (anak semua bangsa di bumi manusia,) aren’t we? As Malaysians, think proudly of your culture, pride, and heritage - but think as a people of a cosmopolitan national entity as well.
Citizens of the world we are. Out of Africa we all come from; from the womb of the mythical and mitochondrial eve. Each one of us an aristocrat - until social inventions and dominations and historical turns create classes of the powerful and the powerless, Masters and Slaves, amongst us - through the strange idea of the ‘mandate of heaven’.
I hope those who coined the words ‘Bangsa Johor’ get the chance to read the Swiss Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s idea of the evolution of the Master-Slave narrative.
No - ‘Bangsa Johor’ is an unfamiliar invention of an imagined community. But what is the point there?
Nope - I prefer the old term ‘Budak Johor’ or ‘Mat Johor’. It rocks!
But seriously - there is only a ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ still yearning to break free from its national follies.