*Picture Credit: Othering & Belonging Institute Berkeley
Last month, I had the opportunity to attend IDEAS 4th Liberalism Conference which brought forward a theme that has been haunting Malaysia as a multicultural, multireligious nation for years.
“Moving Away from Identity Politics to Policies” is a discourse that is currently getting the limelight it deserves, especially after the change of government, from one that is ethnocentric to the one that “seemingly” puts the interest of the whole nation.
Identity, as how YB Maria Chin puts it, is important as it is what makes Malaysia the Malaysia we know today. However, to cling onto the notion of “Identity” as the basis of political structure is just ignorant. Identity, viewing it from this sense, divides us into several categories of race, religion or even gender.
As a multiracial nation, uniformity should be at the forefront in the pursuit of a united nation.
Regrettably, 60 years after independence, politics of identity is still deeply embedded in the political landscape, resulting in the way social groups are being engineered.
The Malay Agenda which was introduced post May 13 to ease social tension is now a tool to win votes. Especially when the concern falls within the Malay-Bumiputera segment, identity politics never cease to fail.
Now, it is not too much to say that identity politics serve as a vote bank to irresponsible politicians, aiming at fulfilling their own agenda. We can see this happening in rural and poor areas where politicians are racing to give the highest and the most incentives to the people.
The ones at the receiving end, meanwhile are viewed as lazy and are used to the patronage, when really what people termed as duit suap, for the people living in the outskirts, is their living. Receiving help from the higher ups is one of their many sources of living.
The hardship and poor living condition forced them to, and the ones in power leverage on this, becoming the captain and steer the boat further deep into the avalanche of rich-poor symbiotic relationship.
Who is Responsible?
The question here remains, who is responsible for this culture of identity politics? The right would surely blame the poor for falling into the mischievous traps set by the politicians, while the left would blame the rich and the ones on top for taking advantage. We are constantly looking for a culprit, pointing fingers at one another and absolve ourselves of the responsibility of the issue at hand.
One thing we tend to forget is that we are what we make ourselves to be. Just as the products of our environment, our environments are also a product of us- From the food we consume to the products we buy, from the newspaper we read to the politicians we vote for. Many problems that are often attributed to the fault of “the system”, without realizing, to some extent, are self-generated. Hence, the effect can only be brought about within individual and collective competence.
We have seen this happen last year. We have seen how a change in the mindset of the people toppled a 60-year long government. It is not impossible. Shifting from identity politics to policies can be done with a slight change in the question asked. It is now no longer simply: “How do we radically transform the system?”, but also: “How do we radically transform ourselves?”