It is true that whenever I write about the state of feminism in Malaysia, I write from a point of view of a privileged Malay whose ethnicity is a dividing force in Malaysia. While I write about the challenges of Muslim women with a global view in mind, my own Malayness oppresses every one else in my backyard who does not fit the exacting and discriminating elements that make the Malay composite.
A special right, advantage, immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.
Everyone has some form of privilege one way or the other; either it’s physical ability, economic background, heterosexuality and/or possessing the Y chromosome. However, the more vicious forms are those that are enshrined in the federal constitution to benefit only a select group of people. For decades, the Malay community has been socialised into thinking that they are made of something quite special, that the state of their specialness, or supremacy, is the norm. Supreme entitlement to such things as greater access to university education, public funding, jobs, and homes allows for the upward social mobility of those lucky enough to be born Malay and Muslim in Malaysia. This is how the Malay middle-class was born. But when their privileges are challenged, it is seen as an attack on their humanity and on their way of life.
It’s mind-boggling that the defenders of Malay ethnic-religio-supremacy do not see themselves as proud perpetrators of racism. While cavalierly calling out Malay poverty as reason to protect their rights, they conveniently forget the other impoverished ethnic communities with whom they live side by side. The declaration of Malaysia as an Islamic state further complicates our inter-ethnic relations and squanders the strength of diversity that can make our country so great. Such a declaration is simply a tool to protect the political interests of the tiny elite few while doing so controls the public and private lives of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Here is a country that puts the staunchly heteronormative, middle-class Malays in charge of a master-slave relationship.
As a Malay woman born into special privileges, I cannot talk at length about what it’s like to be lacking them. But I am willing to step outside my lived experiences to confront, question, and challenge them to be repealed. This include the absent privileges of individuals whose sexuality, gender, and lifestyle choices do not conform within the rigid boundaries of state approval. As a feminist, I would like to represent a de-colonising voice, a feminism that recognises and confronts oppression in all its forms – this is by no means a pompous ambition. However, feeling ashamed and guilty of these special rights do not help anyone or any situation. Guilt is neither constructive nor is it redemptive. Instead, making the most of our faculties through thinking a little bit more, reading, writing, listening and talking about social injustice are just little forms of activism that offer us a better chance of improving and restoring equality in our societies.