Ku Li to Kelab UMNO in Melbourne

There is almost nothing positive to say about politics in Malaysia. Let’s face it, reading the news is depressing.

It is in this mood that I came across THIS speech made by Ku Li to Kelab UMNO in Melbourne. If you have not read it, I would suggest you read it in full at The Malaysian Insider. I quote some parts of it here:

Our method of racial power-sharing (here he is referring to Barisan Nasional) is primarily a system for resolving conflict in a deeply divided society. It was designed as an interim work-around, an early stage on the way to “a more perfect union” and not as the desired end-state. Over the years, however, we have put up barricades around our system as if it were a fore-ordained and permanent ideal. In doing so, we have turned a half-way house into our destination, as if we must forever remain a racially divided and racially governed society.Instead, our ideal must be to become a free and united society in which individuals can express their ethnic and religious identities without being imprisoned in them. We must aim for a society in which public reasoning and not backroom dealing determines our collective decisions.


The racial power-sharing model now practiced by Barisan is broken. It takes more honesty than we are used to in public life to observe that this is not a temporary but a terminal crisis. An old order is ending. Our problem is that while this past winds down, smoothly or otherwise, the future is not yet here. We are caught in between.


Begin with our common humanity. Respect [for] our common humanity must override all lesser affiliations, including race.


If you reflect on yourselves, you might find that all kinds of identity matter to you: that you are a graduate of such and such a university, that you speak these languages, support this football team, enjoy certain food or music, love to travel, can write computer code, have read such and such books, and have so-and-so as friends. Just reflect on how you identify yourselves in your Facebook profiles. Is race the only thing you regard as important about yourselves? Is it the most important thing?


I would be offended if you tried to measure and determine my racial identity, and it would tell me that there was something deeply wrong with your worldview. I am not Malay in the sense in which water is H2O.


We may not have much choice over how others categorise us, but we certainly have a choice about the relative importance to place on our own and therefore on the others’ racial identity. We have a choice in how much weight we put on it, and in how high in our scheme of values we put it.


If we see race as a watertight category, then you are either of race X or not, and everything else: your habits, thought-patterns, loyalties and politics must all follow from that. Then race becomes destiny. The politics of this kind of conception of race will always divide, and the ultimate solution to intra-racial problems it leads us to is, in the end, violence.


It is time to embrace this real diversity in our political and personal lives. Our racial identities are not silos in a cornfield, forever separate, encased in steel, but trees in our rainforest: standing distinct but inexplicable without each other and constantly co-evolving.

I was, when I got to the end of it, less depressed than when I started reading.


4 Comments on “Ku Li to Kelab UMNO in Melbourne”

  1. Paul Warren says:

    I liked this the best: ““We would be terribly impoverished as persons if our identity was given ahead of time and once and for all, merely by our membership of a fixed racial category. I would be a very dull person if you could tell who I was simply by looking up my race.”

    But sadly, UMNO being as predictive as it is will have to do damage control now. I expect UMNO Youth to send its chief, or for that matter the DPM to the same University to put back what Ku Li might have damaged!!

    • visitor says:

      Indeed, Hishamuddin Hussein gave the follow up speech expounding Najib’s 1Malaysia line and not going into any detail about what the government can do to achieve a harmonious and tenable multiethnic Malaysia. One person asked a question about identity and the IC cards and Hishamuddin said that it is up to the younger generation to change all that, i.e. he and his government will do nothing to change the status quo.

  2. Paul Warren says:

    For Hishamuddin to even permit the thought that the racial identity in the I/C might be for the younger generations to think about is already a mighty big leap for an UMNO leader. That should do for his life time. For the rest of us, lets hope that life time is a short one!!

  3. Melb Vicau says:

    RESPECT!!! anyone that is not racist “Begin with our common humanity. Respect [for] our common humanity must override all lesser affiliations, including race.” – love melb.

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