Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why Non-Malay Writers Must be Recognized

... as with their role in public institutions, non-Malays have some legitimate grievances about the lack of recognition of their contributions to the development of literature and the arts. ... Malay leaders and Malay society as a whole should be more forthcoming in rewarding the accomplishments of these non-Malay writers, artists and singers, especially when their medium of expression is Bahasa Malaysia, the language of the land.
One of the recommendations made in Dr. Chandra Muzaffar's* op-ed piece, Ways to Understand the Other, in today's New Straits Times. He discusses ways that the different communities of Malaysia can "reduce mutual distrust and forge better inter-ethnic ties".

One of the saddest things for me is to see our writers achieving recognition overseas and with readers locally, but receiving no official recognition of their quite amazing achievements. Any other country would be hanging the bunting out ...

*Dr Chandra Muzaffar is president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia

18 comments:

Greenbottle said...

grievances are both ways...unfortunately lately these have been politicised to a very dangerous level by chauvinists on both sides..the malays on one and the non-malays on the other...

do tread carefully.

and who are these 'our writers achieving recognition overseas...' you're referring to?

if you mean those malaysian born writers that feel stifled in malaysia and go overseas and write fiction there , then i can't see why malaysia should give them any recognition...and i don't think they are asking any.

bibliobibuli said...

an indian born indian living actor becomes a datuk *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Greenbottle -- you're quite right, none of us is sitting on the King's doorstep waiting for a Datukship. But then again, why would we expect any recognition after a lifetime of, as you put it so delicately, feeling "stifled" in Malaysia?

Or maybe it's all our fault for feeling "stifled," is that what you're saying? We should, instead, have fattened and flourished on the inequality we saw everywhere? We should've been springing out of bed with a big smile on our face every morning? Only people blind to the faults of their country deserve recognition, then? I think the government agrees wholeheartedly with you, yes, which is why shoemakers and Bond girls receive all the recognition, despite also having gone overseas to practise their respective trades, ostensibly because they, too, felt "stifled" in the homeland.

Mind you, I'm not saying the lack of recognition for writers and artists is purely racially motivated. I don't see Rahmat Harun or Ruhayat X or (my dear old friend) Sufian Abas being showered with establishment recognition, either, or, for that matter, expecting it, even though they live and work in Malaysia. So what gives? "Recognition" of the type Sharon refers to comes to those who look pretty or make pretty things, and who say and do nothing controversial. But who is making the rest of the world aware of Malaysia as a real country with a complex history (and, yes, complex problems)? Those who stay have an important role to play, too, but for the time being it's only those who leave whose voices are heard globally. If you think being an ambassador for one's country should involve nothing more than looking sexy in a bathing suit, then you're probably right, we're rotten ambassadors (well, maybe I shouldn't be so sure, I haven't seen Twan Eng in a bathing suit, after all....). But I happen to think the best ambassadors are those who aspire to do for Malaysia -- however imperfectly and imcompletely -- what people like Philip Roth and Toni Morrison and and Peter Carey (himself an expatriate) do for their countries -- i.e., to actually honour our countries with thought and with the dissent that thought breeds. And Sharon is right -- most other countries give those people some form of recognition.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

I think Chandra was more making a point about the local Malaysian authors who write in Malay but aren't Malay. You just have to look at their struggles with Dewan Bahasa to see they are playing on an even field. I remember also reading something about one Indian author being upset about the language he wrote in being called Bahasa Melayu instead of Bahasa Malaysia by the Dewan and feeling alienated by this.

And I agree with Bibs. Our overseas Malaysian writers have brought a lot of positive exposure for the country. This is a matter of local pride, man! They have also had a very positive effect on the local climate for writers. They might not live here but over the past year or two we've seen a lot of them at events and in the media.

Politicians don't read books, though, so don't expect any of these folks to be given a pat on the back even by our leaders. Same goes probably for artists and musicians and for a category Chandra has forgot - film makers.

The best is for all Malaysian writers/artists/musicians to be celebrated regardless of ethnic origin.

It's good Chandra brought this up.

Santa Claus

Anonymous said...

Preeta,
If I was photographed in a bathing suit the following would happen:
1) KLSE index falling by 1000 points
2) Foreign investors pulling out their money
3) Screams of horror from potential tourists
So, as a patriotic citizen, I have to refrain. All I can do is to lie back and think of Malaysia! :-)))))

-Tan Twan Eng

Anonymous said...

When MCA started its adult education classes last year, all the books they chose for their Reading list were novels by non- Malaysians!!! A Thousand Splendid Suns was one of the titles. That says it all, doesn't it?

- Poppadumdum

Greenbottle said...

well, first of all fuck 'bahasa malaysia'. i for one am totally against this term. why the fuck you want to take my language away from me. I'm a malay and my languange is 'Bahasa Melayu'.if you want to write in this language,fine and it's called Bahasa Melayu .period. if you don't, you go and write in tagalog (not 'bahasa filipina')or hokkien or cantonese or iban (not 'bahasa sabah') whatever...

Have you ever heard of bahasa India? i've heard of hindi, telegu or tamil but 'bahasa india'?

and with regards to the rest. you guys have a very good point about those ridiculous datukship awards to film stars...the people responsible are making assholes of themselves i agree. but just because... i must admit i'm in no position to judge the merit of these malaysian born writers writing overseas as i've read NONE of them..and still have no interest to read any (but that's just my fault).

but just because some of them are er... over exposed in this blog here or nominated for some wellknown awards doesn't mean that malaysia should go and kiss their feet.

as to ruhayatX, sufian abas and Rahmat etc i'm afraid i've not read any of these good people's writings as well...so i don't know if they merit any of the malaysian literary awards...

ps; i just read for pleasure and i'm not fixated on writers' 'national recognition' or on book awards.

Anonymous said...

In an ideal world, recognition (from establishment or not) for the writer should come via the strength of his work, no matter how the author or the language is labelled. In an ideal world also, all works published would be great beyond question hence no need for argument. Unfortunately, it is not an ideal world and our writers are also a mixed bag.

Anonymous said...

Fine, call it Bahasa Melayu, but then why make it mandatory for the rest of us to learn it school, and why should non-Malay students have to fret so much about getting an A1 in a language you say is yours alone (and one in which, I might add, the standard required to get an A1 is made so much higher than the standard required to get an A1 in English)? If it's your language and yours alone, declare it another vernacular language and make it optional for non-Malays to use it.

Hindi, by the way, is Hindi for "Bahasa India." India is known as Hindustan in Hindi, and "Hindi" is hence "the language of Hindustan." And how come you've avoided the far greater number of nation states where the national language *does* bear the name of the nation, and where everyone who writes in the national language is recognised on the basis of literary merit and regardless of ethnic origin? Why be so selective in your choice of examples? What about Indonesia, France, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, etc. etc. etc.? These places require everyone to learn one language, but they reward you for it.

You say you won't judge local writers merits by what other qualified critics say about them. Fine, some of us are "overexposed" on this blog (this is a blog with a bias towards Malaysian literature, so yes, Sharon tends to highlight each and every one of our accolades, curse her), so let's leave this blog out of it. But you say recognition elsewhere means nothing to you either, so you couldn't care less about Malaysian authors being longlisted for the Booker prize or favourably reviewed in the New York Times. I wonder, do you extrapolate this suspicion of international recognition to other arenas? Would you sniff and mutter: "So Ms. X won an Olympic gold medal, why should I care?" "So the world is kissing Mr. Y's feet because he won the Nobel prize in physics, why should I care?")

But then you ALSO say that you refuse to read any of these writers to judge their merits yourself. Well, if that's the case, there's no arguing with you, is there? We'll have to leave you to rub your hands in glee under your coconut shell, firmly believing that anyone who gets any recognition anywhere probably doesn't deserve it, and that the world outside your coconut shell is one big morass of nepotism and conspiracies. You have a lovely day!

-- Preeta

Greenbottle said...

"Fine, call it Bahasa Melayu, but then why make it mandatory for the rest of us to learn it (in)school"...

that doesn't sound very smart to me.

did i say bahasa melayu is mine alone?

and did i say i REFUSE to read any of these writers?? i'm sure your book is very very good - at least based on all those glowing reviews...and i'm all for supporting local writers...i wish them all the best of luck including to you.and i mean it.

all i say is i have NO interest to read any of these books...and i say that it's just me. it's my fault!

but coming back to the main topic...should malaysian authority 'recognize' any of these books? do they merit any malaysian awards? do any of these writers merit a datukship ?(not that quite a few datuks deserved theirs)...

i can't judge but perhaps others who have read them can...

Anonymous said...

Q: "did i say bahasa melayu is mine alone?"

A: "why the fuck you want to take my language away from me."

i.e., YES YOU DID, with an obscenity for added colour.

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

didn't say datukship, lah. merely waved the crazy example of sharukh khan at you.

animah said...

Why are you so angry Greenbottle?

Greenbottle said...

ok lah...actually i love you all. preeta included of course.that's the reason why i aways come to this room...

and today i'm very very very happy...the fucker bush got shoes thrown in his face!!!

animah said...

Greenbottle, ha ha, you accepted my FB friend request after all. But I am curious as to your views. I'll follow up on FB. Preeta, you wanna be part of the discussion too?
Don't mean to hijack your blog Sharon, but these things can get pretty explosive.
Actually Bush was quite gracious about the shoe throwing thing. I actually respect him for that - gosh I must have the forgiving xmas spirit in me. Or that he's on his way out.

Anonymous said...

I would've thrown the shoes myself if I'd ever had the chance. Preferably right after stepping in dog poo.

-- Preeta

lil ms d said...

mak datuk.

Anonymous said...

Tan,

KLSE Index can't fall by 1000 points, it's less than that now :P