Fadli Fawzi and Khairulanwar Zaini
As an ideological apparatus, state multiracialism in Singapore brackets our cultural identities into the neat and static categories of the CMIO framework. This development of what Michael Barr has termed ‘ethnic silos’ has significant repercussions on issues of identity and representation. In tandem with the limited spaces for cultural autonomy and articulation, state multiracialism tends to reify dominant representations and obscure the internal heterogeneity of each cultural community.
As such, we are pleased to embark on exploring the latent narratives within Malay society, to uncover and recover different threads of identities, memories, stories, beliefs, and orientations that were hitherto hidden beneath the M of CMIO.
The title of the series is derived from a Malay “turn of phrase”: “yang tersurat dan tersirat”. Loosely translated, it plays on the distinction between the textually explicit and the implicit, echoing our attempt to read between the lines of statist and dominant narratives. We aim to foreground alternative ideas, experiences, and stories that have so far percolated beneath the public face of contemporary Malay society, as well as mull over future trajectories and directions – including those that were once possible.
The essays fall into three themes. The first set of essays deconstructs two sites of heritage. Alfian Saat reflects on the Film gallery in the National Museum and the significance of the absences in the Malay film montage presented. Khairulanwar Zaini analyses the Malay Heritage Centre, and the contesting discursive imperatives which shape the exhibits.
The second set of essays relooks at alternative historical narratives. Fadli Fawzi discusses the importance of remembering the Malay Left in the present national consciousness. Nurhaizatul Jamil examines the life of Shamisah Fakeh, a prominent figure in Malaya’s struggle for independence. Fairoz Ahmad highlights the elements of ideological and utopian thinking in Al Imam, the first reformist Muslim journal in Southeast Asia, based in Singapore.
The third set of essays critically examines contemporary ideas in the Malay Muslim community. Hazirah Mohamad shows how the cultural deficit thesis is reproduced in mass media to construct images of Malay youth delinquency in the local production Hanyut. Annaliza Bakri postulates how a narrow understanding of culture has shaped Singapore’s Malay language policy.
While the essays cover a wide range of issues, they are hardly the final verse of an ongoing and complex litany. Rather it is hoped that the contributions help shed a more nuanced light on the rich tapestry that is the Malay community.
Fadli Fawzi is an associate tutor at the Singapore Institute of Management. He is also doing his Juris Doctor at the Singapore Management University.
Khairulanwar Zaini is a teaching assistant at the National University of Singapore.