In this digital age of post-modernity, hypertextuality, alienation, and of chaos and complexity in which the historical march of capitalism has dictated the way nations think, it is becoming difficult for us to understand how the mind of a people work.

Dr Azly Rahman


We may need to build a metaphysical chariot (like the one Krishna prepared for Arjunaon the battle field of Kurukshetra) to journey into it, through the eyes that will also bring us through their soul.

At strategic points,the soul is corrupted by the material condition created by those who own the means of controlling the march of ‘progress’ and the definitionof ‘history’.

At every epoch in the history of nations, there will be those who will be clueless on what they exist for and who they exist for; marginalised by those who have a better command of the artand science of social control and in the art of war.

I realise that the above sentences, for some, are dense and complex and require clarification through simpler language; but like the monologue of Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic ‘Apocalypse Now’, we ought to try to understand the meaning of such a statement. Like James Joyce’s stream of consciousness, sentences may flow gracefully with intensity.

Thesubject of our inquiry is the Malay mind in this time of chaos andcomplexity, cynicism and uncertainty. These are the times that try the Malaysian soul and it is through cognitive science and the archeology of the mind, and through deep probing questions alone that one mayaccomplish the task of entering the mind of the Malay.

How do we do this?

Interpretations of what the Malay is – from the time of Frank Swettenham, Munsyi Abdullah, Tun Sri Lanang, the Sumatran Sufi scholars of ancient times,and others paid or unpaid writers of Malay history or from scribes who do not know the meaning of neutrality – all these are useful to acertain extend for us to understand what exactly the mind of the Malay.

Because we are rooted language and language constructs one inner sensibilityand determines how we construct our social reality and next, because we then use language to define how we create our economic condition,educate our tribe, govern each other, and work and play, we will needto define how the Malay mind works through the use of definitions.

But however we define what a Malay is, we will have linguistic difficulties and we will have problems determining from what and from whose historical perspective we are defining it.

Elusive concept

Each definition of a Malay is contingent upon premises that are rooted inculture as some point and the constitution in modern times.

The word ‘Malay’ is elusive, as argued by many a Malay and non-Malay cultural analysts trying to justify this or that rights and privileges.At every argument in history, conflict either bloody or bloodless may happen – because we are trapped in the prison-house of language.

Only philosophy may free us from this shackle. Only by consistently attacking words and definition and demanding their clarity may we beliberated. Connotations and denotations arise not only out of history but also out of the class divisions and antagonisms as a result of the evolution of who gets to own the tool of domination called ‘literacy’.

Malaysia has prepared herself to enter the Age of Deconstructionism in which inevery sphere of our lives we are experiencing rupture and waning of affect; an age in which relationships have become meaningless and power is used to set fire to the voices in the wilderness.

Considerthese in we enter our very own ‘post-modern condition’ wrought but the’ cultural logic of our own brand of late capitalism’. We areexperiencing rupture in our judiciary, executive, and legislature.

We know we want justice for all but we may have none. We know we want power to be executed the good of all, but we may have power concentrated in the few to let evil prevail. We want to be governed bythe rule of law but we may end up seeing our lives governed by the iron fist of lawlessness.

How do we enter the Malay mind? What set ofquestions do we need? What will our metaphysical chariot look like? We need the following questions:

* What is a Malay? Herein lies the need to consider the idea of ‘constitutional versus cultural’ aspect of the definition.
* What shapes the Malay mind? Herein lies the need to consider the idea of ‘the historical material condition’.
* How has history define Malay culture and consciousness? Herein liesthe need to consider the idea of ‘social construction of reality’.
* How has economic condition create the Malay mind? Herein lies the need to consider the idea of ‘technology and culture’.
* How has globalisation affect the consciousness of the Malays? Hereinlies the need to consider the idea of ‘border crossings andheteroglossia’.
* How has modernisation and hyper modernity shaped the newer character of the Malay mind? Herein lies the need toconsider the idea of ‘the neo-feudalistic cybernetic capitalistic Malay’.

Herein lies the beginning of the phase of self-refection of the Malays as a people who have arrived at a historical juncture inwhich more and more rhetoric and words left undefined are used to construct the meaning of the word ‘Malay’.

Entering the post-modern Malay mind is a complex journey worth taking. It will be a journey like the poems of TS Elliot or Rilke. But to engineer this Copernican Revolution, we must take the first step.

About Dr Azly Rahman. Born in Singapore, grew up in Kg. Melayu Majidee, Johor Bahru. He co-wrote two English Language textbooks for the Malaysian Ministry of Education and was involved in teacher training projects in the area of Teaching Thinking Skills.