I like asking my non-Malay friends if they feel any connection to the monarch. And a great number of them don’t and are puzzled as to why the Malays do. To them, the monarch has long outlived the modern concept of nationhood that functions under the stead of democratic values and equality among its citizens. There is no place for a feudal order that separates man from one another.

Khoo Kay Kim, our national historian, once told me that the identity of the Malays is strongly linked to the monarch. That our political history is exactly why one cannot be a Malay without subjecting himself to the Sultanate.

Even in the constitution, this clause is drawn clearly, placing the monarch as a symbol of Malay culture, Islam and more importantly, an embodiment of living history. But if we are to embrace the concept of nation building, aren’t we supposed to be driven forward together by a united narrative agreed by its citizens, as opposed to fragmented ones?

A question I often pose is: “What identifies you as a Malaysian?” I usually receive an answer that is either related to food, hospitality and a cultural potpourri. It’s an answer that I feel unsatisfied with, and one I feel is not something every Malaysian truly believes in. This is unlike the Americans, who identify themselves as defenders of liberty and freedom.

A great many notable nations seem to have their identity and values thought out, and while this took decades, if not centuries to form – is this something that would be difficult for Malaysia to achieve? Malay right-wing groups often stake claim to history, citing the Malacca Empire and what followed as a legitimate reason to justify their sentiments. Why do such groups have more weight in providing the direction to the nation?

To my understanding, the non-Malays find it difficult to weave an agreed narrative prior to the 1957 Malaya Independence because:

  1. The nature and reason of which the British colonists brought them in.
  2. The Malay monarch and its history that preceded them mean little to their identity as a Malaysian.

Which means the only agreed historical narrative we could cling on to is the years leading up to the Malayan independence in which we worked together to wrest ourselves from the British empire, and the 58-years we have grown as a nation. But even now, we see cracks forming within society as each group seek to dominate their views over one another.

How do we move together as a nation when we cannot agree on identity, values and a narrative?

This article was first published in The Malaysian Insider.