Assoc Prof Dr Faisal Hazis of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said last week that the Opposition should focus on “the Malay narrative”, which includes the position of Islam and the special position of Malays. During the last election, he said, the Opposition emphasised “inclusivity” and neglected the more important Malay agenda because they wanted to be “trendy”. He wants Pakatan Harapan to centre more on Malays and Islam from now on.

What nonsense.

The good Dr Faisal must know by now that privileges for Malays have become privileges for UMNO, and that this has destroyed the Malay economic base. Without this baggage, Malays would have become an economic powerhouse by now. Equally, if the position of Islam in this country means that the Government has been able to espouse peaceful and progressive ideas of the religion, we would not have experienced the surge of “Taliban” laws and morality that we face today.

Unfortunately, false ideas about the meaning of the special position of Islam and Malay “privileges” have taken root to the detriment of Malays. It would be a tragedy if Pakatan were to continue with this UMNO/PAS narrative.

UMNO’s racist sentiments, coupled with PAS’s medieval ideas about Islam, have pulled Malays down. To prolong these distorted views of Islam and the special position of Malays will mean political and religious dictatorship. No Malaysian, let alone any Malay, will be better off with such a form of government.

Asking people to be more like UMNO, Perkasa or Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang will mean the spread of more outrageous lies that Malays are “under threat”. It will mean that more people will reject inclusiveness and progressive moderate politics. It will be a sheer waste of time if a Reformasi Government were to keep repeating the same old slogans, perhaps becoming even more vitriolic and extreme than UMNO/PAS.

The Opposition must address the Malay agenda, but it must not repeat the UMNO version. The Pakatan’s Malay agenda must explain how Malays will benefit from the privileges accorded them. People in general and Malays, in particular, are tired of UMNO equating its interests with the Malay agenda as a whole.

People want to hear about practical policies devised by a responsible and good government. They are tired of politicians stoking fear of the DAP and Chinese Malaysians—it’s as if there is no fear other than what the UMNO propagandists say. The Opposition can remove these false fears by putting real substance into the meaning of the special position of Malays.

To do this, the Opposition must say what it will do to help Malays in concrete terms and not merely create more fear. For example, in education, it can announce that underprivileged and rural Malays will get priority in elite, special boarding schools such as the MARA Junior Science Colleges. Poorer Malays must not be allowed to be second-class citizens just because the children of well-connected UMNO families or top civil servants have places reserved for them in the best schools and colleges.

Malays must be assured that the billions of ringgit spent on vocational schools actually go to skill-enhancement courses taught by properly qualified teachers. We must be convinced that there will be no more huge leakages. The Pakatan Harapan must make sure the students and the teachers are engaged in actual learning and not waving party flags and polluting their own minds with politics. Students must have proper jobs after school and university.

The award of Government contracts to Malays and Bumiputera must be based on skill and ability. Government departments must be transparent in their decision-making so that they can help people and not their own friends and families.

This is how we help Malays realise the full meaning of their special position, and this is what Malays want to hear about the Malay Agenda. They don’t want empty slogans from Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Hadi Awang. Telling Malays about practical policy changes is the way the Malay agenda can be a useful election issue.

When it comes to Islam, the official place of this religion in the Federation must not mean more backward policies, which will happen if the Opposition follows in the footsteps of UMNO/PAS. If we keep going down this path, Muslims will reject science, books will be banned, more Muslims will be charged for offences in the Shariah Court, and the ridiculous Taliban morality will spread even further into our mosques and madrasahs.

Protecting Islam does not mean protecting PAS and UMNO. It does not mean protecting JAKIM, JAIS, JAWI or any of the other organisations and individuals who tell us “Islam is being insulted” whenever anyone criticises them.

To honour and protect Islam is to help the thousands of Malay youths who are now heavy drug users. We need to spend on religious teachers who will teach the young the positive values of religion and not merely put more fear into everyone’s lives. We need to help marginalised people participate in social activities and learn to live with other communities. It means helping Muslim students to read and to understand our social conditions so that they can deal with the problems better. To honour Islam is to make sure that religious schools help Muslims understand the world they live in, instead of hankering after a world that preachers have designed for them.

This is what Muslims want to hear about the Islamic narrative. They don’t want to keep hearing that DAP will somehow dismantle Islam and that Christians will take over the country.

There will always be stupid Malays and Muslims who will be happy with the fear-mongering of UMNO/PAS. They believe that without PAS, Islam will be gone. They believe that without the corrupt UMNO, Malays will be finished. They do not realise that they are already finished. Pakatan should not worry about this class of voters.

If people want more fear, they can get that from UMNO and PAS, but it will be a tragic mistake if Pakatan were to succumb to this fascist narrative. Pakatan must believe that Malays and Muslims thrive not on fear but on hope and the desire to change their lives for the better. Being inclusive and working towards positive change is the way forward, and this is the only real fruit that the special position can give Malays.

Pakatan must discard fear and draw a new roadmap for the country. We must stop trying to fool Malays as if they don’t understand. UMNO and PAS will be rejected wholly this time around—we just need the confidence to tell Malays about the many opportunities that await them. To do this, Pakatan leaders must get into specifics and overhaul this corrupt system once and for all.

This is not being trendy. This is the real change that people want.