December 12, 2011
Malay Dilemma Redux
Written by K Suresh, Malaysia Chronicle
His previous book, The Malay Dilemma, has been overtaken by events, according to Mahathir, “and the Malays face new dilemmas” which he wants to pen in a new book. He isn’t saying anything more as “otherwise people would not buy and read the book”. But already, his critics fear his inspiration will be drawn from the kind of conversations and discussions that go on at the “teh tarik stalls” in the country. In other words, forget about any neutral or candid analysis, they warn.
Yet, when and if the book does materialize as Mahathir has promised, it is bound to be a hot-seller, partly because he was PM of Malaysia for 22 years, and mostly because he is “bound” to come up with controversial statements aimed to shock – possibly so as to grab the limelight.
Until it is out, one can only guess what Mahathir will have to say in his new book. But one thing his detractors are sure about is that he will be “lying through his teeth”. Once you tell a lie – which he did in The Malay Dilemma – you have to tell a thousand other lies to cover the first, they said.
Genetically inferior to justify economic handicaps
The Malay Dilemma was a non-starter, to begin with, based as it was on pseudo-science and propaganda disguised as history. Many prominent Malay intellectuals have said no one should take such “trash” seriously since it lacks objectivity and accuracy and hence serves no useful purpose.
Malays, Mahathir held, were genetically inferior – i.e. almost sub-humans – compared with the other communities in the country. He went on to argue that, in consequence, they needed to be given a handicap if they were to keep up with the other communities.
Mahathir was probably influenced by his own experience where the University of Malaya in Singapore admitted him as a medical student, although he didn’t really meet the minimum criteria, “so that it can turn out some Malay Muslim doctors”, as he said in his own words in a recent blog posting.
In an attempt to back his theory of Malay or Muslim genetic inferiority, he belabored the point in The Malay Dilemma that the non-Malay or non-Muslims communities in the country were immigrants and descendants of immigrants. At the same time, he could offer no proof in his book that the Malays were natives of Peninsular Malaysia.
New Economic Policy
Still, the book served to ensure in a somewhat insidious manner that the New Economic Policy (1970-1990) was observed more often than not in the breach at the expense of the nation at large and thereby served a narrow clique in the ruling Malay elite. The NEP has also since been extended indefinitely from the initial 20 years.
By endorsing the NEP, Mahathir’s book also sanctions the ruling elite’s plundering of public money under the guise of affirmative action for the Malays and indigenous people or “Bumiputeraism”.
The NEP, when it came to the non-Malay and non-Muslim communities, did not honour its pledge that poverty in the country would be eradicated irrespective of race, language, culture and creed.
The UMNO-led government did not honour its pledge that the identification of race with economic function and place of residence would be eliminated.
Article 153 and the excuse to ‘sapu bersih’
Today, 90 per cent of the civil servants in this country, the Judiciary, diplomatic service, teachers, police, and armed forces, among others, are drawn from one community. Yet, the legitimate aspirations of the non-Malay communities are supposedly guaranteed under Article 153 of the Federal Constitution even if not read in conjunction with Article 8 which speaks of Equality.
Article 153 also pledges that only a reasonable proportion – called Special Position — of the intake into civil service; intake into institutions of higher learning owned by the government and training privileges; government scholarship; and business opportunities from the government would be reserved for three groups: the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, the Orang Asli and the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia.
In reality, besides the non-Malay communities, the Natives of Sabah and Sarawak and the Orang Asli too have been given the short end of the stick on Article 153 and the NEP.
The NEP, taking off among others from the 4th Special Position in Article 153, pledged that only 30 per cent of the corporate economy – that listed on the stock market – would be owned, managed and controlled by the Natives of Sabah and Sarawak, the Orang Asli and the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia.
Again, Natives of Sabah and Sarawak and the Orang Asli have been given the short end of the stick on this provision. Meanwhile, the Umno elite have turned the 30 per cent stipulation into a sapu bersih (clean sweep) clause to enrich themselves and their own families, but leaving the majority of their community trapped in the lower income band, susceptible to inflation and depending on handouts.
The historical facts
Mahathir should actually explain these breaches of the NEP and Article 153 in The New Malay Dilemma, his critics say, rather than embarrass himself and the country further with plain-to-see ‘infantile’ theories that raise more questions than answer .
Social scientists point out the fact that there is no such thing as a Malay race in Peninsular Malaysia in the first place. Professor William Roff in his, “The Origins of Malay Nationalism”, discovered that as late as 1885, 85 per cent of the so-called Malay communities in Peninsular Malaysia were either immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, the Arab states, and the various islands in insular Southeast Asia including of course Indonesia.
It was the British colonialists who referred to them as Malays as they employed this language to communicate among themselves. That there’s a Malay language doesn’t mean that there is a Malay race, say the experts. And this is borne out by the Malaysian Federal Constitution which actually defines what constitutes a Malay – basically as being some one who adopts the Malay culture and speech and is a Muslim.
Malay, the language itself, is a Khmer dialect which was taken by Hindu and Buddhist missionaries and turned into the old Malay language after the heavy infusion of Sanskrit and Pali – a Sanskrit dialect used by Buddhists – to bring the different peoples in insular Southeast Asia together and preach about Hinduism and Buddhism, and for administration, education and trade.
Hence the term Malay Archipelago illustrates the use of the language as the lingua franca in the region.
The British colonialists fought two wars with Bangkok to carve out Peninsular Malaysia from the Thai Kingdom to pant rubber and mine tin. The British thereafter stopped the Malay practice of sending the Bunga Emas – rental for squatting on Thai territory – to Bangkok.
It was also the British who drew the territorial boundaries of the Malay sultanates who until then, being the ‘kerajaan sungei’ (river governments), had been confined to collecting tolls along the main waterways in each “state”.
These are historical facts that the self-serving New Malay Dilemma being planned by Mahathir, well-known for his ‘elastic’ memory, is expected to omit. One wonders why?