September 17, 2014
Tun Dr. Mahathir and the Malays
by Baradan Kuppusamy@www.thestar.com.my
The former premier’s latest remarks about ‘lazy Malays’ cause a stir among Malaysians.
TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad used to have only two upmarket bakery outlets known as The Loaf – one in the picturesque Telaga Harbour, where luxury yachts berth in Pulau Langkawi, and the other at Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur.
The number of his outlets, which sell breads and pastries using Japanese techniques, has grown to more than five. As such, he has to hire more staff.A few months ago, a manager was caught stealing money from the cash register.
The suspicion began when the daily collection was not deposited into the bank. The Malay manager was caught red-handed and the incident infuriated Dr Mahathir.
“I am operating a bakery and have given many opportunities to Malays to hold management positions. Unfortunately, time and time again, honesty and integrity appear to be lacking as there have been staff who keep stealing money,” he said at the launch of the book Wahai Melayu: Allah Tak Akan Ubah Nasib Melayu Kalau Kita Tak Ubah Nasib Kita Sendiri by Anas Zubedy.
“They do not seem to understand that it is wrong to take what is not theirs; they do not think of the big picture or the long term,” he said.The statesman repeated the criticism in an interview with Utusan Malaysia last Sunday.
That led to various interpretations, particularly on his criticism of the leadership, especially the current prime minister, especially at a time when the UMNO General Assembly is coming up.But those present at the book launch believe that his remarks were in line with what he has consistently brought up, whenever the occasion suited it. They dismissed any suspicion of political conspiracy.
The book by Anas, a writer and speaker on motivation, is aimed at young Malay entrepreneurs. In the foreword, the author debunks the myth that the Malays are a lazy race who are only good in politics and the arts, but not in business. “These are self-limiting artificial boundaries and we ought to break them.“What we need to do is to find the right motivation and inspiration for a specific culture like the Malays,”,” he writes.
But in his hard-hitting speech, Dr Mahathir spent 20 minutes arguing that Malays “lack honesty and integrity” and that they fail to “handle money properly” unlike the Chinese or even Myanmar nationals. Ethnic Chinese, he said, were more honest compared to native Malays where money is concerned. He said these were the reasons for the Malays’ economic failures.
“We have to be trustworthy so people will give contracts to us. When we want to give contracts, we give to the Chinese instead because we know they will do their work properly. This is our weakness – not being trustworthy,” he added. “If we fail, we should not blame anyone but ourselves. We have failed because we did not do what was right,” he said.
In the Utusan interview, Dr Mahathir said Malay men were still lazy, citing the gender imbalance at institutions of higher learning, where the majority was women.“They (the men) are not interested in studying and revising. If we go to the universities, 70% of the students are women. Where are the men?They prefer to be Mat Rempit, that is why I said they are lazy.”
Dr Mahathir’s comments raised a storm, with some in social media suggesting that he should be arrested for sedition. The Selangor chapter of Malay rights group PERKASA, however, termed his remarks as “fatherly advice”.
Veteran journalist Datuk Kadir Jasin reportedly said people should not get upset or sulk over Dr Mahathir’s remarks, especially with regards to the Malays being lazy, as there were those who were hardworking and excelled in whatever they did.
“Give them a crutch and they will turn it into a paddle and a pillar,” he said, adding that there were those from the community who had succeeded and made a name for themselves in the country and all over the world.
Citing legendary warrior Hang Tuah’s famous rallying cry that Malays would not vanish from the world, Kadir said the Malays were rulers and made up the bulk of the civil service, such as the Police Force, Customs and Immigration departments, and the teaching profession.
Not all Malaysians would agree with Dr Mahathir’s assessment, with some saying he is still caught up in racial stereotyping, even if it is aimed at his own community.
Nobody in his right mind would say Malays are lazy, Chinese are greedy, or Indians are dishonest. In fact, few Malaysians, especially the younger ones, would link any race in Malaysia with any specific trait or even a vocation.
The NEP has, in many ways, succeeded in its two-pronged strategy of eradicating poverty for all Malaysians as well as reducing and subsequently eliminating identification of race by economic function and geographical location.
Lazy and indolent natives were a favourite theme of 19th century colonialists who wanted the natives to work at producing food while putting migrants to work on the modern economy for their benefits.
Thus grew the myth of “lazy” natives and this myth continued after independence and was even believed by some Malaysians. It was only put to rest by scholars like the late Dr Syed Hussein Alatas, who wrote a seminal work The Myth of the Lazy Native to explain British colonial policies.
Dr Mahathir is, however, a smart man. Not only was he the longest serving Prime Minister, but he also turned the country into an economic powerhouse, and only smart people could achieve that. He also believed in throwing good money at individual Malays in the hope that he could achieve a successful Malay entrepreneurial class in a short time.
Some of his efforts ended in failure while others succeeded – but the failures always got the bigger headlines. Thus was born one of the great themes of his political life – that he had failed to change the Malay mindset and that they preferred to live poor in a rich country.Thus was also born the phrase, Melayu Mudah Lupa (Malays forget easily).
But while such generalisations will guarantee headlines, the reality is that one simply cannot tar a whole race with the same brush, the way you tar a person or two. Dr Mahathir might have repeated the “lazy native” syndrome perhaps to get the attention of the Malays, in particular UMNO members who are in the midst of divisional meetings and passing resolutions in support of Islam, Malays and the Rulers.
It is a given that even after his retirement, Dr Mahathir needs to be at the centre of national life. He needs to have everything revolving around him and needs to command the national dialogue.So he relies on an old theme that is sure to spark a huge controversy – like the myth of the “lazy Malays”. But Malaysians want to move on. They want to get out of this race trap and the least said about such stereotyping would be better for Malaysia.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.