Malay Dilemma Redux

December 12, 2011

Malay Dilemma Redux

Written by  K Suresh, Malaysia Chronicle

At 86, former Prime Minister (Tun Dr.) Mahathir Mohamad wants to write another book on the so-called The New Malay Dilemma.

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.

Elastic memory

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?

Malaysia Chronicle

23 thoughts on “Malay Dilemma Redux

  1. Another book by Mahathir? That should be welcome. Here is an opportunity for him to answer critics of his 1970 book, The Malay Dilemma (especially Dr. Syed Hussein and Dr. Bakri Musa) and explain as objectively as he can his own policy dilemmas. He has had some successes and some debacles. There is enough material from his 22 year rule to draw on and write a good book. But the question is: can he be objective and reflective, instead of being polemical? –Din Merican

  2. Reading this article I get the sense that the writer doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going or which direction to go that has not been taken before by others.

    I remember having to register my name at the Red Spot section of the University Library just to be able to take it away for a day to read. There were only a few copies and they were in great demand – for obvious reasons. There was none so controversial those early days that it had to be banned. It challenged mainstream views about the Malays and politics.

    Being a medical doctor he felt convinced that the Malays are genetically inferior and if left on their own they would be lagging behind the other races like forever and have to be helped along. And here is the zinger. The government was not doing enough to help them. With that Mahathir discovered his mojo; he chose race as the trajectory to catapult his political career. Which he did extremely well. The rest is history.

  3. Another book? What a yawn. But who can stop him from frothing around the mouth but himself. Just like Din has said it ought to be objective not to justify his past actions or to counter accusations thrown at him.

    One other book he should consider writing is, “The Mamak Dilemma”. This will get many of us here on Din’s blog involved.

  4. The real dilemma of the Malays today is their Malay brethren plundering the country till kingdom come and yet they still call themselves Muslims. The Malay leaderships has been so successful in manipulating the Malay psyche that the Malay masses forgot that they are Muslim first Malay second.

    This has affected every sphere of their lives from the most mundane to the most complex. Today we see Muslim men performing their prayers with their gold Rolexes and their pure silk shirt.

    A new book will not make much difference to the urban Malays. Perhaps it might impress my country cousins though. Race has been his political mojo as Mr Bean said, so what else is new except perpetuating the lies that the others are the enemies of the Malays. He knows that’s what the Malay masses wants to hear.

    The Malays today are more critical of what they hear and see and a few in UMNO recognise this. The rest are there just for a free ride on the gravy train.

    I’d rather read LKY any day….

  5. Not another dilemma please. We have had so many dilemmas under Mahathir. Let’s move on without Mahathir breathing behind our necks.

  6. Malays, Mahathir held, were genetically inferior

    Hmmm, Now I know why he wants to create a new Malay race .A Malay race that will be based on other races technically made into Malays, just like himself. Hopefully, in time to come the original Malay race will be no more or be in the minority. In place it will be a new “superior ” Malay race that is of his creation

  7. “Today we see Muslim men performing their prayers with their gold Rolexes and their pure silk shirt.” ARMS728

    Wow !! How things have apparently changed. During my time the sight of Malays at the hotel lobby coffee houses of 5-star hotels was uncommon. You see them during UMNO General Assemblies.

  8. Don’t know what you mean by “I’ll take in jest” but that’s right it is all about money politics. Perhaps it is time in Malaysia you have strict laws pertaining to campaign contributions like we do here. Over here there is an option. You could apply to use government funds provided for that purpose at election time which are limited and limiting or you could opt for campaign contributions (including foreign) and their sources would have to be declared and their use audited, and the balance unused returned to their contributors. You cannot pocket or use campaign funds to support your mistresses. You go to jail for that.

  9. I admit it is a different ball game over here. Everything has to be transparent and there is the serious issue of accountability at the end. The idea is to safeguard the constitutional integrity of the political process. It is all about the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause under the Fifth and to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

  10. Mr Bean, I meant you pulling my leg.

    Yes, over there accountability has more meaning than here. Here even the Auditor General’s conclusion is doubted.

    Over here, we have too many regulations already. Only the observance is lacking. I’m not too sure about campaign funding though.

  11. There should be a law in Malaysia restricting political contribution to a certain set amount and most important GLC’s cannot contribute to political campaign contributions seeing that they are GLC’s. GLC future fortune does not lie in the hands of a political party.

  12. It is a democracy after all. It is about the political process and its integrity. There should be a strict accountability regarding the use of campaign funds. And yes there should be ceilings set.

    If I recall, Obama currently has US10 million in campaign funds and rising; and the closest to that is Mitt Romney with US7 million. But Romney has used some US300 plus million of his own money in the last campaign and lost the primary. Not sure how that came to pass.

  13. Over here, we have too many regulations already. Only the observance is lacking — ARMS728

    Yes, and sometimes the wrong regulations or right regulations wrongly applied or not applied at all. I attended court hearings challenging the results of the outcome of elections. All heard by a high court judge who later rose to become Lord President (today Chief Judge). Need I say more as to the decisions arrived at??

  14. Mr Bean, remember James Riady of Lippo Bank “James Riady was a major campaign contributor to the Democratic Party. In 1998, the United States Senate conducted an investigation of the finance scandal of the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign. James Riady was indicted and pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations by himself and his corporation. He was ordered to pay an 8.6 million U.S. dollar fine for contributing foreign funds to the Democratic Party, the largest fine ever levied in a campaign finance case.” wikipedia

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