I can proudly said that now, I have already read the legendary “The Malay Dilemma” written by our 4th Prime Minister a.k.a. Malaysian Father of Modernization, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Written in 1970, the provocative book was launched as the beacon in the awakening of self-disclosure, post the Racial Riot 1969. I have always wanted to read the book but never had the chance. As I am furthering my Master’s Degree now in Corporate Communication, UPM gave me the 1Malaysia vouchers worth RM250 on books. So, to make full use of the incentive given, I have bought several books and one of them were “The Malay Dilemma.”
My own “The Malay Dilemma”. I am proud to say, I have read this legendary book.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is certainly one of my heroes. I have written in 2012 about his bravado in condemning the oppression of Palestinians by Israel via his letter to Benjamin Netanyahu in 1997 (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/che-det-the-true-malaysian-moslem-warrior-a-letter-from-malaysian-ex-prime-minister-tun-dr-mahathir-mohammad-to-israels-ex-prime-minister-benjamin-netanyahu-1997/) ; and I also had my own Malay Dilemma entry on the difference between Urban Malays & Rural Malays in 2009 (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/a-malay-dilemma-confluence-of-rural-urban/) – of which was inspired by my own life experiences.
The face I used to see in formal buildings and classrooms since I was a kid back in the 90s. A man who has done so many things to Malaysia, irregardless the relentless criticism from the haters – ranging from Mahathirism, autocratic, anti-semitic, etc.
I have to say, this is a MUST-READ book for all Malays out there. Yes, undeniably, the writing was somewhat provocative especially on the affairs of Sino-Malay relationships but Tun Dr. Mahathir (affectionately known as Che’Det) really struck to the core of the polemics and enumerated every inches of possible ‘dilemmas’ that have been swamping the Malays for ages. I have to confess that I couldn’t put the book down, always intrigued to read further and further – AND, it was so amazing to read his manifestation of thoughts which echo to what are happening right now in the Malaysian political landscapes! Imagine, a writing that was first initiated 45 years ago (even older than me!) IS STILL RELEVANT until today – and it is not far-fetched to say that his hitherto writing has forecast and predicted scenario that will happen if no firm actions are taken to tackle the problem – AND we are witnessing the cracks, NOW.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and beloved wife, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali.
The book is segregated into 11 chapters, namely :-
- What Went Wrong?
- The Influence of Heredity & Environment on The Malay Race
- The Malay Economic Dilemma
- The Meaning of Racial Equality
- The Bases of National Unity
- Rehabilitation of The Malays and the Malay Dilemma
- The Malay Problem
- Code of Ethics & Value Systems of The Malays
- Communal Politics & Parties
- Malaysia & Singapore
What I like about “The Malay Dilemma” is that it is not a mere write-up on life experience basis BUT buttressed by the several comparisons happening in countries abroad. For example in the matter of Racial Equality, he drew the analogical comparison of “dissatisfaction over Malay’s right” with scenarios happening in United States of America – namely for the Black Americans (Negroes) and the Red Indians. These comparison were made in the light to address that “Malays being a privileged people in Malaysia”. He analyzed the situation by making comparison the dilemma of the Malays as equivalent to the ones experienced by The Red Indians. This was enlightened in page 93 :-
“In Malaysia there can be no denying that the status of the Malays differs from that of the non-Malays. The Malays and Red Indians of America are more or less in the same category. Malays are accepted as in indigenous people of the country, but the country is no longer exclusively theirs. However, in order to protect and preserve their status, certain laws are necessary. The most significant of these laws is concerned with Malay Land Reserve. Those acquainted with the history of the Red Indians will see here not only a similarity of terms but also historical content……………… The Malay Land Reserve Laws were by intention a measure to counter what was becoming quite obvious during the colonial era : that the Malays were losing all their land to richer immigrants and foreigners.”
Of course, his ounce of opinions were weighed into biased ambiance but as bitter and as controversial as the statements might sound, those were the realities. And realities bite. Tun Dr. Mahathir addressed this in page 14 :-
“Looking back through the years, one of the startling facts which must be admitted is that there never was true racial harmony. There was a lack of inter-racial strife. There was tolerance. There was accommodation. There was certain amount of give and take. But there was no harmony. There was, in fact, cacophony, muted but still audible. And periodically, the discordant notes rose and erupted into isolated or widespread racial flights. Racial harmony in Malaya was therefore neither real nor deep-rooted. What was taken for harmony was absence if open inter-racial strife. And absence of strife is not necessarily due to lack of desire or reasons for strife. It is more frequently due to a lack of capacity to bring about open conflict……. If it is accepted that there never was true racial harmony, then it is easier to trace the relationship between Malays and the non-Malays through history and explain why inter-racial strife occurred.”
In 2003, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad resigned from being a Prime Minister. I have to say, his successors have yet to prove their worth to Malaysians, so far.
One thing that caught my attention was how he correlated the custom of inbreeding (marriages within the clans or families) could possibly contribute to the defect of hereditary traits. As a Science student with Microbiology degree from USM, I feel connected to what he wrote about the basic of Mendel Law (Mendelian Inheritance) where the inbreeding with genomic similarity of the DNAs are likely to produce progeny with low body defense and weak antigens resistance – as opposed to the cross-breeding where genomic variance of the DNAs are likely to produce progeny with high body defense and strong antigens resistance. He correlated the Malay customs of inbreeding with the scientific explanation and hypothesized that perhaps due to that, the genes of the Malays are somewhat less competitive – this is due to the opinion he quoted from a British geneticist Cyril Dean Darlington’s book “The Evolution of Man & Society” that ‘civilizations flourish and decay in obedience to genetic decrees.’
Another polemic that Tun Dr. Mahathir tackled in his book was the rightful ownership of Malaya. With unfiltered sharpness, he wrote about the claims by non-Malays on the sentiment that “Malays are immigrants as well as the Asli people (Aborigines) are the real native in Malay Archipelago”, therefore are fighting for equivalent rights on par with the Malays. To give clearer illustration of the question, Tun Dr. Mahathir compared the scenario with British settlements in Australia who ‘certainly unilaterally appropriating to themselves the land of the land of Australian Aborigines’. The Aborigines are found not just in Australia but also in Taiwan, Japan and inclusive of Malaya but they are never regarded as the definitive people of the country concerned. The definitive people are those who set up the first governments, and these governments were the ones with which other countries did official business and had diplomatic relations. This can be traced from the Olden Kedah monarchy as well as the Malaccan Sultanate :-
“In Malaya, the Malays without doubt formed the first effective governments. The Malay states have been internationally recognized since the beginning of Malayan history. Trade, treaties and diplomatic representation by foreign countries were negotiated with the Malay-governed Malay states of Malaya. The ‘Orang Melayu’ or Malays have always been the definitive people of the Malay Peninsula. The aborigines were never accorded any such recognition nor did they claim such recognition. There was no known Aborigine government or Aborigine state.”
With President Mandela.
Never shy to announce the allegiance and support Palestine. With the late Yasser Arafat.
The most sensitive part of the book would undoubtedly be the Sino-Malay relationship, particularly in economics. He perused every single dilemmas of the Malays in the economics and how the initially epiphytic relationship had evolved into parasitic interaction. I can see why Tun Dr. Mahathir has been labeled as ‘Ultra-Malay’ as the spirit resonated strongly in his opinions. I shall not write candidly on that as I know I have non-Malay friends and it would be uncouth for me to write things that could hurt them (Let them find from the book itself). Nevertheless talking about “trying to avoid controversial things so that non-Malays wouldn’t hurt” sentiment of which I have written earlier; it actually echoed to what Tun Dr. Mahathir wrote in his book when he compared the typical trait of Malays (which is me!) as opposed to Plato’s Three Cardinal Values in page 202 :-
“The good Malay is always unobtrusive and self-effacing, unwilling to impose his will if it conflicts with others, and ever willing to compromise.”
Nevertheless, like a dormant volcano waiting to erupt, the patience of a Malay cannot be undermined. Tun Dr. Mahathir enumerated the issue via the phenomenon of “amok” (or in Malay, is “amuk”) on page 151 :-
“Amok is a Malay word. It is a word now universally understood. There is no other single word that can quite describe amok. And the reason is obvious – for amok describes yet another facet of the Malay character. Amok represents the external physical expression of the conflict within the Malay which his perpetual observance of the rules and regulations of his life causes in him. It is spilling over, an overflowing of his inner bitterness. It is a rupture of the bonds which bind him. It is a final and complete escape from reason and training. The strain and the restraint on him are lifted. Responsibility disappears. Nothing matters. He is free. The link with the past is severed, the future holds nothing more. Only the present matters. To use a hackneyed expression, he sees red. In a trance he lashes out indiscriminately. His timid, self-effacing self is displaced. He is now a Mr Hyde – cruel, callous and bent on destruction.”
His guts are hated by the haters. But he is the MAN. Like what he wrote, do not meddle with Malay’s patience. ‘AMOK’ (derived from Malay word “Amuk” is potentially lethal). And that goes to me as well. Do not push my envelope by keep provoking. Leave it there.
And not to forget, the close affiliation of Islam and also the faith to Sultans by the Malays were also touched by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. The Malays were described as pious and after the age passes 35 or 40 years, the focus of life is more inclined towards religion, “severe neurosis”that lead the Malays into more cautious and avoid anything dangerous or perceive to be potential in raising difficult problems in life. In short, the Malays will withdraw into himself and refuses to make any great effort for worldly well-being. As for the affiliation with Sultans or Malay rajas, practice of obeisance is normal and the tabooed structured politeness and formality is extended to descendants of these rajas as well as the “Syeds“ (descendants of Prophets) which at some states regarded as privileged as royalty, remain a race apart and accorded with high degree of respect.
His identity card. His Indian origin has somewhat become a ridicule by the haters (his late father hailed from Kerala, India). He addressed the assimilation of Arab and Indian traders with Kedahan Malay in “The Malay Dilemma”. When assimilation adopts the new entity and forget old root, a new set of identity emerges. My mother herself is a Thai-Malay descent. Malays are hybrids of various origins.
On whole, I do understand if there were to be any apprehensions by the non-Malays when they read “The Malay Dilemma”. Tun Dr. Mahathir was quite blatant in describing the whole scenario, from a point of view of a Malay. Of course, if I were to wear the hats of the non-Malays, I understand the anger or dissatisfaction. Why are the non-Malays are put as the threat when the Malays are the ones who are lazy and insufficient to grab the opportunities, no? The book also has invited quite several retaliations by some of global audience as Tun Dr. Mahathir made no sugar-coating when he described Jews as ‘hooked-nose’, etc.
I admit that I have been sugar-coating my review on this one. I guess I have to admit with Tun Dr. Mahathir that being a Malay, we are so bound to cautiousness when dealing with delicate matter. We do not want to provoke our non-Malay friends with statements that will offend them and everything. BUT, what Tun Dr. Mahathir wrote also resonated truth. Most of non-Malays don’t care about this ‘self-effacing’ courtesy of the Malays but they see that as advantage. So, they lash out remarks that are unkind and insensitive about Malay & Islam. I have seen that in my Penangite primary school friends’ Facebook. Unfortunately, that left scars and severed our friendships. Personally, I am not the kind of person who like to stir on race and religion issues and I will leave from giving comments on that – but when seeing such insolent comments taking place, I need to straight things up.
Featured on the facade of TELEKOM Tower in 2004.
But as time passes by, I ponder – is it worthy to jeopardize friendships due to comments in Facebook? I have learned to agree in disagreeing. I also learned that different folks come with different strokes. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions. But what I can say is that, after reading “The Malay Dilemma” by Tun Dr. Mahathir, I feel changes in my head and heart. Some may call it Paradigm Shift.
What was written in 1970 is very much relevant until now. I personally think that “Malay Dilemma” should be adapted as a module to govern the current Malaysia. Too much leeway is given; hence too much insolence remarks engendered.
And my respect and love to this man, blossoming ever flourish. Enough, said.
Che’ Det. The man with superior visions and missions. You are not alone.