Empire Builders or Toll Collectors?

By batsman 

History has shown that the Malays are as capable as any great people to build a flourishing empire.

The history of the Malacca Empire proves that. Unfortunately, as for other Asian empires of the period, the timing was not favourable. Its rise coincided with the rise of western naval power and superiority in cannons as well as unimaginable wealth accumulated from robbing African kingdoms and the slave trade. At about the same time, other Asian empires retreated and left a power vacuum which was filled by Portuguese and later Dutch naval power, financial strength and cunning, picking on one Asian empire at a time. 

With this onslaught, Malay sea power was pushed back into river-based states. Gradually Malays even lost the skills of building powerful sea-going war vessels and concentrated on coastal as well as riverine boats. 

This was not all that the Malays lost. In practice, they were further pushed back into agriculture and fishing and had to surrender trade and manufacturing to western monopolies such as the Dutch VOC and the English East India Co. 

The Malay psyche was therefore split into 2. On the one hand, they remembered fondly the greatness of empire, but in reality, they were being forced to become peasants and fishermen. In the meantime, Malay chieftains sat on the mouths of rivers with a few stout men and collected toll from boats plying the rivers with occasional pirate forays and taxes from the peasants and fishermen as side income. 

This was the situation that the English colonialists found when they came to Malaya and this was the situation that they intentionally maintained while they went about importing Chinese and Indian labour for clearing the jungle and opening up tin mines and rubber estates. 

The rationale for their actions was simple. The Spanish had already found to their cost that the oppression and exploitation of native people was an expensive affair and may necessitate wholesale military massacres and genocide on a regular basis. It was cheaper and easier to manage imported slaves from Africa to work the plantations and mines. The English copied this economic model and imported dirt poor refugees from China and India to suit their own purposes. 

In the meantime, the Malays were being frozen into a time warp of backwardness and subsistence economy. Even today this situation is essentially maintained. Malays are essentially being kept in the rural areas by incentives and subsidies. The migration into towns and cities and thus into manufacturing and commerce is essentially a tightly controlled affair with powerful and rich cronies and government employment cooperating to keep Malay city dwellers as docile as their rural counterparts. 

While the Malays are channeled into jobs such as supermarket attendants, factory workers and government clerks, Indonesians and Bangladeshis are imported to do the hard labour. (By this time the Chinese and Indians are already left on their own to fend for themselves). Those immigrant labourers who manage to escape from hard labour go into petty trading and try their luck as hawkers, and they are often competitive enough to replace Chinese and Indian hawkers. They are on the first steps of building their small little fortunes and empires, while the Malays are still collecting toll or doing paperwork for others. 

Historical tradition is not as easily abandoned as one might think. While in the past Malay chieftains sat on river mouths and collected toll from travelers and traders at the same time squeezing taxes from the peasants, powerful cronies today sit on highways and collect toll or guaranteed incomes from monopolies and APs as well as commissions from contracts (taxes from rural folk living on subsistence economic activities no longer count as attractive side income). If these sources of wealth are not enough, there is always the perennial possibility of corruption and theft of oil royalties. From collecting toll it is just a small step to collecting protection money from criminals and gangsters, or collecting bribes for permits or for looking the other way. It is all in the traditions. 

We are talking about a modern time warp here. Malays are still being kept in relative backwardness by subsistence level subsidies and government jobs while their memories of empire are being fed by promoting ideas such as Ketuanan Melayu and DEB. For over 400 years, the situation has been frozen for the Malays and with a bit of fine tuning here and there, in essence, the same freezing policy is being applied by UMNO. 

In the meantime the nons are encouraged to laugh at Malays as being backward, untalented, uncompetitive and dependent on government subsidies. Even some Malay leaders echo the same things and push it down deep into the Malay psyche. The only difference between what the nons say and what such Malay leaders say is that Malay indignation is occasionally fed and fired by ideas such as Ketuanan Melayu and DEB by UMNO. This is Divide and Rule policy at its finest. 

Is it surprising then that true Malay leaders who try to unfreeze the time warp of the Malays and help build themselves once again into a people of great energy, dynamism and achievement are labeled as traitors to the Malay race or even terrorists and threats to national security by UMNO? 

Is it also surprising that the dogs of the BN components parties continue to scream that the Malays are incapable of such achievement and that all the difficulties of trying are better heaped on the shoulders of the nons who are more able to suffer hardships, more capable and more talented? Of course the silent implication is that all the rewards of success are also to be heaped into the bank accounts of the nons and their UMNO commission masters. 

So during the next GE, an essential question the Malays have to ask themselves is whether they are they capable and willing to try and build their own fortunes and empires, or are they satisfied to be toll collectors? This decision may determine the fate of the Malay leaders who are being called terrorists, threats to national security and traitors to the Malay race today. This decision will determine the fate of the Malays themselves as well as that of the whole nation.