Is this not called ‘the Malay dilemma’?

Do you think this is easy? Even the ‘more progressive’ Chinese and Indians are still a very superstitious lot and believe in temples, feng shui, lucky charms, ghosts, spirits, black magic, mother-tongue education, vernacular schools, and whatnot. Even the Chinese and Indians cannot discard their medieval beliefs, cultures and customs. And you expect the Malays to change?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Today, Ahmad Mustapha Hassan, one-time press secretary to second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, and the writer of the book “The Unmaking of Malaysia“, wrote a very interesting piece in The Ant Daily.

You can read it below.

I think he put it quite aptly that there is nothing wrong with criticising a certain community — in this case he meant the Malay community. In fact, criticism is constructive. And I tend to agree with Ahmad Mustapha’s opinion because I have said the same thing many times myself.

My only reservation is that there is a very narrow line between criticism and insult. And this is why in the days when I was very active in the Malay Chamber of Commerce we usually had to ‘sugar-coat’ our criticism somewhat so as not to offend those who might interpret our criticism as an insult.

I mean it is not just the Malays who are bad at taking criticism. Even the Chinese and Indians will scream ‘racist!’ if we were to criticise them. One negative comment from a non-Chinese or non-Indian and that person would immediately be labelled a racist. That has been proven time and again even here in Malaysia Today.

Somehow, Malays, Chinese and Indians have this impression that their community must not be criticised by those from another community. If they do then these people are racists. But what about when we criticise, say, the US, regarding their Middle East policy? Does this also make us racists? And should other countries criticise Malaysia’s general elections (or human rights record) since this touches ‘Malay sensitivities’?

To understand what Ahmad Mustapha should probably call ‘the Malay dilemma’ requires a study not only of the mindset of the Malays but the history, education (which can also mean indoctrination), upbringing, and so on, of the Malays. But Ahmad Mustapha would probably not call it ‘the Malay dilemma’ because people might interpret that as an endorsement of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s book of the same title or, as what Lim Kit Siang would call, Mahathirism.

However, if you do not call this ‘the Malay dilemma’ then what would you call it?

Anyhow, while Ahmad Mustapha may have identified some of the dilemmas facing the Malays, I feel he has merely scratched the surface, so to speak. And it is not possible for Ahmad Mustapha to address all the issues in merely two pages, like he has attempted below. The Malay dilemma will require a thesis if we wish to address them completely.

Ahmad Mustapha has identified Umno as the culprit behind the Malay dilemma. In the past I have said the same thing myself many times. Today, the PAS President hit the nail on the head when he said that the Malays have this perception that opposing Umno means opposing the government because Umno is equated to the government. In the same breath PAS upholds the Islamic criminal laws of Hudud.

Now, if I were to say that I oppose Hudud then I would be accused of not being a good Muslim, or worse, of being an infidel. So most Malays would not want to oppose Hudud for fear of being accused of something or another.

But is not one of the seven punishable crimes under Hudud the crime of rebellion (opposing the government)? And do the imams not say often enough in their Friday sermons (kutbah) that Muslims must not oppose the government because this is not allowed in Islam?

Hence, are Muslims not being indoctrinated since very young that Islam forbids dissent. Hence how can you expect the Malays to oppose Umno (meaning the government) when they have been brainwashed into not doing so?

Hence, also, is Umno really to be blamed here? Or is the Islamic indoctrination that Malays are being subjected to that is at fault? And if Malays were allowed to leave Islam, and they did so in huge numbers, would the ‘new’ Malay (meaning non-Muslim Malays) see things the way the current generation Malay (meaning Muslim Malays) see things?

So you see, according to the law, Malays mean Muslims and Malays may not, by law, become non-Muslims. Hence the Malay mindset is very much the Muslim mindset. But how many Malay leaders (meaning Muslims) would dare admit this out of fear that they would be called apostates (murtad)?

As you can see, it is a more complex issue than Ahmad Mustapha has pointed out in his two-page article. And as I said earlier this week, we need to reformat the Malay mind and reinstall a new ‘operating system’. And this may also involve ‘un-Islamising’ the Malay mind.

However, trust me, no Malay would admit this or agree to this, whether they are from PAS, Umno or PKR. To admit so would admit that there is a ‘weakness’ in Islam and most Malays would rather die than admit that.

Ahmad Mustapha pointed out one culprit to the problem of the Malay mind, which is feudalism. Even Tun Dr Mahathir said exactly the same thing (that the Malays are too feudalistic).

Say we agree with this assumption — that the feudal mind of the Malay is one of the contributing factors to the backwardness of the Malays. Would Ahmad Mustapha then agree that the solution has to be to remove the Monarchy and turn Malaysia into a Republic? You cannot say that you want to maintain the feudal system and at the same time expect the Malays to not be feudalistic in mindset.

So the solution is not that simple after all, is it?

About poor Malays such as farmers and fishermen having to borrow from moneylenders (mostly Chinese, even in the Malay heartland in Kelantan and Terengganu) and finally ending up in their clutches. Who is to blame here?

Can these poor Malays who own nothing walk into a bank and borrow money without any collateral? The only people who will lend them money with no collateral would be the moneylenders. So who is to be blamed here when banks are profit-motivated and would never lend to a bad risk or someone with no collateral?

Trust me, I have been in business long enough to know that Malaysian bankers are fair-weather bankers and will only lend to the rich and not to the destitute. Try walking into a Malaysian bank and tell them that you are broke and that you need a loan. The moneylenders, however, have no problems lending to people who are broke. The more broke you are the better for them.

And the Chinese millers mentioned by Ahmad Mustapha are very happy to lend the rice farmers money against ‘future’ crops (the collateral). Then these same millers will buy back the rice many months down the road as one of the terms of the ‘repayment scheme’. And will the rice farmers get the best price for their rice or will they receive below market price?

You tell me!

These are just some of the so many issues that we will need to discuss and which have not been fully addressed by Ahmad Mustapha. The problem may be with Umno, as what Ahmad Mustapha said, but it is not confined to just Umno. It extends to way beyond Umno.

Islam, feudalism, and much more, are embedded in Malay ‘values’. Hence to reform the Malays and to get them to change their values involves also to get them to change their values regarding Islam, the Monarchy, Malay privileges, Malay language, and so on.

Do you think this is easy? Even the ‘more progressive’ Chinese and Indians are still a very superstitious lot and believe in temples, feng shui, lucky charms, ghosts, spirits, black magic, mother-tongue education, vernacular schools, and whatnot. Even the Chinese and Indians cannot discard their medieval beliefs, cultures and customs. And you expect the Malays to change?

I fear not!


Malay bashing and upward mobility! Criticism most essential to achieve progress

Ahmad Mustapha Hassan, The Ant Daily

Does it mean that when someone comes out with constructive and critical comments about the Malays in order to highlight their weaknesses it should be inferred as Malay bashing? Let’s bear in mind the adage that if there is no criticism there will be no progress in the life of any community. Without pointing out the weaknesses, there will be no way to provide the remedies.

The Federation of Malaya achieved independence in 1957 and the destiny of the country was in the hands of the Malays led by their leaders in Umno. The other communities simply acted as unequal partners. Thus the fate and the future of the Malays were determined by their own leaders, nobody else.

In 1971, a Malay agenda was executed in the form of affirmative action. This agenda was to end in 2001. Yet the Malays remained in the backwaters of the country’s economy. Something is definitely not right with the Malay leadership and yet the Malays still elected these leaders back into office.

Who is then to blame? The Malay leadership in Umno especially Umno Baru had completely failed the Malays. Those who write critical articles do so in the hope that the Malays will wake up and realise that they have been duped.

The writers are attempting to get the Malays out of their feudal mindset. To achieve progress the Malays should no longer just accept what their leaders tell them. They have to question the promises and exhortations.

The feudal mentality of “mine is not to reason why but to do or die” has to change. This mental makeup has to undergo very serious modification. Unless there is a change in the mindset, the Malays will be pulled along like a pack of buffaloes by the Umno Baru leadership. 

I have the experience of working in the rural areas and also working among the peasants and quite understand what they were facing in order to overcome their problems. The affirmative action that was put in place would not solve their problems.

Most padi farmers were tenant operators. They simply did not own the plot that they were cultivating. At one time, yes they did own the land but as there were no financial institutions in these areas where they could go and borrow to finance their operations, they had to depend on other sources. These sources were the rich farmers in their area who exploited them.

Once they could not pay what they had borrowed, their plots would be transferred to these rich landowners. That was the agreement made. And from then on they would be renting what was once their land. These rich landowners would have several schemes all of which favoured them. Thus such schemes like “padi kunca”, “padi ratus”, “jual janji” and “jual salam” came into being. All these schemes were cut throat schemes. The peasants laboured on these lands but the benefits went to these new owners.

The peasants some time would go to the towns to borrow from the moneylenders there but as most of the land came under Malay reservation, these moneylenders would still lend out but at very exorbitant rates. Again the moneylenders would then get some rich Malay to buy off these lands when the borrowers defaulted.

The peasants too some time became victims of the rice millers. The millers would extend loans and then would deduct the borrowings from the padi sent for milling.

The peasants therefore fell victims to three sources — the landlords, the moneylenders and the rice milers.

The government, without solving this ownership and credit crunch problems, introduced mechanisation to supposedly increase the yield. The peasants would not benefit from this mechanisation of the operation. The ones to benefit were the landlords and the rice millers.

The land ownership problem could not be solved, as most of these rich landlords were Umno chieftains in the area. They had no interest whatsoever to solve this vital problem.

The remedy was to sidetrack the issue and create some token to convince the victims that the Umno-led government was doing something for the peasantry.

This example is only one of many to showcase just how the Malays had become the victims of their own kind.

It is time especially for the rural Malays to wake up and realise that they had not been given what is due to them – a better and improved standard of living. 

Ahmad Mustapha Hassan is a former press secretary to second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and the writer of the book, “The Unmaking of Malaysia”.