The Malay Dilemma – A Book By Mahathir Bin Mohamad

I am rather apathetic when it comes to politics, especially those concerning my homeland and her neighbours. But having received rave reviews from ex-colleagues about the content of this book, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the altercations presented herein, just to see what reactions I would have in response to the aftertaste of a Malaysian politician.

In trying to explain for the backwardness of the general progress in Malaysia, the author conjured a racial theory that suggests how seemingly different racial characteristics – not necessarily owing to ethnic origins – have culminated in the production of a population that is less competitive and more easily contented, compared to the other races. The Chinese were characterised as being ‘almond-eyed people… and inherently good businessmen‘. These supposedly more aggressive traits of the Chinese race, as well as the indigenous people’s habitual inclination to bend with the wind – ‘adat‘ – would finally lead to an economy that sees a huge slice of the pie go reluctantly to the foreigners.

Almond-eyed? And how dangerous it must have been for him to suggest such things about other races back in the 1970s, which wasn’t too long after the denouement of the racially-charged second world war.

It would perhaps seem, at first glance, as if he was, in point of fact and without much vacillation, putting the Malay race down. But after much careful reading, one would come to a sudden realisation that he was in fact attempting to execute a silent mission to elucidate a misunderstanding that the whole world has had on the Malay population,  get us to take a huge step back and return the land to her rightful owner.

Such attempts would prove to be futile, as can be seen 40 years on in a rapidly globalising world. Boundaries become blurred, rendering it difficult to make claims of solitary ownership to wealth and prosperity. But if there is one thing I have learnt from the reading of Mahathir’s racial and evolutionary theories, it is that laws and policies must be institutionalised to eliminate or at least minimise the harms from external threats, these being inevitable in the face of nationalistic pride and survival instincts. Regardless of time and place, there will always be governmental strategies in place to stamp out unwanted invasion of the alien bodies that do not belong – even in the lands of the erstwhile colonial superpowers and the rich kingdoms of today.

Unsurprisingly, the bitter aftertaste of territorial separation is still there, long after Singapore has become independent. Nobody can be sure about who should lay claims to which stray bits of territorial crumbs – most of which are functionally negligible yet priceless in conceited terms. This grieving process is a long one, and should there be an end to it, I hope I’ll still be alive to witness this end that marks the true beginning of the Singapore history.

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