Through Race Tinted Glasses. Problems and solutions of Malaysia

By Yin, Letters from Ward 5

In his article “Aspects of the Racial Problem in Malaya”(Journal of Pacific Affairs 1949 vol.22). Ian Morrisson quoted from the letter to the Times of London by Prof. T.H. Silcock (Professor of Economics – Raffles College Singapore).

“It is futile to waste much time in arguing who immigrated when and why and who is responsible. The practical problem is how the races are going to live together without turning their country into an ulcer, poisoning not merely their own unhappy lives . . .”

Even before Merdeka, there were those who recognised the ultimately unworkable arrangement based on race.

One of the few who recognised that in the longer term, communalism is an unworkable formula for nation bulding, was Dato Onn bin Jaafar. He was ignored.

The consequences of communalism is all too evident today.

The fact that Malaya started off well is largely due to the leaders of that time – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Siew Sin -and Sambanthan. The spirit of give and take, the accommodation each was prepared to make and the goodwill filtered down to the rakyat. Malayans (and later Malaysians) of all races got along, and our country, though not without problems, was overall peaceful, prosperous and progressive.

We were one of the top nations in this region – ahead of China, South Korea and even Japan.

Then came the racial riots of 1969.

Of May 13, the Tunku  said “Harun was one of those –  Harun, Mahathir, Ghazali Shafie – who were all working with Razak to oust me, to take over my place” (Pg 112 – K.Das and the Tunku Tapes compiled and edited by Kua Kia Soong – 2002).

To all intents and purposes it was a coup.

After Tunku we had a succession of  Malay leaders who preached Malay hegemony. The principal actor was Mahathir Mohammed. Communalism turned to racism and “Ketuanan Melayu” was coined.

Just as the fraternal feelings of Tunku’s Government filtered down to the people and engendered a peaceful coexistence among Malayans; Mahathir’s ‘them and us’  posture turned many Malays against the others.

The rest is history.

There is no future for this country if we continue in the present trajectory of racial division and religious extremism. Not for the Malays or the Nons.

Change we must, but that is easier said than done when two generations have been brainwashed to believe that one is the enemy of the other.

Brainwashed to believe that one is a first class citizen the other not.

Brainwashed to believe that the Nons will take over and that the Malay race will disappear. That  Islam is under threat. Brainwashed to believe that only UMNO and PAS (and the other Malay parties that have sprouted up) can save both.

Brainwashed that this is Tanah Melayu and not the Tanah Air of  generations  of Nons born here and the country of everyone who has taken citizenship.

Brainwashed that any Malay who does not subscribe to their racist and religious ideology is a traitor to his or her race and religion.

State apparatus like Biro Tata Negara (BTN) was used to spread the above. UMNO owned New Straits Times echoed the official line and the nominally independent  main stream media was too timid to argue against the official line. 

Deal with the Race Issue

To talk about other issues independently of the core issue of race – specifically racial discrimination, is to address the symptoms and not the cause.

We simply cannot go forward if every attempt at discussing the problems our country face comes down to race. We are so caught up on race that we ignore the merits of any argument that does not fit the Malay narrative.

Any questioning of policies is labeled as a challenge to  Keutanan Melayu. Any call for fair treatment is met with “Apa mahu lagi?”

We are regressing while countries which were once behind us are now passing us.

Our racist policies make us uncompetitive – made worse by a poor education high on religion and poor on the subjects  our young need to be competitive.

Our racist policies drive our best talents to our competitors.

Policies which put many of our GLCs in the hands of mediocre managers who are paid handsomely.

Policies which deliver to “handpicked entrepreneurs” going concerns only for them to be bankrupted and bailed out with tax payers money.

Policies which take away from proven entrepreneurs healthy businesses to give to cronies with unproven entrepreneurship.

Policies which create monopolies which benefit the privileged few and keep prices high for the rakyat.

All the above make us uncompetitive as a nation.

As the number of Malay politicians with increasingly extreme political and religious orientation grows,the cancer of racism grows bigger.

The Vested Interests Of A Few

A common response of many Malays to the question of Bangsa Malaysia is that they don’t trust the Nons. 

I recall  Mariam Mokhtar’s conversation with a highly educated young man. His parting shot was “I don’t trust the Chinese”.

Really?  Who are the biggest thieves? An ex-prime minister has been convicted of stealing from the people. More will follow if there is any justice in this place.

Who stole from Tabung Haji  a pilgrimage fund subscribed to by many poor Malays who put in their life savings.

I can go on and on ad nauseam but you already know.

The truth is that young man  was defending his own vested interests. He probably studied on public funds (denied to most Nons) and enjoy the benefits of the favoured race. He is not the only one.

Many Middle Class and rich Malays have it too good to want to give up their perks which  bumiputraism gives them – cushy government and GLC jobs, sinecures with high salaries; discount on house purchases, discount on buying shares; the list goes on. Incidentally, perks which the B40 Malays cannot avail themselves of simply because they are too poor.

Shouldn’t the aforementioned young man have questioned the government’s abysmal failure to lift the poor Malays (and Nons) out of poverty despite six decades of being in power? But why should he? He is one of the elite Malays enjoying the good life at the expense of the poor Malays.

This is the old story of  elite Malays exploiting the poor Malays being replayed

When the kampong Malays asked for English Schools they were refused because Raja Sir Chulan believed once educated, the Malay peasants would seek better opportunities in the towns.

Today while Malays leaders claim that our national schools are ‘world class’ (actually Muyhiddin said that), they send their children to private schools.  The fact that thousands of Malay parents  have enrolled their children in Chinese Schools is an indictment of our national schools, is it not?

When the kampong Malays planted rubber to improve their income, they were chopped down and the land flooded to force them to plant padi. It was  the British you say, but with the connivance of the elite Malays.

Every time the poor Malays try to rise up they are put down by their own. Hamid Tuah led protests for agrarian reforms and was jailed.

Instead of focusing on alleviating the poverty of  the poor Malays, Mahathir decided to  build up a core of rich Malays in the hope that they would be role models for other Malays.

What poor role models! They did not build their businesses with the own sweat but were presented them on a platter?

And even then, bankrupt them and had to be bailed out with tax payers’ money.

So instead of asking questions of the government, this highly educated young man chose to scapegoat the Nons.

Believe In Yourself

Truth be told many Malaysdon’t trust themselves to compete on a level playing field- so long have they been on crutches.

Decades of being told by their leaders that they are lazy (and cannot compete) seem to have taken root in the Malay psyche. Yet the truth is they are as hardworking as the Nons.  The Mandalings were operating tin fields and smelting tin ingots in competition with the Chinese in the Larut and later  in the Kinta  Valley.

Who says they are not as forward thinking – why would they have asked for English Schools or planted rubber? Or send their children to Chinese Schools today.

Remove the Millstone

Fact is, the Malays are just as good as the best of the Nons, IF THEY ARE ALLOWED TO BE!If they are allowed to prove themselves rather than be mollycoddled.

Believe in yourself, even if your leaders have no faith in you. Dignity is about standing on one’s own two feet.

Bumiputraism is a millstone round the Malay neck put there by politicians who want to keep them dependent on  “handouts” instead of giving them a proper “handup”.

Remember, the best steel is forged in the fiercest fire, hammered and then put in the fire again and hammered. The best kris are made from this steel.

A growing number of educated Malays have started to question those in power despite accusations of being traitors to race and religion.

The real traitors are those who cheat their own kind of their future.

The Road Ahead

If our country is to have any chance of living up to the dreams of our founding fathers of a multi-racial, secular nation  we need to remove our race tinted glasses.

The Malays and the Nons are not natural enemies as certain politicians want us to believe.

Ask the older generation how well they got on. Race and religion were not issues until politicians made them issues.

Chest-thumping race bigotry  and religious extremism do not put food on the table. Cari Makan is the primary concern of  ALL Malaysians; not ideology.

If racial discrimination is the answer to the Malays’ problems then surely in 60 years we would have lifted the poor Malays out of poverty (China lifted 700 million in thirty years). Instead the number of Malay poor remains high and the wealth gap between the rich and poor Malays is the highest of the three main races.

Not only has our racist policies not delivered to the poor Malays; it has divided the country and dragged it down economically.

So we go back to the question posed by Prof. Silcock.

How are we going to live together without turning our country into a bigger ulcer than it is?

Politicians forget that their job description is to solve problems, to deliver to citizens a better quality of life. Not keeping their positions in Putrajaya; not to enrich themselves at the expense of the rakyat.

These politicians remind me of the iIlustrious Society of Poop Removers (we called them “tong carriers”) in ancient Rome which motto is: Pecunia Non Olet (Money Has No Stink).

Or was it Emperor Vespasian who said that about the urine tax he imposed.

Substitute Emperor with Prime Minister and “Tong Carriers” with ministers and corrupt politicians and we  have  Malaysia today.

Will we still be talking about race five years . . . ten years down the road?

We have to confront the race issue sooner rather than later. We have been talking about it since 1949; we cannot continue to allow the elephant in the room – the stink is too much.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

By Yin, 
Letters from Ward 5, Tanjong Rambutan

Rebuilding Malaysia


  • double tree says:

    The Malays have taken so much, especially the ruling elites, that to give up the NEP is impossible. The NEP is the way to get ahead of the nons. Giving up means having to compete which is never tried before by Malays. It is so ingrained into their mindset that in any situation requiring discussion/participation etc, the old mindset is sure to rear it’s ugly head. Telling the malay to stop invoking the NEP would be a task that will be daunting. Malays will not stand being told not to use the NEP and Ketuanan. We have reached a dead end. All the richest Malays will not give up their old ways and the upcoming Malays want the easy way to the top, like Daim and others. Incidentally, Daim is acclaimed by various quarters to be the richest man in Malaysia. Good for him. He made use of the NEP to the fullest extent. He is the role model for the up and coming young Malay. If Daim can do it, so can every Malay. How to solve the problem?

  • Leow Shing Onn says:

    Much has been written about solutions to what ails our beloved nation. As long as allow the selfish self interested to cling on to power we will see no light at the end of the tunnel. When lies can be told and propagated as truths by the false leaders and pseudo religionist and imposed on those on the lower rungs of our society then all seems lost. I believe it will be a long and hard battle ahead. While we who believe in justice, equality and mercy have to battle on at all fronts, I also believe that another way of bringing about a revolution of change is through many individual influencers reaching out with truth to re-educate the masses against the seemingly overwhelming tide of lies. Slowly but surely let us peck back with truths and genuinely reach out to help the down trodden and pray that God will open the eyes and hearts that have een blinded by lies. The rally cry is that now that we have hit rock bottom, we have to now stand our ground. Don’t give up, don’t ran away to greener pastures. This is our land, our nation. Fight back, re-educate, show compassion to the have-nots irrespective of ethnicity, skin colour, faith or social standing. Not one off efforts but sustained and persevering. Don’t abrogate the responsibilities of leadership to lying selfish politicians and pseudo religionist. Continue to call out their lies. Let us stand and turn back the tide. Don’t just talk but act!

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