Much as Dr Mahathir was (perhaps still is) feared, despised and hated by many in the opposition camp (and even some in the BN side), much more than when he was a young Turk, I personally don’t; I have to admit I even admire him for three things he did. These were:
(a) His correct and timely de-fang-ing of a certain royalty who conducted himself as if he was King Dewata Cengkar,
(b) His promotion of Malaysia as a proud nation, and
(c) His concept of Bangsa Malaysia.
But alas, since his retirement, he has been perceived as having reverted to what people suspected of him when he was a young Turk.
His strident critics have been rather feral in calling him by various insulting descriptions, with the major one persistently pointing out (wakakaka) that he is an Indian who refused to acknowledge his ethnic (Indian) origin.
For years, Dr Mahathir didn’t say a single thing in response to this particular insult heaped upon him … till today when I read in The Malaysian Insider’s article Malays are not immigrants, says Dr Mahathir where he said:
I would not say I am a Malay or Malaysian of ethnic Indian origin. My mother tongue and home language is Malay, my culture and tradition is Malay and I am a Muslim. The constitution defines a Malay as a person who habitually speaks Malay, practices Malay custom and tradition and is a Muslim.
He continued that: ... it was obvious some Malays were descended from people of the Indonesian islands, India and the Arabian peninsular.
Hmmm, what about Dr Ridhuan Tee who always writes, words to the effect: “Kita orang Melayu ...” instead of “Kita umat Islam ...”? Isn't it just hurtful to poor Dr Ridhuan wakakaka.
It seems Dr Mahathir has limited non-Semenanjung “Malays” to only those originating from Indonesia, India and Arabia. Why not those originally from China like poor Dr Ridhuan Tee and Omar Ong?
Anyway, I wonder whether Dr Mahathir’s assertion that he is a Malay (full stop) and not one of ethnic Indian origin had been finally his ultimate rebuttal of the tons of ethnic insults hurled at him. Could it be his long-suffered hurt has finally manifested itself in his rejection that he is a Mamak?
Then he made a very poor, in fact bad comparison when he said: Having come here they [Indons, Indians and Arabs] were assimilated after they identified themselves completely with the Malays by adopting the Malay language, their customs and traditions and by being Muslims. This is a common phenomenon. In America, Australia, Latin America the later immigrants accepted the languages of their adopted country as their mother tongue as well as the culture. After doing this they no longer think of themselves as being of their original country.
It’s a poor comparison because the languages and cultures of the Americas and Australia were imposed by foreign invaders, namely the British and Spaniards. That’s why English is spoken in USA and Australia while Spanish is in South America (with the exception of Brazil and a few kutu states).
In fact, the culture in Australia has been transformed in the last 35 years. And in the USA too!
But then, what really is culture? Well, it's basically everything in that society, from its customs, traditions, social practice, religion(s), beliefs, language, social interactions & communication, food, drinks, politics, dress, social values and activities, entertainment, so on so forth.
Can it be legislated? Only if you have a dictatorial bent and own a mind control machine.
Culture is something that grows gradually and subtly, and then, having been accepted without the acceptor even being aware of his/her acceptance, settles within a society. As I mentioned, most of the times we aren't even aware of the acceptance, practice, and growth of the new values in our midst.
Just as an example on food - today the Vietnamese pho is an intrinsic part of Australian cuisine. What about Malaysia? Are mee, meehoon and koay teow (noodles), and choy-sum (sawi) exclusively confined to Chinese cuisine? If not, can anyone tell of a date (just the year will do fine) when they were accepted/used by the other communities as Malaysian food?
Then, do only the Malays wear sarong and eat nasi lemak? As a kid I remember my dad changing quickly into a sarong whenever he returned home from work - he felt so comfy in one.
What about roti, capati, curry and pasembur? Are these made and eaten only by Indians? My late mum would cook mamak-style fish head curry with lots of brinjal (egg plant) and okra (ladies fingers) for me, knowing how much I love the dish and then teasing me that I ought to marry an Indian sweetheart to ensure I continue to be provided with the yummy curry.
The above are examples of how culture evolves – no legislation, no official enforced policies, no political bull, just free acceptance, practice and assimilation. This is what is meant by multiculturalism.
Thus I believe Dr Mahathir is both right and wrong in his attempts to define what should Malaysians do. Yes, I am aware he was describing ‘Malay’ rather than ‘Malaysian’ but his definition was meant to divide the people into Malays and non-Malays, when all of us are Malaysians. Thus I will talk about Malaysians, citizens of Malaysia.
He is right in that every Malaysian should speak fluent Malay or if you wish, Bahasa Malaysia. It needn’t be Dewan Bahasa type of Malay; colloquial Malay is good enough but the fluency should be there, especially among the younger generations. There’s no excuse in this regard.
But don’t get me wrong that I am against people learning other languages including their mother tongues. In Australia and the USA, their citizens do so.
On the issue of vernacular schools I’m personally against them as I believe they serve only to further divide us. Surprised? Never mind. However, we must examine the history of how vernacular school came about, and understand why it now has such a prominent position among the Chinese. Blame UMNO for their existence and popularity – for more, read my previous post A central pillar of Chinese culture.
As my old friend Helen Ang (I hope she still loves me wakakaka) observed astutely in her Malaysiakini column: [The Chinese education] boat has left the harbour and sailed too far to turn back now.
... which is why we have been left with a complex, sensitive and difficult legacy.
But then, when we read of the racist conduct of some headmasters in national type schools and one or two VCs of universities, it shows that national type schools alone do not, cannot guarantee unity when unrepentent racists exist in out midst.
Many Chinese parents are so glad that they have vernacular schools to minimise their children’s exposure to such blatant cruel racism by people who dare to call themselves teachers.
But Dr Mahathir would be wrong if he prescribes being Muslim as a condition. Since he mentioned Australia and USA as examples of what he saw as citizens accepting the nation’s principal customs and traditions, I would like to inform him that there is absolute freedom to practice any religious beliefs in those countries.
In Australia the authorities even fund some non-Christian religious activities (and ethnic festivals), including Islamic ones. Incidentally both Australia and the USA are secular nations, even though the Christian faith is widely practiced and is the principal (but not official) religion.
And that is the reason why, other than Dr Ridhuan Tee and his like-minded friends wakakaka, we cannot call ourselves "Malays" but Malaysians, because to be a Malay one has to be a Muslim. Thus religion, not language or customs, separates us.
The customs and traditions of Malaysia, needless to say, are dominated and thus based on mainly the (majority) Malay customs and traditions. Non-Malays don't have any issue with that. But we have to recognize our nation's customs and traditions would not be exclusively Malay customs aand traditions, as I’ve demonstrated by way of the food we eat.
Let me reveal something to be proud of - whenever I informed a new Aussie acquaintance that I'm a Malaysian, the usual reaction I received would be: Wow, you Malaysians are really renowned for your multi-linguistic abilities. Now, wouldn't that be a reflection of our unique and proud Malaysian culture?
I am very disappointed that Bapak Bangsa Malaysia had in recent times written a number of divisive and provocative articles, with his emphasis on Malays and non-Malays, reminding us of our differences rather than our similarities.
He also has a disingenous propensity to (or attempt to) turn the tables against his critics. They described his or Perkasa or Utusan's articles as racist but he'd then claim to the contrary, that those critics were the actual racist in criticising UMNO policies and Perkasa/Utusan concerns.
But, just as an example, isn’t an UMNO government with a known, undeniable and unabashed policy of reserving all top civil and military positions for only Malays racist in nature?
While I can appreciate affirmative action for Malays, I do not see such ethnocentric exclusivity for those positions as an intrinsic part of affirmative action. It’s nothing more than racial marginalization of non-Malays from positions such as Chief Secretary, IGP, Chiefs in the Military, VCs of universities, etc.
That’s a fact, and a very sad one!