Dr. Mahathir says the Malays are lazy. He says he has failed. After a lifetime trying to correct the Malay character, since the days he wrote his Malay Dilemma, Mahathir is a frustrated man. Either the Malay is irredeemable or Mahathir has the wrong prescriptions.
The Malay is lazy compared with whom? There must be a measure. Because Mahathir is ashamed in front of the Chinese, then by extension, the Malay is lazy when compared to the Chinese.
If so, why are the Chinese not lazy and the Malays lazy? To me this is not due to some innate cultural characteristics and – allow me to say it directly here at once – it’s due to the refusal of the Chinese to allow others to dictate their destiny. The Malays on the other hand have resigned to the fact that their destiny is shaped by others, notably the government.
Before Umno, the Malays were as they were because centuries of living under feudal rule had shaped their childlike dependence. When Umno came, the mental bondage wasn’t eliminated but reinforced by the neo-feudalism that Umno practises.
The Malays must now start believing that they are given this inalienable right to define their own lives, that responsibility over their wellbeing rests with themselves first and not defined by an extraneous entity like the government. The Malay is free to pursue his own personal interest without being prevented by others; he plays his part in contributing to society’s wellbeing voluntarily. He looks after himself, his family and does his bit for society.
I see the Chinese in Sungai Klau and Sungai Ruan not shirking from communal interests. They collect donations and the better-off contribute generously to religious and social causes. But more important, they undertake to look out for themselves first.
This looking out for themselves is probably shaped by their own acknowledgement that it’s difficult to obtain help from a Malay-dominated government, and this induces the Chinese to look at creative and even defiant ways. But I also think that looking after one’s own interests is also shaped by a personal code of conduct. No one owes you a living but yourself.
So as to Mahathir’s opinion that Malays are lazy, many Malays will not believe that. The Chinese may also reject this notion. Sure, I have seen Malays being instructed repeatedly by the Chinese mandor over a particular job, but that is not to say the Malay is lazy. He is less skilled.
There are of course a great number of layabouts and loafers. They are like that because they have no application. Talent is wasted if there is no application.
Application. The first politician I heard using this word was Lee Kuan Yew. Having all the necessary social and productive skill sets, you require application. If application is hindered, the person becomes a dud.
I have been thinking what is it that hinders the Malay from applying his potential? Since Mahathir is comparing the Malay to the Chinese, I would like to offer my thoughts on this.
What’s holding back the Malay? It would easier if we can lump it all into the concept of culture. That would require a more scientific exposition, not possible in a blog like this. We have to be more specific.
Different mental plane
The hindrance to application is personal inhibition. The Chinese does not attach much significance to authority, it seems. The Malay operates on a different mental plane.
The Malay, after years of living under the feudal system, is what he is today because of that. He is inhibited. He has the glass window, the invisible bar that defines him within a narrower space. That space was defined in the past by the feudal system of government and now by the system of neo-feudalism. Umno really does not want to liberate the Malay mind, fearing its power will be challenged.
That space to me is defined ultimately by the government and so it is ultimately the government that is responsible for moulding the Malay mind. The concept of government to the Malay is that of an imposing benign master, deity-like, to be obeyed at all times. That allows the government to create a childlike dependence on the government and its leaders.
The path to a more complete application is therefore, I think, a break from dependence. Umno actually does not want to liberate the Malay except on its terms. “On its terms” means without forgetting the dependence and debt to Umno. Umno is actually looking after its own interests first, the interests of its own leaders, and then the Malays.
Taking care of the Malays should mean freeing them and allowing them personal space.
The Malay person’s more complete stepping out of the boxed space is inhibited by Umno. Umno has not liberated the Malay mind, and because of that he is inhibited. Of all the characteristics that prevent the Malay his full application, perhaps the most prominent is meekness, which translates into irrational subservience to the government. In the 1970s, when Umno produced the book Revolusi Mental, the party tried to encourage Malays to be more arrogant and defiant in attitude. Perhaps that is what they need most of all. A defiant and rebellious attitude.
The typical Chinese new villager in Sungai Ruan or Sungai Klau or Teras in Raub has 60 to 70 acres of land in the jungle turned into fruit orchards and so forth. Drive around the new village of Sempalit and you will see every available space in front of houses is planted with vegetables of some kind. Drive around in Sungai Klau and Sungai Ruan and you will see workshops attached to houses. You see that with Malay houses too, but with less intensity.
The PTG, the Land Office, has not taken action. Suppose a Malay individual decides to cultivate a two-acre plot in the jungle, the people from PTD and Forest Department and other people would be swarming over them. These people are asking the government to allow them a way out, not given handouts.
The handout recipe is a function of a sound welfare safety net system. Only those old and infirm qualify to get handouts. These people deserve to be helped. The able bodied, the skill-deficient, they cannot be given handouts but a way out.
Just compare the typical Malay and the typical Malaysian Chinese. The Malay would likely depend on the government for sustenance, either as an employee, contractor or rent seeker. He is a dependent. His mindset is shaped by the interests he can cull from being dependent on and seeking favours from the government. The government is the master, he the slave. The government is a deity to be worshipped, feared and obeyed absolutely.
The typical Chinese is probably self-employed, is working in some unrelated government business establishment. He defines his life. He is chauvinistic in the sense he accepts that his welfare and wellbeing are his own responsibility. So why can’t he be cocky and refuse to kowtow to anyone? He doesn’t owe anyone else a living. He participates in the free market.
He is independent and has choices when it comes to what kind of government he wants. If he wants to support DAP for being truer to his interests, there is nothing the Umno-led government can do because the Chinese are not dependent on it.
Ariff Sabri is the MP for Raub. He blogs at sakmongkol.blogspot.com