“It is difficult to imagine a race more disinterested in politics than the Malays were before the war. They saw the country with a detachment that can only be described as phenomenal.”
These are the words written by Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad in his book entitled The Malay Dilemma. Being a Malay myself, I sometimes cannot help but feel utter hopelessness and desperation for my community as we strive (or so it seems) to improve our current socio-economic condition. While it must be taken into account that Dr Mahathir was ultimately refering to the Malaysian Malays who are of a different breed, Singaporean Malays too must take time to reflect and think about whether we have retrogressed and fallen into a deep lacuna with no hope of salvation.
Besides physical attributes, what distinguishes a particular race from another is the lifestyle we adopt and the ideals we uphold. Dr Mahathir points towards this difference as a source of racial inequality as Malays are not on a level playing ground when competing with people of other races, who have attuned their systems to the struggle for survival. Legal equality does not remove social and economic ostracism, which are ultimately symptoms of deep-rooted problems within the Malay community itself.
This is an interesting point. How can one juxtapose racial differences and racial inequality as one and the same? While the Confucian Chinese ethic of thrift and hard work seemed to coincide with the desire for progress and wealth, the stereotypical Malay psyche of being spiritually inclined, tolerant and easy-going have made them victims of their own disasterous state. What is interesting is that in the struggle for racial equality, racial inequality has to be codified through legislation of laws favouring the Malay position in the country. Dr Mahathir points out that the laws in place paradoxically exposes the Malays to even more discrimination, simply because, while other communities have forced to comply to such blatantly unjust laws, the Malays, being given the opportunity to rise up, have failed to do so.
It seems to be a never-ending cycle in itself, a self-fulfilling prophecy, condemning all Malays to a lesser state of existence. As his end to his chapter on the Malay economic dilemma, what he says is that:
“The Malay Dilemma, is whether they [Malays] should stop trying to help themselves so that they can be proud being poor citizens of a prosperous country or whether they should try to get some of the riches that this country boasts of, even if it blurs the economic picture of Malaysia a little.”
This fully explains the complex predicament of the Malay community, being ill-equipped to deal with the waves of modernisation crashing all around them while at the same time helpless with the modern tools they possess. This certainly is a dilemma, one which needs generations to resolve.