The New Malay Dilemma
Excerpts from a speech given by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed at the Harvard Club of Malaysia dinner on 29 July 2002
The following was excerpted from the Straits Times Interactive. View the complete article here.
The Malays are among the few people whose race is legally
defined. Thus, the
Malaysian Constitution states that a Malay is one who habitually speaks
Malay, professes the religion of Islam and practises Malay customs. There is
nothing said about the definitive culture of the Malays.
It follows that changes in culture do not make a Malay person a non-Malay.
Culture is made up largely of the value systems accepted, even if not
actually practised by a people or a race. Observations have shown that the
culture of a people determines whether they are successful or they fail.....
.... Europeans, Asians, Africans and American Indians can all be successful and
can all fail. It is, therefore, not the race or ethnicity which determines
success. It is the culture.
When I wrote The Malay Dilemma in the late 60s, I had assumed that all the
Malays lacked the opportunities to develop and become successful. They
lacked opportunities for educating themselves, opportunities to earn enough
to go into business, opportunities to train in the required vocation,
opportunities to obtain the necessary funding, licences and premises.
If these opportunities could be made available to them, then they would
.... But today, the attitude has changed. Getting scholarships and places in the
universities at home and abroad is considered a matter of right and is not
valued any more. Indeed, those who get these educational opportunities for
some unknown reason seem to dislike the very people who created these
opportunities. Worse still, they don't seem to appreciate the opportunities that they get.
They become more interested in other things, politics in particular, to the
detriment of their studies. In business, the vast majority regarded the
opportunities given them as something to be exploited for the quickest
return. ...... They learn nothing about business and become even less capable at doing
business and earning an income from their activities. They become mere
sleeping partners and at times not even that. Having sold, they no longer
have anything to do with the business. They would go to the government for
more licences, permits, shares, etc. ....
.... Why has this thing happened? The answer lies in the culture of the Malays.
They are laid-back and prone to take the easy way out. And the easy way out
is to sell off whatever they get and ask for more. This is their culture. Working hard, taking risks and being patient is not a part of their culture.
It should be remembered that in the past the Malays were not prepared to
take up the jobs created by the colonial powers in their effort to exploit
Because the Malays were not prepared to work in rubber estates and the
mines, the Indians and Chinese were brought in. At one time, the migrants
outnumbered the Malays. Had they continued to outnumber the Malays,
independent Malaya would be like independent Singapore.
But the Malays have apparently learnt nothing from the near loss of their
country in the past. Today, they are still unwilling to work and foreign
workers are again flooding the country. And because they are not equipping
themselves with the necessary education and skills, they have continued to
depend on others. Their political dominance will protect them for a time. But that dominance
is fading very fast as they quarrel among themselves and break up into small
ineffective groups. Their numerical superiority means less today than at the
time of Independence. ....
.... The Malays, together with the other Bumiputeras, make up 60 per cent of the
country's population. But in terms of their political clout, it is now much
less than 60 per cent. They are now more dependent on non-Malay support,
both the government party and the opposition. Economically, of course, they have less than half the 30-per-cent share that
has been allocated to them. If we discount the non-Malay contribution to the
nation's economy, Malaysia would be not much better than some of the African
To succeed, the Malays must change their culture. They must look towards
work as a reward in itself. They must regard what they achieve through work
as the true reward. There should be some financial reward but this must not
outweigh the satisfaction obtained from the result of their work. ....
.... Changing culture is far more difficult than changing the policies of
government. It is easy enough to propose affirmative action but it is not
easy to implement it. The recipients must have the right attitude if the
results are going to be obtained. .... Unfortunately, their view is that their crutches are symbols of their
superior status in the country. The sad thing is that they are not even
using the crutches properly. As a result, they gain nothing or very little
from the availability of these aids. ....
.... So what is the new Malay dilemma? Their old dilemma was whether they should
distort the picture a little in order to help themselves. The new dilemma is whether they should or should not do away with the
crutches that they have got used to, which in fact they have become proud
of. There is a minority of Malays who are confident enough to think of doing
away with the crutches, albeit gradually. But they are a very small
minority. Their numbers are not going to increase any time soon. They are generally
regarded as traitors to the Malay race. ....
.... There will be a host of protests over this generalisation about Malay
attitudes. We read almost every day about blind Malay people and other
handicapped Malays graduating with university degrees or driving cars or
doing all kinds of work. This does not prove that the generalisation that I make is wrong. These are exceptions. They only prove that if the right attitude or culture is
adopted, even the handicapped can succeed.
The dilemma faced by those few who want to build a strong, resilient and
independent Malay race without crutches is that they are most likely to end
up becoming unpopular and losing the ability to influence the changes in the
culture and the value system which are necessary.
It seems that they should not try and yet they know that without the
cultural changes, the Malays are going to fail.
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