(First appeared in The Malaysian Insider on July 23, 2009. This was written a week after Teoh Beng Hock died while in anti-graft officers’ care. Most people were expectedly following that development, but being Malaysians it is hard to forget Mahathir. Amazing that almost three years later, nothing is really different from Mahathir, he does possess consistency)
That is Malaysia, today. Actually that could be the US, Chile or Sudan. Yes, Sudan. All countries — all economic systems despite and due to encroaching globalisation — have differentiated living scales. You have poverty everywhere. And you have them people sitting on the terraces of KLCC looking on at humanity while sipping their iced coffee.
Poverty and wealth are not race attributes, they are economical realities.
Which leads me to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the things he says. He is a pretty smart guy, and probably knows more than he lets other people on.
Every few weeks or so, he’d whinge about how not enough is being done for constitutional Malays in the country. That the softening of old policies will lead to the disenfranchisement of many who have lived on those policies. And when his message is too subtle, with response discouraging, he’ll up the tempo.
What does he want?
I mean it is pretty cute when he points out to general race income statistics and for 40 years resolutely stands by them, as an unrepentant racist. He admits as much. The good thing about Mahathir is that he has never disavowed his unmitigated racism. He’d say he is a racialist, just as he puts it in The Malaysian System of Government (1995), better to express openly your race concerns so that you can formulate a just system. No latent racialism, just blunt open racialism, how so wonderful an honesty.
The Mahathirist is a selective rationalist. He begins with a desired outcome, looks for reasons to support that outcome, ignores downsides and pursues the processes till the outcome is realised. When it fails, blames all the downsides and opponents for being impossible.
Balance, contrast and principles are overrated elements to the Mahathirist which historical distortions in the future would conveniently overwhelm.
A bit like, I am not a racist as such, if I have been forthcoming with my race inclinations. So when I discriminate, I am not really discriminating because that is expected of me. I am just being type.
Mahathir would have no problems solving the classic problem of who to save from a sinking ship — the often-used problem of picking five out of 20 to live . The doctor, the musician, the expecting mother, the neo-Keynesian economist etc. He’ll just find out who is Malay. As a sign of his benevolence and willingness to care for others, he’d take a token from the others.
I’ll go on record then. There has never been a good time to be a racist. History eventually, when victors have died, will retell the horrors of racism. And one day his story will be told without spin doctors intervening.
Classrooms don’t glorify the slavery Rome imposed on those not citizens of Rome. They don’t recount with glee how Blacks were only allowed menial tasks in the US military not long ago. No Mexican waves when the pogroms in Indonesia during the mid-60s are detailed.
They recollect Thomas Jefferson as a key ideologue for a young nation, an expansionist with the ambitious Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and so unfortunately a slave-owner.
Therefore in time aong with the various achievements attributed to Mahathir we will also parade his less-palatable acts.
But what is he fixated about now?
His fixation is not that Malays are not cared for in Malaysia, his fixation is that Malays are not cared for the way he wants them to be. The man’s ego is what is central to his present fixations.
A large slice of Malays have middle- and lower-income level incomes and work hard for their families. They were doing that during Mahathir’s tenure, and they continue to so now. Their condition, their chances to a better life is in their hands.
Mahathir has refused point blank to make the distinction between the rich (somewhat to the obscenely so), modest (middle-income to working class) and poor (mostly in depressed zones) class of Malays.
Most Malaysians, of any race, gender or musical taste, do not own the majority of the wealth of the country.
We don’t have silver spoons.
We just try to make it through, and it does not, it seriously does not help when someone influential tells as gospel truth that the reason why we ride buses and others in nice cars is down to ethnicity.
Mahathir has personally fuelled the mistrust in this country in the last 40 years, and perhaps the time has come to tell him a large number of us are going to have a go at him every time he has a go at us.
I hear the he is an old man, and we respect our elders.
Two things to that. He is the man as home minister (take notes Hishamuddin Hussein) stated unqualified at the height of boat people landings following the ending of the Vietnam war, that he would personally shoot the desperate and homeless Vietnamese escaping near death if they land on Malaysia’s east coast (The Challenge, 1976).
Second, despite him being old, I do have generations of elders who had to ensure the spiteful in their lifetime, and in respect to their memories and sufferance I don’t have to take it from an egotistical bigot.
They deserve better, my elders, for help building this nation.
I’ll ask him then, at this juncture when will the hate end. Or is he just keeping it going until we imbue his own personal agitations in our own philosophies.
“But if you only have love for your own race, then you only leave space to discriminate”, the Black Eyed Peas put forward. So, Mahathir, where is the love?