The Ugly Malaysian

By Mariam Mokhtar
May 2, 11 | Malaysiakini

It was to be expected that when ‘The Ugly Chinaman’ appeared in this column last week, the Chinese ‘face’ was slighted. Many ignored the fact that the offensive bits were attributes, made by the writer Bo Yang, about his fellow Chinese.

The article also incorporated answers from a questionnaire I had circulated within a small cross-section of Malaysians (Chinese and non-Chinese), that although unscientific, gave a flavour of what people perceived of the Chinese.

For a brief moment, the normally reticent Chinese was indignant. The messenger had to be shot.

When previous articles appeared under this column, condemning the Malays, I was seen as a champion of all races and praised for ‘seeing it from the other side’.

I called the Malays “stupid and lazy”, and the readers were delighted. I called the Malays “comatose” and “being afraid of themselves”, and the readers whipped themselves into a frenzy. I admonished the Malays for picking on those who practised yoga, for whipping beer-drinkers or for treating their women worse than slaves or cattle, and the crowd bayed for more.

‘They’ loved it when I said the Malays used religion to subjugate and control their own race. I called the ‘new’ Malay corrupt for he prayed at the ‘altar of money’.

I poured scorn on the Malay who prayed five times a day but was happy to marry a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. And I ridiculed those Malay women who refused to condemn injustices against other women.

If anyone is conscious of the Ugly Malay, I was one of them and I had never balked at acknowledging his presence.

Who’s not racist?

So whilst the faceless ‘they’ revelled in Malay bashing, especially when one Malay was vocal against another, the ugly Chinaman revealed his hypocrisy.

There was outrage when I wrote what other Malaysians had described to me was their negative observations of the Chinese. Perhaps, those who were affronted were not aware this ‘other’ Chinaman existed. Perhaps they had not looked in the mirror lately.

If we, as Malaysians, cannot accept criticism, and are too sensitive, then we are not ready for change and reform.

The Ugly Chinaman was a warning that Malay extremists were terrifying the Malay community by exaggerating the bad traits of the Chinese, whatever these were.

Education and awareness would prevent extremists from scoring successes.

We all display varying degrees of racism within us but before we can hope to change others, we have to alter our behaviour first. Despite our prejudices, most of us do get on well with people from other races.

The problem is that our politicians are the ones who bring out the race-card and together with the mainstream media, exploit it to the fullest, by bombarding us with racist messages till we believe their racist rants, and we become extremists, with uncompromising and intolerant attitudes.

Discrimination within

Generally, Malays are more homogenous and more unified in character than the other races. At least racism within the Malay race, is relatively uniform, the Javanese, Bugis, Acheh or Minangkabau Malays, possibly even Malays from Kerala, are loosely termed ‘Malay’.

But what about the intra-communal differences that separate the Chinese community? Isn’t this a form of racism? These differences in class, ideology, cultural heritage and language, have influenced how the Chinese align their political and business objectives in the country.

The Chinese community in Malaysia is composed of several culturally distinct groups from China, like the Hokkien, Hakka, and Cantonese. Despite their cultural and linguistic differences, they bond because they share the same celebrations like Chinese New Year or because of the Chinese written language.

This is where the smart Malay exploits the disunited Chinese.

The Chinese business elite, or the towkay class, have leaders who reaped considerable profits from their relations with the Malays. And it is these towkays who will presumably be the first to resist calls for the elimination of the bumiputera status.

Sadly, the poor Chinese is overlooked because many people focus on this towkay class, who flourish, who are financially secure and who can easily acquire prime real estate. It is the towkays who make up the backbone of the MCA today.

One academic who did research into Malaysian politics described how a Chinese businessman said he preferred working with the Malays over the Chinese, because the businessman thought the Chinese were “too calculative and untrustworthy”.

No community innocent

Even within the ‘Indian’ race, there are subdivisions. Those who originated from Ceylon detest the Tamils. Or the English educated Indians, who in significant numbers are Christian, abhor the Malay-speaking Hindu and vice-versa.

Whilst many Malaysians have expressed a desire to remove ethnic and bumiputera politics, enough non-Malays are wary of the consequences of taking political action. They are afraid that if they vote for the opposition, they risk losing their socio-economic positions and connections.

The leaders of MCA and MIC want to remain in power and they are prepared to betray their own kind. They have failed to uphold the rights of their people. Their silence keeps Umno in control.

But isn’t it time we went beyond race and banned all prejudice?

Must we condemn Malaysia to a future which can only be seen in terms of Malay dilemmas, the plight of the Chinese or the Indian predicament?

Shouldn’t the country be rid of communal politics? It is time the Ugly Malaysian faded away.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.

  1. #1 by limkamput on Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 12:50 pm

    Don’t worry too much, Mariam. Please say whatever you want, it is free. Most Chinese are treacherous, selfish and racist, that is for sure. They are not a great race despite their 5000 years of civilisation. May be because of their long civilisation, they think they are greater than others. But they forgot dinosaurs were even older. They need benevolent dictatorship like LKY to whip them into shape.

  2. #2 by sotong on Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 1:46 pm

    Mariam, have courage to keep writing…..many ugly Malaysians dislike what you wrote – the truth is uncomfortable to hear!

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