Saturday, December 26, 2009


Oleh Kee Thuan Chye

Dr Mahathir is not known for consistency, and this is evident from the comments he has been making in public. One of his latest transgressions of good sense is embodied in his call to Malaysians of Chinese and Indian origins to forget their roots in order to make 1Malaysia a success, and for Indian Muslims to choose whether they want to be considered “Indian” or “Muslim”.

On the first issue, he says the Chinese and Indians of this country should consider themselves Malaysians, like the Thais and Indonesians. Unless he is privy to data that indicates that Chinese and Indian citizens of this country still consider China and India their home, I should think that most of these people consider themselves none other than Malaysians. What would Mahathir have them do to prove themselves Malaysian? Deny their ethnicity and stop practising the customs of their forefathers? Declare a moratorium on their learning of their mother tongue?

Many Chinese and Indian Malaysians I know have no links to any “mother country” and are fiercely loyal to this country and care greatly for its welfare. Many of them are patriotic to a fault. Many of them choose to stay on when the chips are down instead of emigrate to “greener pastures”. Isn’t that what counts? Why should they eschew their ethnic origins? It is what they were born with.

In America, you can be of whatever ethnic origin and nobody tells you to forget your roots. In Thailand, many are of Chinese origin but they still celebrate Chinese New Year without being less Thai. In Indonesia, Javanese call themselves Javanese and Balinese call themselves Balinese, but only Mahathir implies that “Indonesian” is monolithic.

On the second issue regarding Indian Muslims, Mahathir is obviously confusing race with religion. It is obvious that Indian Muslims are ethnically Indian; there’s no running away from it. Is there now an ethnic category called “Muslim” that the public is not aware of? Would that be included in official forms and documents? Does Mahathir mean that if they choose to be Muslim, they cease to be Indian? That’s not possible. I suspect he means that they should stop being culturally Indian and become culturally Muslim, but why should “Indian” and “Muslim” be mutually exclusive? Is it decreed in the Holy Book? Before Pakistan came about in 1947, there were countless Indians in India who were Muslim. Surely, they did not stop being culturally Indian?

Confusing race with religion is a tactic that is often used by our politicians to befuddle the people, especially those who don’t know better. It is wielded as a political weapon to divide the populace. Mahathir, being a former Prime Minister, surely knows that. It is greatly ironic that he should use this in the same context as the issue regarding the Chinese and Indians. Is he calling for 1Malaysia on one hand and brandishing the weapon of divisiveness on the other?

Well, how’s that for inconsistency in one breath?