Dear brother and sister Malaysians,
I have strong convictions we need to GO BACK TO BASICS and get to know each other better. There are many ways to do this. Best of coz, is to work and live together. But, reading can speed things up. Here I would like to propose 3 books that I have found helpful. The writing is styled as a Q and A effort. So would all the BACK TO BASICS series I would be posting in the future.
If you like the books, do purchase and have a great time reading them …
Among the three books I’m proposing, this is the most balanced book. It was written by a writer who was asked to write by a group of people to give a neutral, balanced view point.
Muzaffar Desmond Tate passed away just after the book was launched, he didn’t really get to see his good work. I was hungry to look for the latest info on Malaysian Indians and when I saw this book, I jumped and picked it up. It is a very balanced and scholarly book but yet it was written in an easy to read manner. There are not many scholarly books that are written in an easy to read manner like this. We are lucky to have this work.
a) The writer wasn’t a Malaysian Indian. Does he write in his capacity as a researcher?
He was an educationist. He writes pretty well. His writing is very clear, he gives a lot of information and data but it doesn’t sound very academic - it’s not going to put you to sleep. At least it didn’t put me to sleep, but that’s because I really wanted to finish the book.
I remember I made it as my hero book, in other words I carried it everywhere I went so I could finish it as soon as possible. It also gives an adequate overview and traces of history about our Brother and Sister Indians. It helps us understand the many colors of Indians and also most importantly it will help you understand why there is an urgent need to focus and help the Indian poor.
b) Can you share a couple of phrases from this book?
The Indians came to this land in various batches. The earlier Indians who came were basically well-off. The book says however, “the large numbers of Tamils who arrived in Malaya during the British colonial period were very different in composition and character from the Buddhist and upper caste Hindus predecessors. These latter day travelers who were drawn from the lower ranks of Tamil society arrived as contract laborers for the tin mines and agricultural estates, their passages and other expenses paid for.”
This system was by contract and they got meager wages. Needless to say that this system was open to great abuse on the ancestors of many of our Tamilian brothers and sisters. It continues, “The greatest social change since independence, for the Indian community, is that of urbanization in tandem with the country’s rapid economic growth and individualization.”
Now while the country is really growing, it used to be that we never had TVs and now we have three TVs in one home. But “this has brought new social problems; the most glaring is the presence of a rootless class of urban squatters, who have come to be associated in the public mind with an upsurge of violence and crime.” So “the new poverty syndrome of Indians”, this book says, “in the towns is matched by seemingly endemic and intractable poverty in the rural areas and particularly in the estates”.
It is talking about the urban poor. These are the things we need to know, not just all of us Malaysians but also our policy makers.
He also gives a socioeconomic study of the Indian community in Penang. I think it was data from September 1997. Let me read this - “It is also noted that the problem of ill health and other social ills found among the Indian children are identical to those faced by other economically disadvantaged groups whether the Malays, Chinese, Orang Asli or any other indigenous people in Sabah and Sarawak with a clear inference that poverty and poor socioeconomic conditions and not ethnicity lay at the root of this problem.” One of the biggest problems here is every time something happens to the Indian poor they will say, ‘ohh it must be Indian movies”. I think that’s an easy way out. I think it’s more that that. The crux of the issue is of course socioeconomics.
a)Why do you recommend this book?
This is the most enjoyable read among these three books - this could be personal because it was written by a businessman and I’m a businessman. The way he writes is very pragmatic. He looks at the country from both positive and negative side. It is very honest, very brave, and very direct. I enjoyed reading this book and I’ve given it away copies of it to many people.
The original writer, Ye Lin-Sheng’s parents were from China. He grew up probably in a middle class family but he made it big in Malaysia and became one of the biggest men in the country. It has been suggested that this book is as controversial as Tun Mahathir’s “The Malay Dilemma” so it is called “The Chinese Dilemma” and even New Straits Times said that “this honest assessment of Malaysian practice of positive discrimination is likely to provoke intense controversy”. It wasn’t banned though; maybe if it was launched any earlier, it would have been banned.
b)It is said that the Chinese Dilemma hasn’t the sharpness of the Malay dilemma?
Probably because this chap is a businessman. Businesspeople, we learn a few important tricks, we say be daring but don’t be stupid. That said, he wrote what he wanted to say, his message is put across but at the same time he didn’t say it in a way that will get him into trouble. There’s a thin line between being daring and getting yourself into trouble. And of course, his book is not as impactful as Dr. Mahathir’s book. “The Malay Dilemma” is really impactful, I think Tun Mahathir’s ability to write goes sharp to your heart. That is of course, God-given, I wish I could write like that…
c) What does “The Chinese Dilemma” address?
It addresses the attitudes of the Chinese, the Malays, and the Westerners towards the New Economic Policies. He also gives comparison on what they do in America and things like that. Basically Ye Lin-Sheng tries to sell the idea that the NEP is not too bad after all. There are a lot of areas that we need to look into… that’s why he is very pragmatic, talking about the good points and the bad points. And the good points are more than the bad points - this is what he intends to say. He argues that ‘whatever the cost, the benefits of the New Economic Policies are indisputable’.
He also gives the negative side. He gave some feedback on how the Chinese feel, I think that’s important. Tun Mahathir basically gives a feedback on what is in the soul or the heart of the Malays and I think Ye Lin-Sheng did the same thing here for the Chinese.
d)Can you give us an example?
Just a quick quote - “Rightly or wrongly, many Chinese are not reassured that the Malay will act in good faith. Can we trust them to be fair? In shifting the balance of advantage do they know where to stop?”
These are the nagging questions the Chinese have at the back of their minds and I think it’s fair. I think somebody should say how we feel inside and this book actually did that.
e)What’s another key point that the book highlights?
He talked about keeping an open mind - “when we keep an open and skeptical mind, we may see that the non-Malays has not had a bad deal in Malaysia. To those who disagree with me, my rejoinder is just look around the world, the lesson is clear, peace and national cohesion is better than war and disintegration. I’m not saying that the non-Malays have no grounds to complaint, they have, as earlier chapters have made it clear, but in grievances as of all things, it’s best to have a sense of proportion.”
This is what I really like, a sense of proportion. Let’s have a sense of proportion, see things in a balance. But at the end he also says “I will end with a quote from a young black American…” He says, “neither a black American or a white American says he has anywhere el
se to go now. He is here to stay, he must make it work or lose all here.” So he suggests to the Chinese here to make it work or lose it all here. Here is the lesson for Chinese Malaysians to bear in mind. He is a very pragmatic person. Not everybody will agree with what he said, but it’s a book worth reading.
This book was written about twenty over years ago, and he rewrote it a few years ago. Prof. Syed Husin Ali was then the deputy PKR president. I think I want to introduce this book because when the government-side or the Barisan-side says something, a big segment of Malaysians tends not to listen to it. But its good to listen to certain things we need to know and I thought I’d choose Syed Husin Ali’s book.
a)What does this book talk about?
The book is really good, of course, because it goes back to the origin of the Malays, their history & religion, economics and politics and it also discusses Malay poverty, for example. If you look the end of the book, you can see a lot of data, data in comparison with other ethnic groupings too, not just Malay poverty, for example.
Syed Husin’s book also discusses the impact of modernity and the impact of what we have done, including the development from the past years for the average Malay. So the book does give a quick overview of the entire picture. If you read this book it’s more than enough for a start to understand the Malays.
b)Can you share with us a segment or two from the book?
I’ll try to pick a few segments here and there. But of course you should read the book in entirety to get the full picture. This is on page two,
“Quite often when we refer to the term Malay, we think only of those who are living in the Peninsula. Descendants of the Malays in the Philippines are now known as Filipinos, while those in the former Dutch territories are called Indonesians. Our eyes have been shaded by three separate political boundaries to such an extent that we lose sight of the similarities in ancestry, of culture and history which are the common heritage of all the inhabitants of the Malays archipelago.”
You can see this happening now, ‘Oh this guy is a Bugis’, that kind of thing, and they don’t know that the Bugis is also Malay. I think we have to be careful there. We tend to think that the Malay is only in Peninsula Malaysia, this is a very myopic view point. I think this is a very important part of the book - “The Malay as an ethnic group has been defined on a basis of both legal constitutional and historical cultural effect.” In other words, Malay is defined in our constitution and also historically and culturally. I think that is very big, it is a good concept to learn and understand.
c)What other key points can we pick up from the book?
I think this particular one - “Although absolute poverty has been reduced, relative poverty widening of the socioeconomic gap has increased. NEP helps to sponsor Malay rich and has resulted in nepotism and cronyism.”
With discussions like this, I think the book is balanced. Maybe towards the end there is a bit of a socialist viewpoint, but as a whole the book is pretty good to read.
d)What sort of action points can we take from what we have spoken about?
Let’s get smarter. We should read and read and read. Malaysians should read more, at least two hours a day if possible, but if you can get one hour to one and a half hours would be good.
When we are better informed, we are less likely to be hoodwinked by anyone, be they politicians or businesspeople or whoever. Please get these books, it’s not expensive. But of course maybe somebody out there who is listening, who has the ability and time and also the love, should write on ‘the Malaysian dilemma’.