Mariam Mokhtar on Unmasking the Moderate Malay Mind, and Putting Malaysia First

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The difference between an oyster and a moderate Malay is that it is easier to prise open an oyster than to open the Malay mind.

If you converse with some Malays, be prepared to spend hours going around in circles.

Try not to blame him, because he is the product of 50 years of brainwashing, the Biro Tata Negara (BTN) and our education system.

Most of the time, your questions will be met with blank stares. Summon your inner reserves, when he replies with “They will not approve…” or “They will say…”

When you remind him, that you are asking him, and not the invisible “them”, he keeps quiet.

My conversation with one ‘moderate’ Malay started when he urged me to give Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin a chance.

I responded with, “He stole our votes from GE14. Neither you, nor I, voted for him. Why let him get away with it?”

After a long silence, he said, “Let Muhyiddin prove himself.”

Has my friend dismissed the trip-ups by key ministers in Muhyiddin’s cabinet, from the health minister’s remedy for coronavirus, which is to drink warm water, to the environment minister, who wants to initiate an investigation of our sewage system to halt the spread of the coronavirus?

I asked, “Will you accept a non-Malay PM?”

He said, “They will not approve.”

I said, “Who are ‘they’? I am asking ‘you’, not ‘them’.”

More silence.

I reminded him of our previous corrupt Malay leaders and said, “The nation comes first. A clean, principled and capable non-Malay, who speaks fluent Malay and is an upright Malaysian has every right to be PM.”


I asked, “What are your fears?”

He said, “We don’t want to end up like the Palestinians. Malays will have nowhere to go. This is our land. That is why this country is called ‘Malay-sia’.”

When I mentioned our apartheid policies, he went quiet, then said, “The Chinese already control the economy, so the Malays should be allowed to control politics.”

I said, “Wouldn’t you want the Malays to do better economically? The NEP has done nothing to uplift the Malays. Don’t you want improvements and a change for the better?”

He said, “Blame the British for divide and rule,” forgetting that the nation was united, until Umno Baru used the three Rs to seal their grip on power.

I said, “Let’s deal with the current situation, and heal the nation.”


I repeated, “Why not give a competent, principled non-Malay the chance to lead Malaysia?”

He said, “There are none.”

I said, “A few non-Malays in the previous Harapan cabinet have proven themselves.”

He mentioned one familiar household name but omitted the other non-Malays who had performed exceptionally well. Unsurprisingly, no female made his shortlist.

Then, he stipulated that a non-Malay PM had to “guarantee” that they would not become corrupt. I asked if he had made similar demands of Malay PMs, such as disgraced Najib Abdul Razak or Muhyiddin Yassin.

After four hours of talking, he finally admitted, “I don’t want a non-Malay PM.”

Many Malaysians think that the problems of racism, Ketuanan Melayu and religious extremism stem from the rural Malays, whom they consider “uneducated” and ignorant.

The rural Malays are not the problem. The biggest threat is posed by the urban Malays who fear the loss of their unearned privileges, from contracts to housing allocations and to scholarships.

Many people will think that the Malay to whom I spoke is from a kampung. He is not.

He is Western-educated, middle-class and lives in Kuala Lumpur. He is not a conservative Malay/Muslim, but a run-of-the-mill moderate Malay. Our conversation was in English.

He strongly supports Pakatan Harapan and rejects Umno Baru. He does not wear religion on his sleeve, but like most Malays, is a practising Muslim, and like many Malays, has a patriarchal streak within him.

My opinions, though not scientifically proven, were based on my observations.

At the time of Merdeka, 70 percent of Malays lived in the rural areas, but with migration to the cities, and modernisation, only 30 percent of the Malay population remains in the kampung.

Today, the Malays who demand syariah law and want Malay women to take a back-seat role are not the rural folk.

The villagers are too busy trying to survive, to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. They have no time to deliberate the finer points of governance, rule of law or human rights. They have no access to the internet, whereas the urban Malays do – but the websites they visit are questionable.

Contrary to popular belief, the Malays who demand a more Islamic society in a multicultural Malaysia are the ones who are comfortable in Western attire, who converse in English, are Western-educated, well-travelled, professional and articulate.

The Malays have been conditioned since childhood, through a mixture of family upbringing, agama classes, peer pressure, Friday sermons, extra agama classes in the mosque and various community groups, to believe that they cannot criticise their own brethren.

Instead, they believe imported fugitives like Dr Zakir Naik, who speaks in English and tells them that a corrupt Muslim leader is preferable to an honest non-Muslim.

If we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past 63 years, Harapan politicians need to change the narrative and work harder to convince the Malays that their and their family’s well-being is not at the mercy of a non-Malay PM.

If my car breaks down, I must first pinpoint the problem, before repairing it. It does not matter if I have a locally made Proton, or an imported model. The same with Malaysia.

Before the nation can overcome its many issues, the moderate Malays must acknowledge that they have a problem. – Malaysiakini

The views expressed here are strictly those of the writer.