After watching the news on TV3 and listening to some of the speeches made at the currently ongoing UMNO General Assembly - which ranged from exhortations of "don't challenge our rights and privileges" to "don't force us to mengamuk (run amok)", etc... - I was so sickened by the unadulterated racial bigotry (thinly disguised as ethnic patriotism) - that I really didn't how I was going to respond without sinking to their level of hate-peddling.
I then remembered a passage from Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs where he addressed this very issue in a landmark speech to the Malaysian parliament in 1965. Re-reading just now (luckily the book's not due back at the library till later this week), I can't help but feel that those words eloquently express the current sentiments of many young Malaysians, though major parts of it were spoken 41 years ago, at the dawn of Malaysia... the Malaysia that could have been.
Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. The Singapore Story.(Excerpts from pages 325-328 of the Abridged Edition)
The next day, I made my most important speech in the federal parliament to a hostile and tense audience, including a large number of Malay MPs who had been fed daily with anti-PAP, anti-Lee Kuan Yew and anti-Chinese propaganda by the Utusan over the past year. I moved an amendment to express regret that the King's address did not reassure the nation that it would continue to progress in accordance with its democratic constitution towards a Malaysian Malaysia.
But Dr Mahathir’s speech implied that this could never happen. I quoted what he had said the day before about the Chinese in Singapore. "They have never known Malay rule and couldn’t bear the idea that the people they have so long kept under their heels should now be in a position to rule them". To rule them? I drew a distinction between political equality and the special rights for the economic and social uplift of the Malays. I accepted the special rights, but if the other peoples of Malaysia were denied political equality with the Malays, we would not need Sukarno and the Confrontation to crush us.
Having reached the most sensitive part of my speech, in which I would expose the inadequacy of UMNO's policies, I decided to speak in Malay. Although my Malay was not as good as my English, I was fluent compared with other non-Malay MPs. I said that while I accepted Malay as the sole official language, I did not see how it could raise the economic position of the people. Would it mean that the produce of the Malay farmer would increase in price, that he would get better prices? Would he get improved facilities from the government?
I said that the Tunku had frequently said in public and in private that the Chinese were rich and the Malays poor, but I used some simple examples to highlight a few points, still speaking in Malay. "Special rights and Malay as the national language were not the answer to this economic problem. If out of 4 and a ½ million Malays and another 3/4s of a million Ibans, Kadazans and others, we made 0.3% of them company shareholders, would we solve the problem of Malay poverty?"
"How does a Malay in the kampong find his way out into this modernized civil society? By becoming servants of the 0.3% who would have the money to hire them to clean their shoes, open their motorcar doors? Of course there are Chinese millionaires in big cars and big houses. Is it the answer to make a few Malay millionaires with big cars and big houses? How does telling a Malay bus driver that he should support the party of his Malay director (UMNO) and the Chinese bus conductor to join another party of his Chinese director (MCA) - how does that improve the standards of the Malay bus driver and the Chinese bus conductor who are both workers in the same company?"
"If we delude people into believing that they are poor because there are no Malay rights or because opposition members oppose Malay rights, where are we going to end up? You let people in the kampongs believe that they are poor because we don’t speak Malay, because the government does not write in Malay, so he expects a miracle to take place in 1967 (the year Malay would become the national and sole official language). The moment we all start speaking Malay, he is going to have an uplift in the standard of living, and if it doesn’t happen, what happens then?"
"Meanwhile , whenever there is a failure of economic, social and educational policies, you come back and say, oh, these wicked Chinese, Indians and others opposing Malay rights. They don’t oppose Malay rights. They, the Malays, have the right as Malaysian citizens to go up to the level of training and education that the more competitive societies, the non-Malay society, has produced. That is what must be done, isn’t it? Not feed them with this obscurantist doctrime that all they have got to do is get Malay rights for a few special Malays and theIr problem has been resolved…"