Mahathir’s race legacy now haunts him
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AUGUST 3 — Race-identity is a Malaysian curse.
This is about Mahathir Mohamad and the right’s ― a gang he used to own ― insidious attacks over his genealogy. This is also as much about the country’s opportunity to rise above racism.
His former gang zeroes-in on race as that ― rather than purpose ― holds the Federation of Malaysia together, unfortunately.
Race is an identifier, certainly, but so are gender, age, sexual orientation, geographic origin, income class, educational background, spoken languages and other demographical details.
However, political expediency as argued thoroughly last week raised race’s prominence as a “be all” to existence in present-day Malaysia.
On the other hand, purpose is a social construct nurtured by rule of law, faith in a common fate and space for discourse. In a crude manner, it is us talking our way to love supported by an intuitive belief in our common destiny with assurances we won’t to bludgeoned while undertaking this initiative.
Equally apt to say ― more so in August, when we celebrate Independence Day ― patriots are necessary to sustain a nation’s purpose. But is a racist a patriot?
Mahathir did not share this sentiment, to bolster purpose and counter racism, as seen in his 1995 book, The Malaysian System of Government.
Mahathir mistrusts commoners and feels control rather than democracy leads to prosperity.
He surmised races are better served by accepting racism as an inescapable human trait. By acknowledging one’s inalienable bigotry, all citizens can accept the limitations of Malaysian life. We are many nations in one country in Mahathir’s mind, and by toeing the line of power differentiated by each race’s fixed value, detriments are avoided.
By fixed value, he meant as he always has since a young lad, Malay supremacy.
Equality to him was a foreign concept, disrespectful to cultural truths and birth-rights. In Mahathir’s universe, there is no natural law, just possible outcomes when managing an unfair anatomy. The heart matters more than a calf no matter how many miles its strides serve the body. The body is one, but the heart is superior to the lower half of the leg. This is irrefutable in any triage room, therefore it should hold in a political chamber.
This also relies on him being categorised as a heart and not a calf. He would never support a system where he was not by definition, on top.
His opponents now attempt to downgrade him from being a heart to just merely a calf.
In this race-saddled society, which he preserved with diligence during his tenure, this is his nightmare.
Which is why I struggle, I truly do, to not smile reading these national rewrites about Mahathir.
The strategy against him is to blitz with no right of reply till opinions shift. After all, a historical fact’s veracity is predicated on how often and with what force that “truth” is repeated.
Now, as it was in Mahathir’s Malaysia, the dominant version of truth held up by authorities is truth. Textbooks can’t possibly lie, can they?
Only difference is, he is at the receiving end of the treatment now.
The long road to recovery
Mahathir did more to disintegrate race relations in the country than any prime minister before, or since.
He wanted Malaysians to be willing racists and to be proud about it.
With race as the determiner and every development through its lens ― with nuances discarded ― it will require great perseverance to shepherd Malaysians out of the hate spiral.
Even PKR, the beacon for multicultural parties, fails the test.
The lack of Malay dominance in membership is hoped to be mitigated by reassurances it is a party with a Malay spine, meaning led by Malays regardless of internal demographics.
It resides intellectually in Mahathir’s framing of the Malaysian psyche of race, always race first before ideas.
For PKR to rise above race-identity limitations, courage would be required.
It’s not just about opening the party roll to all Malaysians, it is about unapologetically opening the party’s heart to all Malaysians.
PKR has to come around to this existentialist challenge, even after the next general election.
Mahathir’s unabashed view of “race, always race, never sway from the race agenda” has rendered us incapable to forget colour and remember we are Malaysians.
He strengthened the idea of race at the expense of the idea of Malaysia. He failed to sense that every time there is an overemphasis of Malay interest costumed in Malay rights, he was chipping away at Malaysia’s frame.
Now his political children are bent on disassociating him not only from their party, but from their race.
If they are successful, they’d cut down Mahathir at the knees.
Mahathir has countered with his personal testimony and those of friends and family.
Is he not aware his opponents during his administration tried in vain to counter his propaganda machine with truth? Granted, there is the Internet now as a game changer, but how many of Mahathir’s voters in the rural belt are locked-in to online information sharing?
Twenty-seven years ago, Razaleigh Hamzah fell foul to ad hominem attacks on the eve of a tense general election because a picture of him with a hat adorned with what looks like a crucifix was photocopied to death and distributed from Arau to Johor Baru. Many say, this shifted enough votes to defeat Razaleigh’s Semangat 46 in key seats.
Perhaps generating doubt of Mahathir’s parentage is all that is necessary to shift a lethal margin of votes away from him.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.
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