Mallot (extreme left), Former US Ambassador Or Current Ambassador For Pakatan?
Malaysia's national tourism agency promotes the country as "a bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony." Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak echoed this view when he announced his government's theme, One Malaysia. "What makes Malaysia unique," Mr. Najib said, "is the diversity of our peoples. One Malaysia's goal is to preserve and enhance this unity in diversity, which has always been our strength and remains our best hope for the future."
If Mr. Najib is serious about achieving that goal, a long look in the mirror might be in order first. Despite the government's new catchphrase, racial and religious tensions are higher today than when Mr. Najib took office in 2009. Indeed, they are worse than at any time since 1969, when at least 200 people died in racial clashes between the majority Malay and minority Chinese communities. The recent deterioration is due to the troubling fact that the country's leadership is tolerating, and in some cases provoking, ethnic factionalism through words and actions.
1. Ambassador Mallot needs to be educated in the history behind the event in 1969 which led to several deaths, some of which though regretful, were nonetheless necessary in keeping with the original intentions and self-respect of a young, multi-racial country. In the 1969 elections, the DAP and another predominantly Chinese party made huge gains, but not quite the majority to govern. They obtained a permit to hold celebrations. Thousands of Chinese marched through the streets of Kuala Lumpur but diverted from their actual route into Malay dominated areas ridiculing and hurling vulgar insults at them. In another area, it was said that a Malay motorist was forced to help re-board pigs (an animal that’s taboo to Muslims and local Malays) that were overthrown from a truck for allegedly being the cause of an accident by the Chinese folks in the area. In another state, a Malay couple were slaughtered by the Chinese coming out of a cinema. Seeing the true and arrogant character of these Orientals when they seemed to be at an advantage over the rest, the Malay leaders had to take affirmative action to ensure that they know their place in this country showing mutual respect unlike in America where Caucasions like Mr Mallot cowardly force themselves to stand down when they are being insulted and called “white boy” by the Negros and in turn, don’t even dare to inversely call the latter by a name that reflects the colour of their skin.
2. For certain, the current situation in this blessed country reflects nothing of the kind that Mr Mallot tries to present to the Wall Street Journal reading world.
3. There is some truth is his contention that the leadership under Najib Razak is tolerating racial overtures, but only in the beginning. This is because there was some damage control that needed to be administered within the coalition after the disastrous and incompetent handling of the government by the Prime Minister before him who was unable to control the Indian and Chinese allies within the BN. They were being too comfortable shooting their mouths off to the extent of condemning their senior partner UMNO and the Malay agenda in public.
4. Indeed, the government failed before Najib’s tenure as Prime Minister because of the substandard leadership of the various parties within the Barisan Nasional Coalition (BN) representing their own communities, and of course the “ No-standard” leadership qualities of his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The Chinese and Indian leaders within the Coalition were given too much freedom in leading their own people that they forgot how to serve while becoming megalomaniacs behaving like they themselves were on equal standing wielding the same powers as the Prime Minister.
5. These leaders used BN to gain more power for themselves in their respective parties instead of using their parties to improve BN’s standing among the people. Then they extorted BN under the UMNO leadership and slept with the opposition in public statements as well as actions which proved politically fatal for the Presidents of MCA and MIC. Even the GERAKAN President and his party are put in their place by Najib after they barked across racial lines for attention while irresponsibly losing the whole State of Penang. Seriously speaking, at the rate things are going for DAP there, it will take another two elections at least before Penangites can forget GERAKAN’s lousy administration.
6. The problems never lied on the ethnic Chinese nor Indian people of Malaysia. They rested on the heads of their leaders who betrayed their own people for personal power, wealth, fame and glory which cost the BN Government dearly. The Malays are not their enemy. Their own leaders are.
7. Under Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia, the ethnic political leaders and their positions will be of little significance to Barisan Nasional because Najib and UMNO will be serving all races directly without having to tolerate the monkey business and antics of other party leaders as shown in the numerous by-elections recently. Under this system which serves all, they will be compelled to swim with Najib because without him, it will be with definite certainty that they will sink to the depths of oblivion. This establishment is rising fast in popularity based on its good work and fine people skills; mooted, advocated and practiced by the Prime Minister himself, as well as his equally productive Deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, whom before this had a more serious demeanor.
For instance, when the Catholic archbishop of Kuala Lumpur invited the prime minister for a Christmas Day open house last December, Hardev Kaur, an aide to Mr. Najib, said Christian crosses would have to be removed. There could be no carols or prayers, so as not to offend the prime minister, who is Muslim. Ms. Kaur later insisted that she "had made it clear that it was a request and not an instruction," as if any Malaysian could say no to a request from the prime minister's office.
8. The Prime Minister graciously accepted the invitation by the Archbishop on Christmas Day out of respect for the people celebrating the occasion. As was stated by Mallot, Najib’s aide made certain requests and they were satisfied by the Archbishop’s office, indicating that the said requests were not entirely outrageous in a country where Islam is the official religion, headed by a Muslim. So if it was graciously accepted by the latter’s office, they should forever hold their peace and so should stubborn former diplomats whom after three years in Malaysia, learnt nothing of its culture and strength.
9. The Archbishop's office could have said no to the request from the Prime Minister's office if it was "unChristian" or religiously inappropriate. It would have been understood and respected. People have said no the Prime Minister' s request before. Refer to the losses of the states of Selangor, Penang, Kedah and Perak in 2008. Was that a "YES" to the request by the Prime Minister for a further five year mandate?
10. Malaysia allows freedom of religion, perhaps with more conviction than any other country in the world. It is said to have more Hindu and Buddhist Temples per square kilometre in this country than even in India and China. I am writing this article at 0100 hours amid more than an hour of loud explosive sounds of the high calibred firecrackers imported from China with much tolerance, because it is the Chinese culture that we all share in Malaysia. Would this even be allowed in the residential areas of Washington DC, or even Jonesboro, Arkansas?
11. Religious and cultural tolerance are our strength for as long as we ignore foreign instigators who are non-practicing Preachers of their own doctrine.
Similar examples of insensitivity abound. In September 2009, Minister of Home Affairs Hishammuddin Onn met with protesters who had carried the decapitated head of a cow, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion, to an Indian temple. Mr. Hishammuddin then held a press conference defending their actions. Two months later, Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told Parliament that one reason Malaysia's armed forces are overwhelmingly Malay is that other ethnic groups have a "low spirit of patriotism." Under public pressure, he later apologized.
12. It was reported in the Star online on 3 September 2009, that Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein ordered the police to proceed with investigations and act sternly on those responsible in regard to the cow heads. He was not defending the actions of those guilty of the act, but the main protestors that were not associated with this small group. Hisham was merely controlling the situation from being blown out of context and proportion to maintain law, peace and order in a Nation with a host of sensitivities. If anything, Hisham is well known for kowtowing to Chinese pressure thinking less of the sensitivities of his own people. So this accusation shouldn’t even get past the starting block at all.
13. Mallot conveniently forgot to include how the Muslim Malays forgave a Chinese group of boys who smashed alcoholic beverages into the walls of a Mosque, when under extreme circumstances such as the one described by him regarding the racial situation here, those boys would have been easily slaughtered by even the most neutral of Muslims witnessing them in action.
14. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s blunder on the lack of Patriotism among non Malays may be beyond defense, though he was not entirely wrong with his statement. He looked even sillier apologizing after standing up in Parliament in arrogance looking cock-sure with his statement. One doesn’t act that way only to apologize under pressure. It doesn’t take a seasoned politician to tell the truth, which is, that positions were opened for applicants of all races. Unfortunately, the number of non-Malays applying for them were significantly insignificant.
The leading Malay language newspaper, Utusan Melayu, prints what opposition leader Lim Kit Siang calls a daily staple of falsehoods that stoke racial hatred. Utusan, which is owned by Mr. Najib's political party, has claimed that the opposition would make Malaysia a colony of China and abolish the Malay monarchy. It regularly attacks Chinese Malaysian politicians, and even suggested that one of them, parliamentarian Teresa Kok, should be killed.
15. I gather from reading the article, either Lim Kit Siang reads Utusan Malaysia more than he does the Chinese Dailies or he understood Malay better than Chinese or whatever dialects their papers are written in. This is because he accuses Utusan of stoking racial hatred when it is full of the same in the Chinese dailies. Perhaps, on this score, Mallot prefers the Malays not to step up to the plate and compete on merit and stand down like the timid Malay servant in the colonial days, serving the Chinese today like they served the “white boys” then.
This steady erosion of tolerance is more than a political challenge. It's an economic problem as well.
Once one of the developing world's stars, Malaysia's economy has underperformed for the past decade. To meet its much-vaunted goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020, Malaysia needs to grow by 8% per year during this decade. That level of growth will require major private investment from both domestic and foreign sources, upgraded human skills, and significant economic reform. Worsening racial and religious tensions stand in the way.
16. Malaysia was one of the World's rising developing stars because it was under the dynamic leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamed whom despite having great economic foresight, was a terrible judge of character (according to a leading journalist, which I agree) when he picked a lame duck to succeed him, whom in just five (5) years, almost completely dismantled twenty two (22) years of Mahathir’s great work setting us back by at least ten (10) years in development having to clean the mess.
17. Incompetence was the primary reason for the underperformance, not manageable racial and religious tensions. Under the auspices of Najib’s leadership, foreign investors are streaming in once again, thinking that with a leader with a stable economic acumen, and one who finally has the reigns, it is wise to invest here. They find that even though it’s a little more expensive than building a plant in China, it is still cheaper comparatively with better quality here in Malaysia than in the United States. In short, while we are gaining jobs here, America is losing theirs rather rapidly to China. Perhaps Mallot needs to look into how to address that within his shores.
18. Had Dr Mahathir followed the wisdom of the members of his UMNO party and chosen Najib accordingly to succeed him, Malaysia would have developed faster, perhaps even achieving that status way before Dr Mahathir's dateline of 2020.
Almost 500,000 Malaysians left the country between 2007 and 2009, more than doubling the number of Malaysian professionals who live overseas. It appears that most were skilled ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians, tired of being treated as second-class citizens in their own country and denied the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, whether in education, business, or government. Many of these emigrants, as well as the many Malaysian students who study overseas and never return (again, most of whom are ethnic Chinese and Indian), have the business, engineering, and scientific skills that Malaysia needs for its future. They also have the cultural and linguistic savvy to enhance Malaysia's economic ties with Asia's two biggest growing markets, China and India.
19. Though Mallot’s statistic is rather suspect, but we wish these Malaysians the very best of luck in their endeavours abroad and like a good number who’ve preferred to return when they brutally discovered that they were treated like third-class citizens ( a class below the alleged level here), they will be welcomed to rejoin the local workforce and their families where they belong. They are not treated second-class citizens here. If they were, they wouldn’t be allowed to attend vernacular schools conducting classes in the language of their forefathers and practice their cultures, no matter how irritating they can be for some. Do they have Hispanic schools in Mallot’s country? Which class of the society do they belong to?
Of course, one could argue that discrimination isn't new for these Chinese and Indians. Malaysia's affirmative action policies for its Malay majority—which give them preference in everything from stock allocation to housing discounts—have been in place for decades. So what is driving the ethnic minorities away now?
First, these minorities increasingly feel that they have lost a voice in their own government. The Chinese and Indian political parties in the ruling coalition are supposed to protect the interests of their communities, but over the past few years, they have been neutered. They stand largely silent in the face of the growing racial insults hurled by their Malay political partners. Today over 90% of the civil service, police, military, university lecturers, and overseas diplomatic staff are Malay. Even TalentCorp, the government agency created in 2010 that is supposed to encourage overseas Malaysians to return home, is headed by a Malay, with an all-Malay Board of Trustees.
20. The minorities were never denied their voice. They are just denied a higher tone than appropriate. When it comes to the minority who’re generally material based, the ability to speak is not primary to their being. The continued search for higher net worth is their priority, and we cannot fault them for that. Their exodus is for that cause alone. We wish them well and always open our arms when they return for as long as they don’t give up their citizenship. That is the beauty of freedom, proof of our love for them and that democracy is in full bloom in this country.
21. Naturally, in any country, the majority race will have the important positions while the others either prosper in business or are left to their own disposal. This is evident in our good neighbors Singapore, Indonesia, and even China. Even America produced a number not even worth mentioning of black Generals in its Armed Forces. The welcomed yet accidental victory of Barrack Obama as President was because the Republicans and the Clinton team failed to see the importance of the new media and the internet population. And he is not even a full red blooded African American having a Caucasion mother.
Second, economic reform and adjustments to the government's affirmative action policies are on hold. Although Mr. Najib held out the hope of change a year ago with his New Economic Model, which promised an "inclusive" affirmative action policy that would be, in Mr. Najib's words, "market friendly, merit-based, transparent and needs-based," he has failed to follow through. This is because of opposition from right-wing militant Malay groups such as Perkasa, which believe that a move towards meritocracy and transparency threatens what they call "Malay rights."
22. The economic reform is not on hold. Prime Minister Najib has relaxed some of the sectors in the economy whereby the rigid 30 percent Bumiputera equity no longer became mandatory and several other inclusive economic packages. Further pressure from ungrateful minority leaders will not help in expediting the process and opening new horizons. They take time to adopt. Nothing changes overnight! It took America 233 years to see a half-black -half-white President and Commander-in-Chief (222 years if ones dates it after the adoption of the Constitution).
But stalling reform will mean a further loss in competitiveness and slower growth. It also means that the cronyism and no-bid contracts that favor the well-connected will continue. All this sends a discouraging signal to many young Malaysians that no matter how hard they study or work, they will have a hard time getting ahead.
23. Young Malaysians have no problem getting jobs in this country unless they want to take the shortcut by dreaming of getting contracts that they know absolutely nothing about. Being well connected shouldn’t be a curse and while it is celebrated and encouraged, today’s leadership emphasizes on one’s ability to perform and not one’s close proximity with the powers that be. The Civil Service many of whom also support the opposition has been given much power where Cabinet ministers prefer to rely on their advocate before making a decision.
24. Could the cronyism and no-bid contracts that Mallot was referring to, be like the Halliburton Company that got contracts in Iraq by the former US administration due to their excellent connections?
Mr. Najib may not actually believe much of the rhetoric emanating from his party and his government's officers, but he tolerates it because he needs to shore up his Malay base. It's politically convenient at a time when his party faces its most serious opposition challenge in recent memory—and especially when the opposition is challenging the government on ethnic policy and its economic consequences. One young opposition leader, parliamentarian Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, has proposed a national debate on what she called the alternative visions of Malaysia's future—whether it should be a Malay nation or a Malaysian nation. For that, she earned the wrath of Perkasa; the government suggested her remark was "seditious."
25. If indeed Najib Razak tolerates the rhetoric, it is not for the need to shore up Malay support because the good majority of them already know that his ability to lead with his loyal and able Deputy at hand to support him is Malaysia’s final hope. The tolerance mentioned is to fend off equally aggressive pressure from the minority leaders breaching our trust and camaraderie, taking advantage of the short spell of weakness in leadership of Dr Mahathir’s successor Abdullah Badawi.
26. Mallot needs to redeem his credentials and withdraw his advertisement for Nurul Izzah MP’s proposed national debate on whether Malaysia should be a Malay or Malaysian nation. In their recently soiled party elections, her father-and-mother’s party of Keadilan couldn’t even afford a space to non-Malays to contest the top posts other than minor positions acting as servants to their family cause. If I have a compliment to present at all to Anwar Ibrahim and his family, it is their ability to turn this “white boy” Mallot into one of their associate servants serving in a foreign “mansion”.
Malaysia's government might find it politically expedient to stir the racial and religious pot, but its opportunism comes with an economic price tag. Its citizens will continue to vote with their feet and take their money and talents with them. And foreign investors, concerned about racial instability and the absence of meaningful economic reform, will continue to look elsewhere to do business.
27. This is a price that we can afford to pay because the “rich” minority will soon discover that it is to their benefit not to antagonize the majority Malays, and decide to maintain their wealth and roots here, coming to their senses. They have more to lose than the Malays because the opportunity to prosper in Malaysia for them is like no other in the world, and that’s a bankable fact!
28. Foreign investors take into consideration the valid safety of their long term investments in any country. They will send feelers and forensic economic investigators and advisors to the nations of their choice and not rely on one article by a washed-up diplomat just because it’s written in the Wall Street Journal.
29. Malaysia is still the most conducive country to invest in this region. It is rich with natural resources; still fairly cheap in labour; free from terrorism; with political stability; no catastrophic weather and extreme geographical conditions; and under Najib Razak, an intelligent leader who knows his worth, consistent in its sound policies.
30. Though Ambassador Mallot May Have Wasted His Tour Of Duty Here, Not Learning Anything About The Country He Was Commissioned To Serve In, Perhaps These 30 Points May Be Used As Cliffsnotes For Him And His Like As A Quick Study Guide To Better Understand The Political And Social Culture Of This Blessed Nation.
Mr. Malott was the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, 1995-1998.
The Respondent is the Vice Chief of the Pulai UMNO Division in Johor.