TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad has recently – yet again – voiced out his opinion that the racial problem in Malaysia is caused by Chinese and Indians refusing to assimilate into becoming Malays.
The problem with Mahathir is that he doesn’t understand that what he sees as assimilation is actually ethnic genocide.
Assimilation is a naturally occurring phenomenon that will occur when two or more races interact on the basis of fairness and mutual respect.
The original formation of the Malay race itself was done on the basis of assimilation. The Malay race was formed in ancient times by the various groups of people who were involved in the control of the Malacca and Sunda straits as well as the spice trade.
For centuries and decades, Southeast Asians, Australasians, Indians, Chinese, sea people and the aboriginal races had all come to form an organisation that could control the straits and the spice trade.
These Kings of the straits and the lords of the spices then assimilated to become the Malay race.
When assimilation occurs, you are not expected to abandon your roots, your memories, your past or your identity, and embrace the roots, memories, past and identities of another group.
Instead, the collective identities of all the group involved in the process of assimilation will interact with each other in a natural fashion to bring about a new identity that is distinct from the groups that formed it – in the same way that the colour purple is distinct from the colours red and blue that originally formed it.
A modern example of assimilation is in the formation of the American people. The Americans are a distinct group of people who were formed by various races and ethnicities from all over the world after they interacted among themselves for a period of multiple generations.
Their cuisine, culture, music, belief system, social arrangement and traditions are inspired by the various groups that formed them but they are distinct in themselves.
Other than the Black Americans and the Native Americans (ie the Red Indians), no races in America were compelled to forget or eliminate their old identity. Instead, through a process of assimilation, their past memories and old identities will naturally evolve to become a new identity.
Among the subgroups of Americans today, the blacks and the Native Americans are among the ones that find it the hardest to assimilate to the American way of life; the blacks precisely because they were forced to eliminate their past memories and identity when they came to America as slaves.
Even from the experiences of the black and Native Americans, we can see that forceful elimination of the identity of a people is never a good idea. The humiliation and pain it will inflict will endure for generations and threaten to upset the foundation of the nation whenever it gets a chance.
Dr Mahathir’s experience
Dr Mahathir’s view of assimilation is likely genocidal because his own experience of becoming Malay was most probably a self-inflicted genocidal process.
In his transformation into becoming a “constitutional Malay”, Dr Mahathir would use the constitution to transmorph himself into becoming a Malay by cleansing himself of his past memories and old identity.
He now blames us for not being able to do what he has done to himself but we are not him. We do not see ourselves that highly nor do we have such an extraordinary ambition.
Dr Mahathir could only ethnically cleanse himself, likely because he thought it was his destiny to rise to the top of the nation, hence he needed to ethnically cleanse himself to fulfil his great ambition.
If we thought our destiny was to rise to the top of the nation, maybe we could bring ourselves to ethnically cleanse ourselves, too. The price might be steep but since the prize is great, we might see the worth in the process.
But for what purpose would we wish to strip ourselves of our identity when all we aspire to do is to lead a happy and ordinary life?
If Dr Mahathir aspired to live an ordinary and happy life instead of seeking an extraordinary one in pursuit of greatness, he wouldn’t have transformed himself into becoming a constitutional Malay. – Nov 19, 2023
Nehru Sathiamorthy is a roving tutor who loves politics, philosophy and psychology.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.