Sunday 26 August 2007

Must Read ! The Difference Between the Malaysian-Malay Mind and the Singaporean-Malay Mind

From Malaysiakini: Read article by Feroz Qureshi


Feroz Qureshi


"... For the Malaysian-Malay, his MALAY comes AHEAD of his Malaysian NATIONALITY, whereas for the Singaporean-Malay, one is FIRST a SINGAPOREAN, then a Malay."
-Feroz Qureshi
Excerpts: Read here for more

"... (There) seem to radiate a certain tension every time the issue of Malaysian-Malays and their brethren across the causeway (surfaced).


(Malaysian-Malays) believe that Malay identity is centered on a socio-politic defined by its leaders - a permutation of Umno elites, religious heads and royalty. This is an empirical definition post-1945.

(Malaysian-Malays) feel that all Malays are ‘one’ people, much in the way how the mainland Chinese leaders consider the 15 million diaspora of the ‘Nanyang’ to be citizens of a greater Chinese civilisation. This explains why they are ‘sensitive’ to the perceived fate of the Singaporean-Malay; a sensitivity that goes beyond the opportunistic rhetoric of Umno ministers.

Ordinary Malays in Malaysia are most intrigued by the welfare and dilemmas facing Singapore’s Malay community, evidenced by their views on Malays in the Singapore Armed Forces, political representation and employment/business opportunities. At heart, there seems to be a widely-held belief that Singaporean Malays are somewhat marginalised.


On the other hand, Singaporean-Malays see themselves as a subset of a wider Singaporean national identity - a phenomenon since 1965. As such, they don’t necessarily feel displaced from the Malay motherland.

Singaporean Malays, while proud of their Malay culture and heritage, are not of like mind.

Through the decades, they have accepted the characteristics of Singapore’s multi-ethnic make up and go about their lives in a fashion that resembles the aspirations of a minority group in any given society.

In effect, they see more in common with other ethnic groups, minority or otherwise, by virtue of a shared immigrant past. Hence, there is a greater assimilation of the Bugis and Riau peoples into the Singaporean-Malay fold.

The Immigrant Mind

I suspect that the workings of an immigrant mind would escape most Malaysian-Malays - even the educated ones - in part because there are so few Malays as immigrants in other lands.

Apart from Singaporean-Malays, the only other community appears to be the Cape-Malays in South Africa. Furthermore, the values inherent in the Malaysian-Malays generally do not recognise immigrants as an admirable breed of people. This may be one reason why xenophobia is strong there yet less so in Singapore.

Indian and Chinese cultures are full of colourful literature that espouses the hero-status of the struggling immigrant. Like a myth, he is elevated to that of a ‘prodigal son’ who makes good in a foreign land against the odds.

Malay culture does not capture this.

I could go on to address many other ideological differences between the two groups by way of narration. Instead, I shall offer a unique glimpse into what I have been privy to in numerous conversations with Malaysian-Malays.

Why do Singaporean-Malays feel ‘SUPERIOR’ to Malaysian-Malays?

When this question was put to me by a successful Malaysian-Malay businessman, I found it strange that despite his wealth, he would be so affected by such triviality. Especially when impressed upon him by a bunch of less wealthy and certainly less successful Singaporean-Malays. I sensed an underlying insecurity about him, something that made him feel LESS whole; perhaps even less deserving in the way he perceived his own success.

Though I cannot speak unequivocally for the Singaporean-Malay, I am certain that when the latter makes his mark, he suffers no such doubts. For, in the climate of meritocracy, he is aware that his success is more a product of brain and brawn than skewed policy. He carries an enlightening confidence.

Does this contribute to a superiority complex? I don’t think so. If at all, it mirrors a buried ‘inferiority’.

Malaysian-Malays feel that Singaporean-Malays are ‘marginalised’

I hear this all the time. I do remember that while in high school/college in the 80s, Malay students paid less in monthly tuition fees. This was a concession by the PAP government.

On the flip side, many Chinese-centric companies in Singapore, till today, prefer to hire only Chinese professionals – a case of feeling more comfortable among their own. Sure, this would classify as ‘marginalisation’ but then again, aren’t opportunities abundant in the many MNCs that have set up shop in Singapore?

If you were educated, wouldn’t you flock to these companies anyway? They have flatter structures, pay better, invest more in training and are certainly less prejudiced when it comes to hiring and promoting.

As for entrepreneurial activity, Singapore’s business culture is such that funding has no ethnic bias. Even Creative Technologies founder Sim Wong Hoo had to raise seed capital from a Canadian private equity firm. In this area, the shortfall lies within the realm of an ‘adversity to risk’ rather than acts of channeling funds solely to aspiring Chinese businesses.

To be convinced otherwise, Malaysian-Malays need to see billionaires among the Singapore Malays. This will be a long time coming. And as long as they measure ‘opportunity’ by the yardstick that they enjoy from closed tenders and preferential projects, Malaysian-Malays will always feel that Singapore-Malays have gotten a raw deal.

My question is this - if Malaysian-Malays feel that way, why do they merely engage in sidewalk analyses and not do more to help their fellow kin?

Why are Malaysian-Malays and Singaporean-Malays irreconciliable?

On numerous occasions, I have been told by Malaysian-Malays that the Singaporean-Malay is culturally ‘deficient’, that the latter has lost his ‘adat’.

He neither believes in the concept of Malay dominance nor pays reverence to its kings.

Some go as far as to project that Singaporean Malays have been brainwashed by Chinese overtures of a supposed equal society.

One government official even suggested to me that Singaporean-Malays are ‘traitors’ for abandoning the Malay cause. I suppose such criticisms are to be expected.

But it did occur to me that because I am not Malay, more Malaysian-Malays are willing to speak their minds.

"Malaysian-Malays are Spoilt and Backward"

Some Singaporean-Malays feel that their kin across the border are spoilt, complacent and backward.

I have heard remarks like ‘They have all these privileges, and they still can’t beat the Chinese’.

Then, there are some who consider Malay Malaysians ‘lucky’ for having bumiputera status.

Their feelings towards Malaysian ministers are far less gratifying – corrupt, self-serving and morally bankrupt. They may be uneasy with the RM5 million price tag on Singapore ministers but it’s still better than siphoning millions of state money.

I am reminded by an elder that Singaporean-Malays overwhelmingly voted AGAINST Umno’s brand of communal politics in Singapore in the 60s. When separation came, a great majority of Singaporean Malays chose to stay put.

All of these perceptions, real or imagined, make both Malaysian-Malays and Singaporean-Malays seem irreconcilable.

The differences are many, perhaps best illustrated by how each group sees itself.

For the Malaysian-Malays, his Malay comes ahead of his Malaysian nationality, whereas for the other, one is first a Singaporean, then a Malay. "
-Feroz Qureshi

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