Local activist Jolovan Wham has made startling allegations over the views of Malaysia Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, claiming that the Malaysian leader expressed “with such conviction” that “Malays are unproductive, ‘corrupt’ and ‘dishonest'” and that “Indonesians are more hardworking than the Malays.”
Revealing that he met Dr Mahathir yesterday, human rights activist Jolovan Wham said that the pair “discussed LGBT rights, ethnic relations, freedom of expression and diplomatic relations with Singapore.”
Organised by Malaysian political activist Hishammuddin Rais and exiled Singapore activist Tan Wah Piow, the meeting also included local historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin and other Singapore activists like Kirsten Han.
Sharing that Dr Mahathir allegedly told him that he “found it hard to get along with Singaporean Chinese during his time as a student here because we don’t understand Malay culture and norms as much as the Malaysian Chinese,” Wham continued:
“Some of his views though are still very conservative and offensive. He says Malays are unproductive, ‘corrupt’ and ‘dishonest’. The image of the lazy Malay is a well established stereotype, but the corruption and dishonesty was more surprising to me and he said it with such conviction.
“He also said LGBT persons should not marry because it is against the order of nature, and sex is for reproduction only. This is a typical argument and not unexpected.”
In her blog, Han also revealed that Dr Mahathir had made “comments about how the Chinese work hard while the Malays have “the wrong values” and “are inclined to be laid back so they don’t succeed”” at the meeting yesterday.
As Wham and his fellow activists disagreed with Dr Mahathir’s views, the group got into a debate during which Dr Mahathir allegedly claimed that “Indonesians are more hardworking than the Malays”:
“Naturally, I disagreed with him on these points and we had a debate about it. I told him the economic displacement of the Malays needs to take into consideration the legacy of colonialism where those who didn’t contribute to the colonial enterprise were branded as lazy.
“I also said ‘laziness’ and the perceived lack of productivity is a result of us judging Malays through the unforgiving and de-humanising work ethic of capitalism, and that shouldn’t be the only way to view the world and order our relationships.
“Interestingly, he said Indonesians are more hardworking than the Malays. I understand that among Malaysian Malays, there is a perception (in some quarters at least) that Indonesians have greater cultural capital and are more superior in this aspect. Zaid Ibrahim’s book ‘I too, Am Malay’ mentions this and he mocked Malaysian intellectuals for imitating their style.
“But Dr M’s explanation about how that makes them harder workers isn’t clear. I also raised the point that Muslim women have made progress in ways which were not considered acceptable in the past and this should be applied to LGBT persons too. Nature should not be the arbiter of morality.”
Further describing the Malaysian head of government’s “friendly, grandfatherly demeanor with a soft and delicate handshake,” Wham added: “This of course, belied his ruthless authoritarian past. In fact at one point, he said, without irony and without batting an eyelid something to the effect of ‘I don’t think I was that repressive last time,’ and now he could sit down with his past enemies”:
“He had a friendly, grandfatherly demeanor with a soft and delicate handshake. This of course, belied his ruthless authoritarian past. In fact at one point, he said, without irony and without batting an eyelid something to the effect of ‘I don’t think I was that repressive last time,’ and now he could sit down with his past enemies; he said this in response to a question I asked about political freedom in Malaysia.
“Hisham, the Malaysian activist who co-organised the meeting, piped up “Ya, he threw me in jail for 2 years!” I later learned he was falsely accused of possessing a bazooka and for terrorism during the reformasi era.”
Wham promised: “Overall, it was a fascinating experience, and I’m glad to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity to talk to the man himself! I will write a blog post with a more detailed account of his answers when I return on Sunday.”