The Malay mind has been shaped and conditioned by their belief and tradition and adatembedded in their societal matrix.
The traditional Malay mind/mentality is steeped in a conglomeration of tribal mores and lore and feudalistic adat that demands subservience to a leader or council of elders as in the tribal communities or to a single individual as in an absolute monarchy.
It is augmented by a host of regulatory adat (traditions) and local wisdom. For example, the saying “Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat”, which means we must even be willing to sacrifice our children just to maintain our tradition.
Such was the state of the Malay mind through the various absolute monarchies of the Malay world before the advent of the colonial era. However, the Malay mind continued to be shackled through the colonial era not only by the feudal system but also by colonial imperatives.
A turn for the worse happened during the Japanese occupation during which the Malays were enslaved and humiliated.
Perhaps this trauma, humiliation and slavery by the Japanese and as chattels during the feudalistic era, ignited in the Malay mentality a sense of freedom and wanting to be shorn off all mental and physical shackles. Thus the awakening of the Malay mind after World War 2 to challenge and demand independence from the British.
There were Malays who were exposed to British education which opened up their minds to universal values, ideas of emancipation, democracy, socialism and communism. Such people were in the minority and confined to the urban areas. In the rural Malay hinterland, traditional Malay schools and religious madrasah were the mainstay of the educative process, which perpetuated the traditional feudalistic mentality that stresses conformity and submission rather than free thinking and expression.
The duality of the Malay mind, traditional in the rural areas and modern in the urban areas, has created a chasm in the thought process of the Malay masses.
Thus, for the past 60 years, the ruling party has exploited this identity crisis to serve its vested interests. Umno and Pas have taken advantage of this duality of mindset by using race and religion to exploit rural Malays by saying that they are the defenders of the Malays and Islam. However, Umno has a two facades; one, race and religion for the rural Malays, and two, secular and materialism for the educated urban Malays.
The party engaged and embraced the urban Malays into its fold by appealing to their materialistic tendencies through party positions, corporate appointments and other forms of remuneration. In this way it minimised the public advocacy of the educated Malay minds.
The mentality of the rural Malays was easily shaped to serve the vested interests of Umno and Pas. An almost communistic vigour of unquestioned loyalty and acceptance of false religious pronouncements have been drummed into them.
Pas has gone further, indoctrinating them to believe that those who support this so-called religious party are assured of paradise. It is a religious requirement to oppose the infidels that not only include non-Muslims, but also Muslim members from opposing parties. That a cruel and corrupt Muslim is better than an honest humanitarian non-Muslim. That it’s permissible to fabricate lies in the service of the leaders and the party, for these lies are sanctioned by the leaders as syariah-compliant.
Currently, both Umno and Pas, former sworn enemies, have become strange bedfellows for their own vested interests and are actively playing the race and religious card, labelling non-Malays as infidels and enemies of Islam.
Sadly, the open-minded and educated urban Malays are silent and are not countering this bigotry. Most of them are leaving it to the new Pakatan government to counter this extremist attitude. If unchecked, it would lead to a catastrophe as the perpetrators are willing to risk the peace and harmony of this multi-ethnic nation just to serve their greed for power and wealth.
It would take a long time to change this Malay mentality towards an open, critical and sane state that views the socio-political-economic scene from an educated and intellectual perspective.
It is the responsibility of all leaders and politicians to accept the challenges of co-existence by discarding bigoted attitudes and working towards a peaceful and prosperous nation. This would require a change in mentality and world view of all races in Malaysia, which would reflect a common mission and vision for a shared prosperity.
The writer is an emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
Published in: New Sunday Times, 17 March 2019