Dr M: I Could Have Said Lion Dance Instead Of Chopsticks & It Will Still Be A Problem
In an interview today, 5 January, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said people have misunderstood his controversial chopsticks remark that was made last month
Speaking on air on local radio station CITYPlus FM, the Langkawi member of parliament (MP) denied that he was playing the race card when he gave an example that Malaysian Chinese using chopsticks to eat shows that the country faces a challenge to form a unified identity.
He made the remark during the launch of his memoir in mid-December last year.
In the interview aired this morning, Mahathir said he could have used lion dance and many other examples to make his point.
"For simplicity, the Malays eat with their hands, the Chinese eat with chopsticks. That shows there is a difference between Malays and Chinese," he reiterated what he had said last month.
"The idea is to show the difference (and) it is not to say that (using) chopsticks is inferior or low quality or anything."
He stressed that the example was made to show there is a difference in culture among Malaysians.
When host Lum Chih Feng asked whether he expected such a strong backfire from Malaysians over his remark, Mahathir said the reaction will be there regardless of what example he gave
The former premier described those who reacted unfavourably to his remark as "extremists" as well as "people who are always looking for ways to run down each other".
"I could have said lion dance and I think they will make an issue out of that also. Because these are people who are always looking for ways to run down each other," he contended.
"You see, the Malays will say something about the Chinese and the Chinese will say something about the Malay."
"Normally, for (sic) innocent remarks, but these extremists, they want to make an issue so that people will always find it difficult to get along with each other."
Mahathir then revealed that he learnt how to use chopsticks, as it is his cutlery of choice while eating Chinese food and Yee Sang during Chinese New Year.
He went on to say that people forsake their racial identities when they migrate to another country and become citizens there, adding that some Indians and Arabs have done that in Malaysia
"But in Malaysia, the Indians and the Chinese insist upon reminding each other that 'We are from there, we are not from here' even though you [were] born in this country and brought up in this country," he said.
"You still link yourselves with your country of origin."
Mahathir said he could look past first-generation citizens failing to assimilate, but those who were born and brought up here have the choice to adopt the local culture.
He explained that the Chinese population in Indonesia is much bigger than the Malaysian Chinese population, yet their primary language is Bahasa Indonesia.
He also mentioned Chinese in Thailand and the Philippines have adopted the local languages.
Lum then asked Mahathir to clarify his political stance as he is sometimes being viewed as a progressive and moderate leader, but he is also prone to being conservative, extreme, or radical.
"So, do people misunderstand Tun?" asked the host.
The Langkawi MP agreed that he is often misunderstood by people, before bringing up the history of how the British coloniser imposed restrictions on the Chinese during their rule in Malaya, which the government did not practise after independence.
"We didn't go against the Chinese after the independence although the government was Malay. Unfortunately, less attention was paid to Malays' demands, which was a reason why the people were against Tunku," he related.
"They thought that Tunku didn't do anything for the Malays. (As for the Chinese), because they understand opportunities given to them and they make use (of them). But for the Malays, even if you give them opportunities, they misuse [them]."
Last month, Mahathir said "others" who do not want to identify themselves as Malays are the problem: