The Malay Dilemma is a controversial book written by Mahathir bin Mohamad in 1970.
At the time of publication, Mahathir had been expelled from the ruling party UMNO and Malaysia had recently been rocked by the racial riots later known as the May 13th Incident. The book analyzes Malaysian history and politics in terms of race, and posits the following basic positions:
- The Malay race are the indigenous people (bumiputras) of Malaysia.
- The sole national language is the Malay language and all other races are to learn it.
- The tolerance and non-confrontational nature of the Malays has allowed them to be subjugated in their own land by the other races with the collusion of the British.
- A program of affirmative action is required to correct Chinese hegemony in business.
Prone to sweeping statements about other races, such as describing Jews as "hook-nosed", the book entrenched Mahathir's image as a Malay ultra and has been even compared to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. However, it is worth noting that Mahathir also dissects the multiple failings of his own race, and the book was intended as a solution leading away from violence towards a harmonious, integrated Malaysia (albeit one where political and economic power is firmly concentrated in the hands of the Malays).
Readmitted to UMNO in 1972 and becoming Prime Minister in 1981, most of the policies suggested in the book were indeed adopted by the Malaysian government. The dilemma was revisited in 2000-2002 by Mahathir and his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who now argued that Malaysians were well on the way to catching up, and that they should now be weaned away from the "crutches" that had allowed them to compete.