The Malay Dilemma

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The Malay Dilemma
Dilema Melayu (in Malay)
The Malay Dilemma front cover.jpg
The front cover of The Malay Dilemma: With a New Preface
AuthorMahathir bin Mohamad
PublisherAsia Pacific Press
Publication date

The Malay Dilemma is a book written by Mahathir bin Mohamad in 1970, 11 years before he became Malaysia's 4th Prime Minister.


At the time of publication, Mahathir had just lost his parliamentary seat, been expelled from the ruling party UMNO and Malaysia had recently been rocked by the racial riots later known as the 13 May Incident. The book analyses Malaysian history and politics in terms of racism, and posits the following basic positions:

The dilemma thus, was whether Malays should accept this governmental aid—and Mahathir's position was that they should.

Prone to sweeping statements about other races, such as describing Jews as "hook-nosed",[1] the book entrenched Mahathir's image as a Malay ultra (chauvinist). However, 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).

Mahathir was readmitted to UMNO in 1972 and became the Prime Minister in 1981, and in time most of the policies suggested in the book were indeed adopted by the Malaysian government, most notably in the Malaysian New Economic Policy. The dilemma was revisited in 2000 to 2002 by Mahathir and his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who now argued that Malays 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.[citation needed]


In the preface of the book's first edition, its British publisher casts doubt on the accuracy of Mahathir's assumptions and facts. Mahathir has been criticised for the lack of documentary evidence to buttress his many arguments and conclusions. Bakri Musa states that his assertions and assumptions were based on his personal observations and experiences, with no empirical data to support them.[2]


  1. ^ Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad: On Jews
  2. ^ M. Bakri Musa (1999). The Malay Dilemma Revisited – Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia. Gilroy, CA: Merantau Publishers.