It was Benjamin Franklin who warned us against the “young doctor and the old barber.”

Old Ben was a kindly old codger given to pottering about in thunderstorms to fly kites so he can be forgiven for failing to remember “the very old politician” as another potential threat.

I mean, consider Dr Mahathir. I know he’s gone to hospital for a check-up but that shouldn’t make him a sacred cow immune from critical assessment. I mean, the guy is 96 and you’d think would have moved on from his bigoted rantings in, say, 1969, when, in an infamous letter to the Tunku, he stated he only had “a few drops of Pakistani blood” in his veins.

But no, his recent lament that the Chinese penchant for eating with chopsticks was yet another example of the difficulty of forging a united Malaysian nation is a case in point.

Mahathir fretted that people in the country identify themselves as ‘Chinese Malaysian’ and ‘Indian Malaysian’, saying, “Because of that (strong sense of racial identity), they cannot be assimilated.”

Imagine if the same thought had haunted Yap Ah Loy, the same way it haunts Dr M for his prejudices are long standing.

The would-be founder might have given up the ghost, returned to China and forgotten all about discovering Kuala Lumpur.

What poppycock!

My wife is a Eurasian and her roots in Malaysia are deep, I-mean-really-God-knows-how-far-back-deep but you must wonder if the former physician might find her less than patriotic because she wouldn’t dream of eating noodles without chopsticks.

Much later in our marriage, she told me that she found it strange that none of the homes of my extended family ever stocked chopsticks.

Back then, it probably never occurred to us. For the record, many do have them now.

Dr M seems to take pride in his bigotry, even when he’s being casually racist in public. I remember watching BBC where he was being interviewed after he came back as Malaysian premier in 2018.

Zainab Badawi’s obvious admiration for him began vanishing after he refused to make a distinction between Jews and Zionists.

Finally, his pettiness got the better of him when he insisted that you could tell the Jews apart because they were “hook-nosed.”

And the genteel, plum-toned Ms Badawi actually cringed!

The former premier seems to forget that race and religion define the Malaysian ethos today largely because of him and his United Malays National Organisation. For whatever reason, differentiation – perhaps to better implement affirmative action policies – was seen as the best way forward.

And so, rather than classify all Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans or Ibans as simply Malaysian, successive generations have been classified, compartmentalised, branded and organised along cleavages of race, religion and, in my wife’s case, an indefinite pronoun.

For the record, she’s classified as an “other” which is remarkable as it implies that Rebecca is neither of “us” vintage nor of “them” extraction.

Much of the blame for this has to be laid at the former doctor’s door as he was premier for the longest time and he could have done something about it. Indeed, he could have done something about a lot of things – corruption, education, the civil service, racism, to name a few. But he didn’t.

And the strangest irony of all is that Dr M seriously thought, and still thinks, he is the best. Indeed, when asked once who might best be suited to succeed him, he answered only half in jest: “A clone of mine.”

It could be the ultimate Maha-paradox. He’s always believed he was the greatest thing since sliced bread…

….when we’ve known he’s actually been toast for a long time now.