Are we really only “pretending” to be Malaysians or worse, only as “peaceful” as the people of the Balkan states who fought such bloody wars in the 1990s?
As a Malaysian who has been living for over 35 years in Europe, I say NO and NO!
Not only should we not be pretending to be Malaysians, we should also be proud to be Malaysians. And there have never been such hostilities among our different ethnic groups, certainly nothing like those of the former Yugoslavs who have always seen themselves as Serbs, Bosnians, Slovenians and Croats, only brought together as one nation under the Tito dictatorship.
Malaysians are said to feel united only when living abroad, that in Malaysia we revert to seeing ourselves as Malays, Chinese, Indians, East Malaysians, etc.
Although there is a lot of inter-mingling between races, we tend to seek the company of our own ethnic groups. At work, in university and even in school, we seem to cluster along racial lines. This “segregation” is exacerbated as generation after generation of Malaysians attend vernacular language schools, growing up among those of their own ethnic group instead of alongside their fellow citizens of other ethnicity.
While it is commendable that Malaysia’s plurality is nurtured, it should not be at the cost of national unity. Is it not possible to include the teaching of these languages in national schools?
In Germany, not only are there no vernacular language schools, children of other ethnic groups are even rebuked for speaking their languages during school hours! I thought this rather harsh, but when I recalled the time I was in Kuantan when a young sales assistant – who spoke only Cantonese – could not understand me when I asked her something in both Malay and English, I must say I do appreciate the importance of promoting a national language.
Our national language is Bahasa Malaysia, not Bahasa Melayu, because it is for all Malaysians, not the domain of a particular ethnic group.
In the United States, American English was embraced as the national language that united all new arrivals from many parts of the world and together, they founded a new nation.
Unfortunately, many of the more recent Spanish-speaking immigrants do not see the need to learn American English because Spanish is spoken by an increasingly Hispanic population. Unhappy white supremacists are are calling this an “an invasion”.
This is also the rallying cry of populists in Europe. As the continent grapples with the arrival of more refugees, right-wing parties are winning more and more support. Racism and discrimination of minorities have become more brazen, a sad development indeed for Europe, the supposed birthplace and bastion of democracy.
Some have labelled Malaysia’s affirmative action policy, which is in favour of the Malays and its indigenous people, as institutionalised discrimination. Arguably it is time to review it.
Although the New Economic Policy has helped narrowed the income gap between the ethnic groups, many who also profited were the well-connected and the then-ruling party cronies from all ethnic groups. Instead, many rural Malays and Malaysia’s indigenous people – the very people the policy is supposed to help – remain poor. It is thus time to review and change the policy to give assistance only to the truly deserving, across all ethnic groups.
Still, this so-called institutionalised discrimination can at least be ended with legislation, but in many countries that have “equal opportunities” legislation, discrimination remains in some people’s hearts and minds.
It has been shown that job applicants with foreign-sounding names in Germany or African-American-sounding names in the US are seldom invited for job interviews. Even banks and real estate companies in the US are known to have turned down applications of African Americans wanting to buy property in mainly white neighbourhoods.
In Malaysia discrimination or racism has never been sinister. The only racial riots in Malaysia’s history were triggered by irresponsible political party radicals after the general elections in May 1969.There was anxiety and fear but no real danger. All was peaceful in our neighbourhood in Petaling Jaya, where we had always lived side by side, played and celebrated with different ethnic groups. As a thirteen year-old then, I even enjoyed the few weeks off school, although after a while we had all had enough of canned food!
Race has never been an issue for me as I never saw my fellow non-Malay citizens as any different from the Malays. Anyway, according to my grandmother, we have Chinese and Indian ancestry and who knows what else, as we have no records and our grandfathers did not live long enough to tell us about their ancestors. Even the first Malay states were supposedly founded by people of Indian or Chinese origin and the father of modern Malay literature, Munshi Abdullah, is of Tamil and Yemeni descent.
So why do we persist in emphasising our differences, when in actual fact our genes show that we have the same origins?
Racism, like populism, is a huge threat to national unity so it is up to each and every rational-thinking citizen to stand up against this dangerous ideology because like a tumour, it will grow and kill, unless removed, so remove it we must!
Aidida Rosenstock left Malaysia over 36 years ago but her heart remains Malaysian. She wishes all Malaysians ‘Happy Malaysia Day’. The views expressed here are solely her own.
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