‘Multiculturalism is the country’s prized asset’

PETALING JAYA: Civil society leaders have rebuked Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s reference to the continued use of chopsticks by the Chinese community to highlight challenges in assimilating the country’s non-Malay population.

Former ambassador Datuk Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin said it was “totally unacceptable” for the former prime minister to criticise the Chinese community for using chopsticks to eat.

“It does not mean that because of this practice, they are unable to assimilate. Is he questioning the loyalty of the Chinese community to the country because of this practice?

“Malaysians of all races use the knife and fork to eat Western food like steaks or lamb chops. Does this mean these Malaysians are unable to assimilate?” she said when contacted yesterday.

Noor Farida, who is the spokesman of the G25 group of eminent former civil servants, said one should not forget the debt of gratitude the country owed to the Chinese Special Branch officers who fought the communists during the insurgency.

“It is a well-documented fact that these police officers infiltrated communist strongholds in the jungle at considerable risk to themselves, and killed many communist insurgents,” she said.

As a leader of a multiracial country, Noor Farida said Dr Mahathir should show greater respect for the cultural practices of all the races in the country.

“There are Chinese living in many other countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. We have never heard of leaders publicly criticising the Chinese community in their countries for using chopsticks,” she added

Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia president Tan Sri Goh Tian Chuan said the Chinese have long integrated into Malaysian society.

“Malaysia is where we were raised and will die. As the second-largest ethnic group in Malaysia, being Malaysian Chinese is our only identity,” he said.

Despite speaking various Chinese dialects and several languages, Goh said national policies and Malaysian law were what bound the Chinese community.

“For a multiracial and multicultural country like Malaysia, diversity and openness are the unique characteristics of our nation,” he said.

On Dr Mahathir’s view that a single-stream education system was best for Malaysia, Goh said the Federal Constitution clearly states and guarantees the country’s existing multi-stream education, including mother-tongue education.

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman Institute of Chinese Studies Assoc Prof Dr Khor Boon Eng said Dr Mahathir’s remarks on assimilation was no longer relevant in terms of multiculturalism.

“In Indonesia, many assimilation policies were scrapped from 1999 on. Since then, the Chinese community there emerged as one of the keenest to learn the Chinese language,” he said, describing the world as a borderless global village.

He added that following China’s opening up, Thailand – which closed Chinese schools during the 1950s – has been encouraging their citizens to learn the Chinese language.Dr Khor said being multicultural was the country’s prized asset “like how it has been said and repeated over time”.

“It is not a bane to racial unity but one that makes us stronger and better,” he added.

Moderation advocate Mohamed Tawfik Ismail pointed out that the use of chopsticks, which was uniquely oriental, does not make anyone alien within a culture, “just as using and forks and spoons did not make a laksa Johor eater a European.”

“Dr Mahathir has overlooked the attractiveness of Malaysia, which is its diversity because historically, it has been a crossroad of cultures and is considered a hub of international trade and commerce.

“There is nothing wrong with anyone looking for the history of their ancestors and it doesn’t make them less loyal to their country.

“There are Malays who have no ancestral ties to the Middle East but seem comfortable adopting the Arabic dress and head covers. Are they less Malay?” he asked.

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