"As the self-proclaimed non-racists attacked Malay racialism, the feeling among the Malays hardened. Openly the Malays have not attacked Chinese racialism as manifested by their practical rejection of the use of the National language, their rejection of the National schools, their Malaysian Malaysia slogan. If they do it would be muted and certainly not as blatant as non-Malay attacks against Malay racialism."
By Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
September 15, 2008
1. Malaysia has a multi-racial population but is quite unique in that the division is not just by race alone but by religion, language, culture and economic situation. Unity in such a diversity is extremely difficult to achieve.
2. If we study other nations where people of different ethnic groups have immigrated, we will find that integration and unity depended on several important factors. Firstly the indigenous people or the people who had set up the country make up at least initially, a very big proportion of the population. Additionally they would be dominant and materially successful. The small numbers of immigrants trickling in found it judicious and beneficial to be identified with the numerically superior and powerful dominant inhabitants. They would willingly forget their original languages and adopt the language of the people of the country as well as their culture; they would intermarry and over time they would be totally absorbed and assimilated and identified with the indigenous people. In such a situation unity is not a problem. The United States is one such country where the original language and basic culture of first settlers are accepted by later immigrants.
3. In the old days before the coming of the Europeans the few Chinese and Indians who settled in Malacca adopted the language and much of the culture of the Malays. Though there was no assimilation nevertheless good relations existed between the immigrant settlers and the Malays. Unfortunately when later the China-born Chinese-speaking immigrants dominated in numbers as well as economic wealth, the Malay speaking Baba and Nyonya deliberately dropped their Malay language and Baba culture and reverted to being Chinese in every way possible.
4. Difficulties in assimilation arise when the late comers are more dynamic and better equipped to progress than the indigenous people. A feeling of superiority towards the indigenous people tended to keep the late-comers apart. As their community grew they established separate enclaves and erect invisible barriers against the indigenous. As their numbers grew the separation became deeper.
5. The British are only partly responsible for the separation of the races in Malaysia, for keeping the Malays in the rural areas, the Chinese in the urban areas and the Indians in the estates. The different races are also responsible. They made no attempt to mix together as a matter of preference.
6. The Malays before World War II really believed that the Chinese and Indians were temporary guests who would return to their countries once they had made enough money. So it was at the beginning.
7. Even when they showed signs of staying permanently, the Malays and their Rulers believed the British would honour the treaties which recognised the Malay States as the land of the Malays, the peninsula as Tanah Melayu or Malay Land.
8. But after the Brits returned after the war they talked of "giving" this country to whoever wishes to stay here. Although the Malays rejected this and forced the Malayan Union to be abandoned, they realised that things had changed and they had to recognise the claims of some of the non-Malays at least.
9. To cut a long story short independent Malaysia recognised the citizenship rights of the non-Malays and gave them quite freely. This is unlike many countries in the region where strict conditions were imposed. In fact, some immigrants were actually expelled.
10. The hope at independence was that the non-Malays would accept a single national language and a single national identity. But it became clear very quickly that the Chinese and the Indians wanted to retain their identities, their mother tongue and their culture. They did not want to be solely Malaysians, certainly not Malays.
11. At the beginning some prominent people tried multi-racial politics but this was rejected by the ordinary Malays, Chinese and Indians. In the end we settled for a compromise - retain your racial identity but cooperate with each other in a coalition of racial parties.
12. Politically it was a good formula and it worked. But when English schools were abolished and the Malay, Chinese and Indians children went to their own schools rather than to the national schools where the teaching was in the National Language. The hope for true national integration faded. After this even the attempt to put the schools from the three language streams in one campus was rejected by the Chinese.
13. It is no good blaming the politicians for perpetuating racial schism. Some of them who tried to ignore racial loyalties simply failed politically. For various reasons the races preferred to stay separated. They may meet at their work place or the playing field but they go home to separate enclaves according to their race.
14. We had opted for democracy and popularity decides who rules the country. Those who reject racialism simply lost popular support. But those who embrace racialism won.
15. They are not racists. The leaders of the different races were, at least in the beginning, able to get along well with each other. They developed close friendship. But they had to be very conscious of their racial backing and to cater to racial demands.
16. The lower ranking leaders, the ordinary members of political parties and the people as a whole had shown no sign of forgetting their racial identity. There may be few liberal minded ones who reject race, but some who do this do so because they believe their own race would gain by it. So even these people are racialist at heart.
17. Then came the resurgence of Islam worldwide. The Malaysian Malays began to adopt Islamic conservativeness especially with the dress code. This tended to push them further apart from the non-Muslims who saw this as an attempt to differentiate Muslim Malaysians from non-Muslim Malaysians. Some people suspect that this is the intention.
18. The behaviour of some extremist exponents of Islamic separateness did not help.
19. And so the races drifted further and further apart. All the time the so-called non-racial parties with their single-minded campaign against the positions of the Malays and Islam as agreed upon at the beginning actually intensified Malay racial sentiments, causing them to yearn for Malay unity rather than Malaysian unity.
20. The ideal of having a non-racial Malaysian nationality has now been almost forgotten. As the self-proclaimed non-racists attacked Malay racialism, the feeling among the Malays hardened. Openly the Malays have not attacked Chinese racialism as manifested by their practical rejection of the use of the National language, their rejection of the National schools, their Malaysian Malaysia slogan. If they do it would be muted and certainly not as blatant as non-Malay attacks against Malay racialism.
21. The Malays have seen what has happened to the Malays of Singapore and they have no desire to be like Singapore Malays.
22. So their reaction is to seek for Malay unity. They feel threatened, and their fear is real. Admittedly there are among the younger educated Malays a few who claim to reject Malay unity. But these people do not represent the vast majority of the Malays.
23. Malay unity, if it becomes stronger will make it more difficult to bring about Malaysian unity. But it must be remembered that the Chinese and Indian are also keen to retain their identities more and more. The Hindraf memorandum is very telling. And the Chinese educationists want even stronger role for Chinese language.
24. The trend is obviously against Malaysian Unity. A weak and unstable Government with its crude attempts to win over the different races through giving in on all demands does not help. Every time it gives in to the demands of one race it simply antagonises and pushes the other races further away.
25. If we still want Malaysian Unity we need to be willing to make sacrifices regarding what we consider to be our racial rights. Everyone has to do this. The leaders must be given some mandate to discuss these matters in private and to make concessions. After each step the lower rung leaders of each race must be given full briefing as to why the concessions have to be made. It would be useless if they don't agree.
26. Provided we can roll back the present unhealthy trends and redirect it towards more positive non-racial objectives, provided we do this slowly by small steps we may be able to create a truly Malaysian identity where race would gradually become less important. It will take time but with sincerity we may reverse the present trends and move towards increasing co-operation and integration.