[nasional_list] [ppiindia] Racism alive and well in Malaysia

  • From: "Ambon" <sea@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <"Undisclosed-Recipient:;"@freelists.org>
  • Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2006 12:45:34 +0200

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Mar 24, 2006 

Racism alive and well in Malaysia
By Baradan Kuppusamy 

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's first serious survey of race relations in more than 
50 years indicates that behind the government-promoted facade of unity and 
peace, racism runs deep in one of Asia's most multi-ethnic melting pots. 

The telephone survey of about 1,200 Malaysians also found that the majority of 
the various races find comfort and security in their respective ethnicity and 
not, as the official travel and tourism brochures suggest, in a common 
"Malaysian" identity. 

The survey, conducted by the independent Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, 
also found that negative racial stereotyping was deeply entrenched. For 
example, minority Chinese and Indians see the majority Malays, who make up 60% 
of Malaysia's 25 million population, as lazy. 

Chinese and Indians, who began migrating to Malaysia in the early 19th century, 
make up 26% and 8% of the population, respectively. 

The survey's results cast a harsh light on the government's New Economic Policy 
(NEP), which was originally designed to promote social harmony and economic 
equality. Since 1970, the government has maintained a policy of positive 
discrimination that favors ethnic Malays over other races - including 
preferential treatment in employment, education, scholarships, business, access 
to cheaper housing and assisted savings. 

In particular, these measures were aimed at reducing the yawning gap with the 
ethnic-Chinese community, which still dominates business in Malaysia, as it 
does throughout most of Southeast Asia. 

Malaysia's ethnic-Chinese community was on the receiving end of the murderous 
1969 race riots that prompted former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to pass 
the NEP. In a bid to maintain social order, Mahathir often blacked out foreign 
news coverage when racial tensions erupted in nearby Indonesia, where the 
Chinese are also a minority population. 

Originally designed to last for 20 years, the NEP has continued without check, 
sparking envy and resentment between Malays and non-Malays. Private companies 
must hand over 30% of equity to ethnic Malays and a portion of housing and 
commercial property must be sold to them. 

"The findings are not at all surprising," social scientist Chandra Muzaffar 
said of the survey. "This is partly because ethnic boundaries are real in our 
society and almost every sphere of public life is linked to ethnicity in one 
way or another." 

In a nation that claims to be a "melting pot", only 11% of the respondents said 
they had eaten often with friends from other races in the previous three 
months, and 34% said they had never had a meal with people of other races. 

About 42% of the population do not consider themselves Malaysian first, and 46% 
said ethnicity was important in voting, 55% blamed politicians for racial 
problems and 70% would help their own ethnic group first. According to the 
survey, 58% of Malays, 63% of Chinese and 43% of Indians polled agreed with the 
survey item that "in general, most Malays are lazy". 

Meanwhile, 71% of Malays, 60% of Chinese and 47% of Indians agreed with the 
generalization that "in general, most Chinese are greedy". About 64% of Malays, 
58% of Chinese and 20% of Indians agreed that "in general, most Indians cannot 
be trusted". 

The survey, commissioned by the semi-official New Straits Times newspaper and 
supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, is the first honest look at 
Malaysian society in half a century, and the findings have left many Malaysians 
gasping in disbelief at how firmly racism and racial stereotyping have become 
entrenched and accepted as a way of life. 

The Merdeka Center said the survey "gives an honest picture of the country's 
situation and interracial perception" and warns that extremists can take 
advantage of interracial fears and suspicions in the absence of a meaningful 

The ruling National Front government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi works 
hard to portray the country as an example of multiculturalism where Muslims, 
Hindus and Christians live together in peace. 

But experts have been voicing concern that, increasingly, the communities are 
drifting apart and that polarization of the races and a lack of social unity 
were on the rise. They squarely blame the politicians and the country's 
race-based politics for the sharp rise in racism. 

The findings have prompted civil-society groups to demand a new ban on all 
race-based political parties. 

"Let us outlaw all Malaysian political parties that restrict membership on 
grounds of race, religion or sex," said lawyer A Sivanesan, who is senior 
leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, one of the four registered 
multi-racial parties in the country. "It should be written in the constitution 
that only multi-racial bodies be permitted." 

Others say the few multi-racial political parties are weak and unable to grow 
because of the strong domination of race-based parties over the political 

"What the survey clearly shows is that the various races live peacefully but 
separately," Sivanesan said. "Half a century after independence we are further 
away from knowing each other than when we started - separate schools, separate 
friends, separate lives." 

Curiously, the survey showed that many Malaysians had vague ideas not only of 
one another's cultures and traditions but also of their own. Hari Raya Puasa 
was wrongly perceived as the Malay New Year by 32% of Malays, 84% of Chinese 
and 45% of Indians - the festival actually marks the culmination of Ramadan, 
the holy month of fasting. Similarly, the Chinese New Year was thought to be a 
religious festival by 57% of Malays, 53% of Indians and a whopping 62% of 
Chinese respondents. 

Despite the lack of unity, the country has enjoyed long periods of peace since 
the 1969 race riots. And unlike in some neighboring countries, notably 
Singapore, where uniformity is enforced, Malaysia's minorities are not 
restricted and are free to practice their own cultures and religions and enjoy 
a vernacular education. 

Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked and jailed in 1998, 
has caused a stir by proposing to reform the political landscape, which he says 
is straining national harmony. 

"We need to appeal to the Malays, Chinese and the Indians and the rest that we 
need to go beyond race-based politics. If you continue to harp and support this 
racial equation, you will never be able to overcome racial divisions," he told 
supporters at a recent rally. 

The government is aware of the deep divide and has taken measures to close the 
gap. One experiment in racial integration is the "Vision Schools" initiative in 
which students share sports fields, assembly halls and canteens, but attend 
classes conducted in their own languages. But the initiative is embroiled in 
controversy, mainly because of the fear among Chinese and Indians that the 
vernacular education system would suffer and erode their ethnic identities. 

A popular initiative, the national-service program, started in 2004, puts 
youths of all races under a single roof. Students are chosen at random and 
taken to camps for about three months in the hope that they will learn teamwork 
and absorb one another's cultures. But the experts say racism is too deeply 
entrenched in official policies and the socio-political system for such 
"halfhearted" measures to make impact. 

"The survey's findings might be a bitter pill to swallow, but it tells us who 
we really are behind the facade we show the world," said Sivanesan. 

(Inter Press Service

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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