Assimilation vs Integration: Mahathir blames the Chinese and Indians. What else is new?

By Multatuli Murtadi

Multatuli wants the governments to learn that it cannot legislate culture. The proposed National Culture Act even discriminated against Malay cultural practices when deemed “unIslamic”.

Credit Fahmi (LHS) Astro (RHS)

In one of his recent rantings Mahathir Mohamad blamed racism in Malaysia on the refusal of the Chinese and Indians to be assimilated into the local culture.

Before we deal with Mahathir’s dishonesty, should we not ask the same question of ourselves? Why have we as immigrants from Nusantara not adopted the culture of the Orang Asli or that of the natives of Sabah and Sarawak?

Naturally this will bring up the argument of whether Malays are natives of this land. I will leave that argument for another day.

Suffice to say most of us can trace our roots to Indonesia. Najib Abdul Razak has proudly proclaimed he is Bugis and Zahid Hamidi that he is Javanese and everyone knows Mahathir’s roots are in Kerala, India. I myself am only a second generation Malaysian.

“Masuk Melayu” has always been a Malay thing. Become one of us – adopt our customs, speak our language, wear our clothes, eat our food and you will be accepted as Malay. There will be no more discrimination and life will be a bed of roses with everyone entitled to handouts, discount on housing, buying shares, government jobs, Petronas franchise. Instant Bumiputraism, Malaysia will be a paradise.

It’s as easy as that; or is it really?

But before I go into that, let us ask ourselves how do you expect people from two ancient cultures – Indian and Chinese – to drop everything, delete the thousands of years of cultural practice, language, music, art etc; basically delete from their cultural genes and memory bank all that is part of them.

No country has demanded that of their citizens. In the great melting pot that is America; Americans of Italian descent still speak Italian and eat Italian food and follow the customs of the old country. Irish Americans still celebrate St Patrick’s day, Americans from the Middle East and Africa still practise their own culture and follow their own religions. No one has asked them to “masuk” . . . masuk apa? Apache? Cherokee? (read Orang Asli) Anglo Saxon (read Malays) as the first immigrants were?

The government has tried to force the others to assimilate before in the seventies – the National Culture Act. It failed miserably when even mortal enemies (MCA, MIC, Gerakan, DAP) stood shoulder to shoulder to reject this cultural force feeding.

Governments must learn that you cannot legislate culture. It has to be said that the proposed National Culture Act even discriminated against Malay cultural practices when deemed “unIslamic”.

In a multi-racial country, a national culture evolves over time. It comes from the daily social intercourse of the different communities. The Peranakkan (Babas and Nonyas) are evidence of this Malayanisation. They wear sarongs and kebayas, their food is heavily influenced by Malay cuisine, they speak Malay but at the same time they retain their Chineseness. They Malays used to call them “orang cina bukan cina”.

Today, Malays eat char kwei teow or dim sum, banana leaf. Some speak Mandarin and a smattering of Chinese dialects. We like roti canai and kacang puteh, cendol and torsai. How wonderful! A rojak culture.

While Mahathir condemns the Chinese and Indians for hanging on to their culture he says nothing about the intrusion of an even more distant culture.

We Malays, while demanding that the Chinese and Indians masuk Melayu, are ourselves increasingly “masuk Arab”.  

Trust Mahathir to blame the Chinese and Indians when it is he who is the architect of racial discrimination in our country. Racism is the cause of disunity in the country. The minute you legislate that one community is Bumiputra with all the attendant privileges and the other non-Bumiputra with less rights; one a first class citizen and everyone else second or third class, you divide the country.

Unity comes from a common belief in one country, one people, a shared destiny. Chinese and Indian Malaysians have sacrificed for the country, shed their blood. They stand straight and proud as the national anthem is played and the flag raised. I have witnessed them with tearful eyes and lumpy throats sing Negara-ku. They have given their body and heart and we now demand their soul.

We are better than that.

How dull a garden with only one flower? Unsustainable is the jungle with only one kind of tree.

Biodiversity is the reason an ecosystem thrives. We must learn from nature not from racist politicians with personal agendas.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

By Multatuli Murtadi, Kelantan

Three Malaysians – Malay, Chinese, Indian – in hot soup

Rebuilding Malaysia


  • Dato Dr. Balwant Bains says:

    Leaders are at their best if perInch square of the fabric knitting grows from hundreds to thousand to make the fabric durable, sustainable and become a flag of a society that never tears apart…. On the contrary what has become of this country were we the 90% had sailed into?? A proud budding nation of the 50s and 60s took a drastic turn to so called a “tearing apart” nation. It was coming, building and snow-balling when a handful of the 5th and 6th generation of the Chinese and the Indians who by conversion and mix marriage claimed supremacy and called themselves Malays began sagregating and denouncing others who had remained un adulterated and stayed strong in their original cultural and religious status. The Malay Supremacy… They not only forgot their roots and sentiments but they erased the rich past of theirs… Kampong were out shoot from orang asli living style expended and extended when the Chinese and the Indians intermarried with them. The sarongs were introduced by the Indians and the pants were from Chinese. They inter-twined today to respect & represent cultures of both Indians and Chinese living with orang asli in the kampong and later to become the Melayu dress code. An Indian sarong tied over a pajama. We can very well imagine how Orag Asli were clothed in the jungles. There are many pictures that can be viewed on Google. Clothing and weaving were not established by the Orang Asli living in the Malay archiplego as compared to established cotton grown and established clothing of India and China then. Fabric was brought and introduced to the Aslis from these two countries to the Malay Archiplego. If Mahathir is speaking his adulterated head off, he cannot deny that he is an out shoot of this adopted process of cultural transformation that he calls Malay Culture. He wants to give it supremacy in his divide and rule obnoxious Mindset. During his reign he messed it up and today we face the outcome of hatred among races, uncurrent disparity, religious discrimination, unfairness, favourism, supremacy leading to behaviour, arrogance and disappointments. Where are we heading to remains a big Big question mark?

  • Lucas Lo says:

    Sorry but you can not force the older and better culture like the Chinese and Indian cultures to follow a young culture like the Malay which is itself still evolving. How about mixing the three into one and call it the Malaysian culture.

  • Siva says:

    The Malays are hard with the mentality that you must look, talk, behave, think, pray, etc..” like me” to get what you otherwise deserve. If you don’t then do not ask, you will be sidelined till kingdom come. But when they go to the UK, Australia, Scandinavia, the US and so on, they are proud to be a Malay and celebrate the Malayness and still get the benefit of being a citizen or PR of another country. Some say, abolish the vernacular schools. Oh ya really, then what to do with the MARA institutes which is vernacular by itself? There is no learning institute in the world dedicated for only 1 race except MARA (as far as I know). The tagline is Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness. Either you change or become obsolete.

  • Teh Choo Siang says:

    Just IGNORE Mahathir…He is a PROVEN LOSER & A FAILURE…. ALL THOSE WHO FOLLOW & /OR SUPPORTED him will Fail just like him…

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