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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

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