A house still divided

By Teoh El Sen, Free Malaysia Today

PETALING JAYA: Race relations in the country have failed to improve over the years, with politicians frequently aggravating the situation by playing the race card for their own political gains, observers said.

However, some observers did note that racial tolerance today is much better off than the post-1969 racial riot period.

Commenting on the seemingly rising racial rhetoric, 1Malaysia Foundation Board of Trustees chairman Dr Chandra Muzaffar said that it would most likely increase.

“This is what is happening now. Each side would get more and more aggressive. And I hope we don’t come to a point of no return,” he said.

“But I must emphasise that the situation today is very different from 1969. If you look at the economic situation then, there was clear Chinese dominance. The vast majority of Malays were very poor, even the Malays in Kuala Lumpur lived in the poorest homes,” Chandra said, adding that Malaysia now has a more multi-ethnic working class.

Chandra said Malaysia did not suffer from “racism” but rather “communalism and chauvanism” as racism has a physical dimension to it, which does not apply in Malaysia.

“The terms ‘communalism and chauvanism’ are more appropriate in Malaysia. It is a feeling towards the ‘outgroup’, those not of your own group, ethnicity and kind. In chauvinism, you glorify your own kind to the detriment of other communities.”

He said Malaysians have always been, by and large, very conscious of their own ethnicity.

“Communal sentiment has always been strong. I don’t think it has become worse specifically. But the sentiments now have been expressed for a very long time, even before and after Merdeka,” he said.

Chandra said that those sentiments simply underwent different phases.

“In the 50s and 60s, the big issue that impacted communities was citizenship; in the 60s and 70s, language was the issue; and from mid-70s onwards, the whole question of the New Economic Policy and ‘special position’ became very important.

“Today we find that religion is one of the issues which generates communal feelings on both sides,” he said.

Communal sentiments

Chandra categorised Malaysians as either “accomodative and inclusive” or those who are chauvanistic or communal.

He said words such as “pendatang” or “penumpang” or “balik China or India”, were an extension of communal sentiments related to citizenship as was in the past.