The invasion is yet another unwelcome incident pointing to the federal government's myopic view and disregard of Sabah’s original ethnic fabric.
Many believe that all the unpleasant things happening to Sabah would not have happened if the state had been allowed to remain a sovereign state within the Federation of Malaysia.
Veteran political activist, Fredoline Edwin Lojingki, 72, said the latest in a long line of unwelcome incidents – the intrusion of armed Sulu extremists in Lahad Datu – pointed to the federal government’s myopic view and disregard of the original ethnic fabric in Sabah.
He pointed out how initially in the 1960s Sabah was overwhelmingly a Dusun and Christian population until overzealous Malayan Muslim leaders, who dominated the federal government, decided to change the state into a Muslim majority.
“In the 1970s, with the encouragement of Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak, then Sabah leader Tun Mustapha Harun, coerced thousands of Dusuns and Muruts to convert to Islam, promising them a state-sponsored livelihood.
“But this was too slow and so Mustapha, himself a Suluk, connived with Malayan leaders to get Suluk people or Tausugs from the Southern Philippines to settle in Sabah, and increase the Muslim numbers,” said Lojingki.
He said this policy did not expire when the new Berjaya government helmed by Harris Salleh took over.
Thousands more poured in during the 1990s and the “new Malaysians” as they came to be called gradually merged and could no longer be distinguished from the local population. They became part of the social fabric of the state.
“But now look what has happened? Our policemen have a hard time searching for these people who have become safe havens for the Suluk intruders. Malaya is responsible for all this,” Lojingki said.
Evidence heard during the on-going Royal Commission of Inquiry on the illegal immigrant problem in the state after years of allegations that a “reverse takeover” of Sabah was close to being accomplished, has added weight to the claims.
Lojingki is not alone in his belief that the federal government, driven by its own insecurity, launched the ill-conceived policy to “Islamise” Sabah to cement its hold on the resource-rich state.
Another native leader Felix Kain, 56, a campaign director of NGO Gindol Initiative for Civil Society Borneo for Kudat region, agrees fully with with Lojingki’s views.
“In Sabah they carried out ‘Projek IC’ for illegal immigrants. They were registered by SPR (Election Commission) as voters in many constituencies in their effort to defeat a Christian-led party Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Why must Malayan people do this to Sabahans… I don’t quite understand,” he said, adding that he was inclined to believe that it all had to do with religious bias as there was no other explanation for it.
Kain from Kota Marudu said this bias has permeated everywhere and anything Malayan.
“The federal agencies, their people, seem to be all inclined towards the same thing… increase the Muslim population in Sabah and ignore the natural fabric of our society.
“This has happened so glaringly that even some of my Muslim relatives and friends have to awkwardly admit that Islamising Sabah is the intent,” he said.
Policy to neutralise
Another native leader, Saiman Sandah, said granting hundreds of thousands of Malaysian identity documents to Muslim illegal immigrants from the Southern Philippines as well as Indonesia showed that there had always been a policy to neutralise the political power held by native Sabahans.
“Our multi-cultural Sabah has always been a tolerant society but politicians from the peninsula brought their politics of racism and religion to the state and this is the result we have now,” he said.
More open-minded local Muslim leaders in Sabah, he said, had themselves become targets of unscrupulous leaders from the peninsula.
Sandah, who is also the Sabah State Reform Party (STAR) operations director, said federal leaders have yet to explain how things have been allowed to come to this stage.
As Lojingki said, things would have been safer if Sabahans were really in charge.