KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s racial polarisation may be a legacy of the British colonialists, but it is the present policies under the pretext of uplifting the Malays that have complicated efforts for racial unity, a human rights lawyer said today.
Mansoor Saat, who is part of the Malaysian Bar’s Human Rights Committee, said to discuss racial discrimination, it was crucial to look back at history and the legacy left behind by the colonial masters, but warned that it was convenient to blame the past.
“It is nice to have someone to blame. For commercial reasons and some aspects of geopolitical positioning, the British brought in the Chinese and Indians to work as labourers here. Some of the upper class worked in administration,” he told a forum titled “Eliminating Racial Discrimination in Malaysia”.
He said under British rule, the Malays were left behind but questioned why affirmative policies, specifically the New Economic Policy (NEP), had yet to bring them out of the economic doldrums.
“NEP is such a dirty word now but was it so at the time of its launch?” he asked.
“I don’t think so because its objective was to eradicate poverty and to restructure society so that economic activity is not associated with any particular group.”
He said NEP was about national unity, social integration and equal distribution of income and opportunities.
“But after almost 50 years, what has happened? What went wrong?”
A report released by rights group Pusat Komas today said racism has been on the increase in Malaysia.
The Malaysian Racial Discrimination Report 2017 also found an increase in incidence of racial discrimination, and called for harsher punishment on those who were racist and discriminatory in their speech and actions, including politicians.
Mansoor said to end racial discrimination, the government would need economic policies that were inclusive without any discrimination, including in public institutions.
“We also need to revamp our education system and make it progressive, consistent with the needs of the digital age,” he said, adding that the government’s mixing of religion in public institutions had only complicated racial unity.