Plumbing the depths of Malaysia, truly Asia

Malaysia is touted as a multicultural country where people of different religions and ethnicities live together in harmony. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A lawyer has questioned the depth of Malaysia’s multicultural image, saying there is a lack of true rapport among the races despite the majority denying they are racist.

Speaking to FMT, Cecil Rajendra said the company which such people kept showed the true extent of their claim to interracial friendships.

“If you look at lawyers, they all hang out in cliques of a specific race. One group will be Indians, one will be the Malays, and another group will be Chinese.

“Some may say they are not racists because they have friends who are of different races, but are these real friends?”

He spoke of a Malay wedding he recently attended where he was the only Indian guest.

“My wife was the only Chinese there,” he added. “Similarly at a Chinese wedding, how many non-Chinese guests do you see?

“That is how far we have regressed.”

He attributed the divisions in the country to political influences which he said were too race-centric, even with a new government in place.

“Where else do you have a country where all the major political parties are race-based?”

He added that eradicating racism in the country would require the cooperation of the people, including those who considering leaving.

“I lived in England for a long time,” he said, adding that he even had permanent residence status there. “But I chose to come back.

“Everybody was emigrating, going to Australia, New Zealand and so on. But the thing is, if we don’t stay and fight for this, the situation will not improve.

“I told my friends, the liberals: if they are liberals, and they choose to leave the country simply because they don’t like what is happening here, then the country is gone.”

What can be done to fix the situation? Several people whom FMT spoke to offered various suggestions.

Communications executive Nurulisawati Mohamad, 28, said the government should do away with segregation in the education system.

“We need to start at a young age,” she said. “The government should do away with Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools so that children of all races are able to interact with one another.”

She added that schools could always conduct additional classes for those who wished to learn other languages.

Lukman Baharuddin, 36, agreed that racial divisions existed even among children in school.

“When I was in school, I remember my classmates insulting the Chinese students, calling them ‘Cina babi’. We were only children then, but I still hear them today.”

He, too, said it was up to the people to break free from racial mindsets. However, he added that efforts should begin from the top.

“Not just among us laymen, it needs to start with those in government as well. People look up to them, they need to set a good example.”

Kwok Chung, 35, works in the government sector. He expressed hope that the government would do more to foster integration and equal treatment among the races.

Jaslyn Edwards, 39, said Malaysia needed to do away with race-based political parties and those who champion the rights of particular ethnic groups.

“I miss those days when I would follow my mother to work, and she would bring me to her favourite mixed rice stall. The owner, who was a Malay, would take her order and address her by her name.

“You don’t find much of that anymore,” she said. “You get stares when you walk into a shop, whether it is a Chinese or Malay restaurant, and you are an Indian; or if you are a Malay and you walk into a Chinese restaurant to have a cup of tea or coffee.”