From I Lourdesamy
This question has gained relevance and importance due to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s comments recently in an interview with a news channel in Chennai, India.
He said Indians and Chinese in Malaysia are not completely loyal to the country. They do not speak Malay at home or practise Malay customs and culture.
He said they still identify themselves as Indians and Chinese, retain their own language and culture, and have close links with their country of origin. Therefore, they cannot claim ownership of Malaysia as the Malays can.
By extension, his statement applies to all other minorities in the country who do not meet the loyalty criteria of Mahathir.
According to Mahathir, the Indians, the Chinese, and others who came to Malaya/Malaysia a long time ago cannot claim to own the country because they are different from the Malays, the original owners of the country.
For them to own the country, they must “become” Malay. In other words, they must give up their own identity and assimilate themselves totally with the Malays and their way of life.
Only then can they be said to be loyal to the country, and hence claim ownership. This is Mahathir’s definition of a Malaysian.
The minorities in Malaysia have to give up their own ethnic and cultural identities and merge themselves into a single Malaysian identity, which is Malay.
Basically, one can interpret it or misinterpret it as a form of ethnic and cultural cleansing.
To me, Mahathir’s thinking is totally muddled and confused. It goes against all precepts and concepts today of nationhood, loyalty, cultural diversity, and citizenship.
It is a formula for disaster in a plural society like Malaysia.
It also presupposes that uniformity is more productive than diversity in developing Malaysia into a first-world country.
There is little empirical basis for this assumption. The evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of diversity as a potent force for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship which are critical elements in developing a country.
Diversity is a pillar of strength for Malaysia, not a weakness. It would be foolish to replace this with uniformity. We don’t want all Malaysians to become Malays (if that is possible at all).
We want them to become good citizens. We want to retain the strength, dynamism and opportunities that come from our diversity and then build our Malaysian identity on top of that.
The Malaysian identity will be a unique amalgam of divergence and convergence, the meeting point of diversity and conformity.
In real terms, it means a mindset and behaviour that is realistic, accommodating and compromising. That is what a Malaysian would be.
A Malaysian would not be a product that comes out from a melting-pot of cultures where differences are discarded or eliminated.
This combination of divergence and convergence would be “Bangsa Malaysia” where all citizens would be equal before the law and where Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera distinctions would be replaced by affirmative action for all who need a level playing field to compete.
There would be no entitlement based on race.
It is critical we do not leave politicians to define a “Malaysian”. All Malaysians must participate and have an active role in defining “Bangsa Malaysia” because it is crucial for the future of the country.
The success or failure of Malaysia depends on how well we can learn to manage social divergence and convergence in the country.
Our social scientists need to play a greater role in helping to define the Malaysian identity so that the concept is not hijacked by politicians for their own ends.
Mahathir’s understanding of nation, nationality and citizenship is clearly limited and distorted.
Indians are not claiming ownership of Malaysia. They are claiming their rights as citizens of the country, which is enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
No one owns Malaysia. As citizens we have certain rights and responsibilities to the country.
The founding fathers of the country understood and recognised this and incorporated it into the constitution.
What Mahathir is saying is, in fact, going against the constitution.
I Lourdesamy is an FMT reader
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.