By Melati Mohd Arif
The country achieved independence more than five decades ago, but issues about unity still persist.
This is the final part of the five-part series highlighting the views of Prof Dr Teo Kok Seong, the Deputy Director of Malay World and Civilisation Institute at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
KUALA LUMPUR, August 29 (Bernama) — Ethnic relations in Malaysia appears to have been handled well and the pluralistic society appears to be living in unity.
However, for Prof Dr Teo Kok Seong the Deputy Director of Malay World and Civilisation Institute at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) unity in this country has been more of rhetoric in essence.
Instead Dr Teo, who is also UKM’s Bahasa Melayu Sociolinguistic Professor, noted the word ‘juxtaposition’ best described the unity of various races in Malaysia.
“Juxtaposition here means while we live together as a society, in reality we are also suspicious of one another,” he told this to Bernama in an interview that focused on issues relating to unity in conjunction with the 54th Merdeka anniversary celebration.
EXAMPLES OF SUSPICIONS
In the aftermath of the May 13th 1969 racial clashes, the government attempted to bridge the racial divide by implementing the New Economic Policy (DEB).
Dr Teo, however, noted that the situation now has instead turned into a win-lose game.
“What is gained by the Malays via certain policies is seen as a loss to non-Malays. The situation has reached to this extent and this is not good for unity,” he said.
Dr Teo also took the handful of Wawasan Schools as an example that the government introduced in 1997 in an effort to unite the pupils of various races.
However the concept, which was supposedly to be expanded nationwide, was later abandoned due to unenthusiastic response especially from the non-Malays.
The non-Malays were suspicious, thinking that there was a hidden agenda by the Malay leaders behind the concept.
“But if we look at it closely the intention was noble but the non-Malays, particularly the Chinese, saw the concept as a tool to erode their roots and culture,” he said.
This happened because there were suspicions among the different ethnic groups.
“If the people are united, then anything introduced by the government will be well accepted without any doubts,” he said.
Dr Teo noted the same happened with the “Malaysia Negaraku” (Malaysia My Country) subject taught in Bahasa Melayu that was earmarked for introduction in all schools early this year.
“The Chinese schools were all out against the subject beliving this was a clever ploy by the government and Malay leaders to turn non-Malays into Malays. Therefore these schools demanded the subject be taught in Chinese,” explained Dr Teo.
Dr Teo suggested four ways to deal with ‘suspicious’ feelings among the ethnic groups, which he said were getting worse with the passage of time.
To overcome suspicions they have to know each other, understand each other, respect and appreciate diversity.
“Unfortunately, Malaysians have yet to reach even the first level of knowing each other,” he said.
“When we do not know each other, then we will not be able to accept things. This is important in a pluralistic society. Only after this can we proceed to the next level,” he said.
“The government has done a lot since the May 13 incident, but the people were not responsive enough to make the aspirations a reality.
“In my view, the government does not sideline any group only that the non-Malays refuse to participate in many programmes that have the national interest.
He cited an example where the Chinese refused to send their children to the national schools. Now some 90 per cent of Chinese children are in Chinese-language schools.
This is much different when compared with the situation in the 70s and 80s when many Chinese parents sent their children to national schools.
NATIONALISM ALONG RACIAL LINES
Dr Teo linked this change of attitude among the Chinese to a rise in the sense of nationalism along racial lines in Malaysia.
This came about after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s and the rise of China as a world power.
He said many Chinese worldwide, including those in Malaysia, have been fascinated with China’s potential.
“They associate themselves with a super power and this is not difficult since ethnically they have Chinese roots.
“To me it is not wrong to retain their Chinese identity, as our country has a pluralistic society but it is wrong if there is Chinese nationalism and sense of belonging to China.
“They have forgotten about this country’s nationalism. This is becoming a problem,” he said, adding that it involved both the younger and older generations.
Dr Teo refered to the Malay saying of “Di mana bumi di pijak di situ langit di junjung” (that literally means adapt yourself with the local ways and show your appreciation to your host country).
He said they had to show loyalty where they live and earn their living.
Nationalism, in this country means the symbol and socio-cultural process of the Malays, like Bahasa Melayu and the national culture based on the Malay culture as agreed by the different ethnic groups when the country gained independence.
Dr Teo said the non-Malays too adopted nationalism and a sense of belonging to this country while they practiced their ways and customs.
“However, some only can speak in Chinese, either not being able to speak Malay or simply refuse to speak in Malay for the fear of losing their identity and having no respect for the national language.
“What’s more, if a Chinese speaks to another Chinese, they prefer to use English without any prejudice. This is wrong and they should realise that Bahasa Melayu is the national language that represents all,” he said.
Dr Teo said racial extremism continued to rear its ugly head as among the factors that hamper social unity in Malaysia.
LANGUAGE OF UNITY
Dr Teo said Bahasa Melayu, in its capacity as the national language, should be seen as the language of unity and a national symbol for Malaysia’s pluralistic society.
That is why a single-medium school is good for all, he said.
He noted that, currently, there are six medium schools, the primary national schools, vernacular schools (Chinese and Tamil-type), religious schools, private schools that uses English as the medium for teaching, Chinese private School (which uses the Chinese language), international schools (which uses English) and of course excluding those studying at home.
“If this is the case then how are we to create a society that has the same sense of belonging with the common national aspiration? It is difficult and, in fact impossible.
“Look at Singapore, their schools have only one stream where they use English. The Chinese and Tamil languages, as well as Bahasa Melayu, are taught in their capacity as subjects. In that way the Singaporeans exhibit the same sense of belonging, as well as nationalism.
“We should be using Bahasa Melayu as the medium of communication, and other languages should be taught as subjects for the purpose of unity,” he said.
LACK OF SUPPORT
Many youths, particularly the Chinese, cannot speak Bahasa Melayu or know the customs of Malays because they do not mix with Malays.
They also show a lack of interest in participating in government-held programmes or those of NGOs which involve various races.
Based upon his experience when giving talks at camps on unity and Gagasan 1Malaysia, Dr Teo said the majority present were Malays.
“There were a few Indians, no Chinese at all. They do not like discussing the sense of belonging and nationalism aspect that stresses the utilisation and application of the Malay socio-culture, including Bahasa Melayu as the national language.
“Therefore only the Malays listen to this,” said Dr Teo adding that the non-Malay youths lack the understanding of the country’s history what more in appreciating it.
Dr Teo said Chinese leaders have to play their role in correcting this imbalance.
“Their struggle is more about protecting the welfare of the Chinese in terms of economy. There is no effort to bring nationalism to the Chinese who lack nationalism.
“I ask the Chinese leaders, from within out without the government to deal with this imbalance in the sense of belonging among this community.
“If we do not do anything now, then the situation will worsen in the future,” he said.
CHANGE OF ATTITUDE
Dr Teo said genuine unity would only exist if there was psychological assimilation, meaning the non-Malays were willing to identify themselves with Malays as the original and dominant people of the country.
“They should accept the way of life of the Malays in the framework of national culture, including the use of Bahasa Melayu as the national language, and not feel that this will erode their ethnic identity.
“Why is this difficult as compared to the Malaysian Chinese who migrated to Australia and underwent psychological assimilation very fast.
“The Chinese do not have this problem when they reside in Thailand or Indonesia.
After more than 50 years of the country’s independence, Malaysians should be optimistic about achieving racial unity and all quarters should see Malaysia as their own home, and not as a mere transit or lodging home.
He said Malaysia is not merely a place to look for riches where the money obtained is invested elsewhere.
“All should share this responsibility and not leave it to the Malays alone, as this is their country, too.
“If problems arise, we should discuss them sincerely,” said Dr Teo.