Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Malaysia RACIAL MELTING POT Cracking After 50 Years; Deep Rooted Racism, Discrimination & Bigotry Under Unity & Peace Facade; People Living Separately

Thursday March 29, 2007
Survey: Many youngsters aren't concerned about racial integration

PETALING JAYA: Racial integration among the younger generation in Malaysia still has some way to go, judging by the results of a nationwide survey of 4,400 Form Four students. Only 52% of the teenagers said they had a friend of a different race. In fact, mixing with other races was not something that concerned many of the respondents. Only 12.8% felt that it was an issue, while 63.9% were more worried about contracting a disease. The Cognitive and PsychoSocial Profile of Malaysian Adolescents (CoPs) study was carried out in August by a group of academics from the Education Faculty of Universiti Malaya (UM).

Prof John Arul Phillips, a former UM academic and current dean of the Arts and Social Sciences Faculty at Open University Malaysia, said this was the most complete study of its kind because of the large sampling. “We went to 44 schools in rural areas, towns and cities across Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak,” he said. A total of 16.6% of the 16-year-olds surveyed also admitted to smoking. They cited emotional pressure (27.6%), a desire to be accepted by friends (25.5%) and wanting to be cool and macho (20.1%) as the most common reasons for taking up the habit. Another 12.6% said they were influenced by the mass media.

Other findings include:
# 8.8% reported using drugs;
# 10.7% never eat breakfast;
# 8% have never used a computer; and
# 3% said they were often not interested in studies.

The study also compared different groups of students. There was no major difference in resilience and self-esteem levels between males and females, but non-smokers were found to be more resilient and had higher self-esteem. In addition, males reported better relationships with their teachers compared with females. CoPs project leader Assoc Prof Dr Fatimah Hashim from UM’s Education Faculty said: “There was very low correlation between academic performance in PMR and psycho-social attributes such as self-esteem, resiliency and family bonding.” In the area of general knowledge, only 23.3% of respondents identified Lee Hsien Loong as the Prime Minister of Singapore and 43.3% knew that Bill Gates founded Microsoft. However, 81% knew that Manchester United was an English football club. Students were poor in civic knowledge, too. For example, only 58.4% knew that Parliament consisted of the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.
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Malaysia is just about to be 5o years old and it is too much to expect the major racial components be close to each other in such a short time. From the Christian era we have heard the term “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). It was an ironic statement, for in that society no man loved his neighbor, but distrusted him heartily.

In terms of time evolution, mankind had come to the point where it delighted so in distinctions and differences amongst the different races, those even in small geographical areas - multitudinous groups, cults and nationalities were assembled, each proudly asserting its own individuality and worth over others. In the beginning in those terms, man’s emerging consciousness needed the freedom to disperse itself, to become different, to originate bases for various characteristics and assert individuations and hence the evolution of various races within the human species.

You must realize that your present race is the one into which you were born, in your terms in this place and time. But most of you cannot recall and remember each of you have been members of different races and so each of you have shared in both the advantages and ignominies attached, in historic terms, to such conditions of birth. But alas short is your memory and long is your pain and you have forgotten your many accents and have to be relearned them. Those who remembered are few and can find no identity as a race but as a human species. You are a cooperative species and a loving one.

Your misunderstandings and your distrusts in each other real as they are seldom committed out of any intent to be evil, but because of severe misinterpretations about the nature of good, and the means that can be taken towards its actualization. Many of these will be directly or indirectly connected with old myths and beliefs of your forefathers
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MALAYSIA: Racial Melting Pot on the Boil

Analysis by Baradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 21 (IPS) - Asia's melting pot, Malaysia, is celebrating 50 years of independence from British rule but against a backdrop of mounting racial disquiet fuelled by race-based politics, redundant policies that divide and discriminate and affirmative action that favours native Malays over minority Chinese and Indians. Half a century into nationhood, the ideal of a 'Bangsa Malaysia' – that promised a blended Malaysian race that was to have climbed out of the melting pot -- is still nowhere in sight. Instead there is a clash between resurgent Islam and the secular constitution. Even Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi admitted recently that the major races that make up this unique country are drifting apart owing to racial and religious divisions and built-in discriminations. ''The situation is worrisome,'' Badawi told Malaysians during a televised address last December, appealing for racial understanding, tolerance and national unity.

Foreign travellers who only see peace, stability and development are unaware that racism and discrimination pervade every aspect of Malaysian society. The country's first ever survey of race relations conducted last year confirmed that, below the. For instance all political parties are race-based and champion the cause of their particular race. Playing the "race card" is a sure and tried method to advance politically. The education system is heavily segregated with nearly 90 percent of Chinese students studying in Chinese vernacular schools and as large a proportion of Malays preferring national schools or Islamic schools where the Malay language and Islam are emphasised.

Inter-racial mistrust, resentment and condescending attitudes are common features of daily life, as the race relations survey showed. Despite these setbacks, nowhere in Asia can one find so many different races and cultures calling one country home. Besides the majority Malays, other racial groups include Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Europeans, Eurasians and dozens of ethnic and aboriginal communities. A potpourri of religions co-exist from the majority Muslims to Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Sikhs and numerous native belief systems. "We coexist, even live together but we live separately in our own worlds," said opposition lawmaker Kula Segaran from the minority Indian community that makes up about 8 percent of the population of 26 million and is the most disadvantaged economically.

"The outward peace and stability is not built on justice or meritocracy but made possible by fear and other drastic measures," Segaran told IPS. "An expanding economy with tremendous wealth creation had hid the warts...as the economy slows, the warts are surfacing.'' "We celebrate 50 years of independence as a nation but the people are further apart than ever," Segaran said. "We don't know each other; we go to different schools, have people from our own races as friends and live separate lives." Malay Muslims, about 60 percent of the population, were the most backward economically at independence in 1957 but, through "Malays-first" policies, have advanced on many fronts and today form a sizeable middle-class. Despite the advances, Malay wealth is in the hands of a politically well connected elite while in the rural areas of the country the Malay poor predominate.

The Chinese who first arrived as labourers to work the tin mines, now form 25 percent of the population and are economically the most vibrant -- controlling some 60 percent of the economy. At the core of racial divide is the New Economic Policy or NEP which was originally designed to eradicate poverty irrespective of race, create wealth and ensure economic equality. However, in its implementation, Malays benefited over other races -- including in preferential employment, education, scholarships, business, access to cheaper housing and assisted savings. Originally designed to last for 20 years, the basic policies of the NEP have continued under different names, sparking envy and resentment between Malays and non-Malays. Non-Malays have come to accept the discrimination as the price they have to pay for peace and stability. But as the economy shrinks and wealth contracts and a new generation of Malaysians come into their own, many are unwilling and unable to stomach the discrimination that is institutionalised. "I was born here, I am a citizen, why should I be treated as second or third class," said law student Amarjeet Singh, who did not make it to the local university despite having good grades.

"We simply can't continue with these unfair policies," he told IPS. Even some sections of the Malay leadership led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad have said that unfair advantages given to Malays have made them uncompetitive. He called the aid "crutches" in a major speech a year before he retired in 2003, calling for the aid to be reviewed. Badawi also believes the "crutches'' have to go, but a class of Malays has arisen with powerful political clout who have enjoyed these privileges and see them as their birthright and demand their continuation. Although the political will to make major changes is missing, the government has taken steps to close the divide. But critics say it is only curing the fever without killing the cause of the infection.

One experiment in racial integration is the "Vision Schools" where students from all races share sports fields, assembly halls and canteens, but attend classes conducted in their own languages. Another initiative is a compulsory national service programme for 18-year-olds that was started in 2004. It puts youths from different racial background under a single roof. Students are chosen at random and taken to camps for three months to learn teamwork and absorb one another's cultures. But the experts say racism is too deeply entrenched in official policies and
the socio-political system for such "half hearted" measures to make an impact
. On the political front, opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, on a political comeback after six years in prison, is campaigning on a platform offering affirmative action for all needy Malaysians and an end to race politics. But it is left to the voters to decide.


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Racism Rife in Malaysia's Melting Pot - Survey

Baradan Kuppusamy
KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 22 (IPS) - Malaysia's first serious survey of race relations, in 50 years, shows that behind the façade of outward unity and peace, racism runs deep in this multi-ethnic 'melting pot'. The telephone survey of about 1,200 Malaysians also found that the majority of the various races find comfort and security in their respective ethnicity and not in a common ‘Malaysian' identity, as the travel and tourism brochures suggest. ''The findings are not at all surprising,'' said social scientist Chandra Muzaffar. ''This is partly because ethnic boundaries are real in our society and almost every sphere of public life is linked to ethnicity in one way or another.'' The survey, by the independent Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, also found that negative racial stereotyping was deeply entrenched. For example, minority Chinese and Indians see the majority Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population of 25 million people, as lazy.

Chinese and Indians, who began migrating here in the early 19th century, make up 26 percent and 8.0 percent of the population, respectively. It found that more than half the population does not trust each other. For a nation that claims to be a 'melting pot', only eleven percent of the respondents said they had eaten often with friends from other races in the past three months. Thirty four percent said they have never had a meal with people of other races. The survey found that 42 percent do not consider themselves Malaysian first, 46 percent say ethnicity is important in voting, 55 percent blame politicians for racial problems and 70 percent would help their own ethnic group first. According to the survey, 58 percent of Malays, 63 percent of Chinese and 43 percent of Indians polled agreed that ''in general, most Malays are lazy.'' Meanwhile, 71 percent of Malays, 60 percent of Chinese and 47 percent of Indians agree that ''in general, most Chinese are greedy.''

Sixty-four percent of Malays, 58 percent of Chinese and 20 percent of Indians agreed that ''in general, most Indians cannot be trusted.'' The survey, commissioned by the semi-official New Straits Times newspaper and supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, is the first honest look at Malaysian society and the findings have left Malaysians gasping in disbelief at how firmly racism and racial stereotyping has become entrenched and accepted as a way of life. The Merdeka Centre said the survey ''gives an honest picture of the country's situation and inter-racial perception'' and warns that extremists can take advantage of inter-racial fears and suspicions in the absence of a meaningful interaction. The ruling National Front government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi works hard to portray the country as an example of multiculturalism where Muslims, Hindus and Christians live together in peace.

But experts have been voicing concern that, increasingly, the communities were drifting apart and polarization of the races and a lack of social unity was on the rise. They squarely blame the politicians and the country's race-based politics for the sharp rise in racism. The shocking findings have also prompted civil society to demand a ban on all race- based political parties. ''Let us outlaw all Malaysian political parties that restricts membership on grounds of race, religion or sex,'' said lawyer politician A. Sivanesan who is senior leader in the opposition Democratic Action Party, one of the four registered multi-racial parties in the country. ''It should be written in the constitution that only multi-racial bodies be permitted.'' Others say the few multi-racial political parties are weak and unable to grow because of the strong domination of race based parties over the political system.'' Social problems affect all communities,'' Sivanesan said. ''Poverty, drug and crime are not specific to any one race. All races face the blight.'' ''What the survey clearly shows is that the various races live,'' Sivanesan told IPS.

''Half a century after independence we are further away from knowing each other than when we started às separate schools, separate friends, separate lives.'' Curiously, the survey showed that many Malaysians had vague ideas, not only of each other's cultures and traditions but also of their own. Hari Raya Puasa was wrongly perceived as the Malay New Year by 32 per cent of Malays, 84 per cent of Chinese and 45 per cent of Indians --when the festival actually marks the culmination of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Similarly, the Chinese New Year was thought to be a religious festival by 57 percent of Malays, 53 percent of Indians and a whopping 62 percent of Chinese respondents. Despite the lack of unity, the country has enjoyed long periods of peace except for one race riot in 1969. And unlike in some neighbouring countries where uniformity is enforced, Malaysia's minorities are not restricted and are free to practice their own cultures and religions and enjoy a vernacular education.

But, the government officially practices a policy of positive discrimination that favours Malays over other races in many areas -- from employment, education, scholarships and business to cheaper housing and assisted savings. Private companies must hand over 30 percent of equity to ethnic Malays and a portion of housing and commercial property must be sold to them. These measures, collectively called the New Economic Policy or NEP, were started in 1970 to reduce the yawning economic gap with the Chinese community, which dominates business in this country, as in most of South-east Asia. Originally designed to last for 20 years it has continued without check, sparking envy and resentment between Malays and non-Malays. Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked and jailed in 1998, has caused a stir by proposing to reform the political landscape which he says is straining national harmony.

''We need to appeal to the Malays, Chinese and the Indians and the rest that we need to go beyond race-based politics. If you continue to harp and support this racial equation, you will never be able to overcome racial divisions,'' he told supporters at a recent rally. The government is aware of the deep divide and has taken measures to close the gap. One experiment in racial integration is the 'Vision Schools' initative where students share sports fields, assembly halls and canteens, but attend classes conducted in their own languages. But the initiative is embroiled in controversy mainly because of the fear among Chinese and Indians that the vernacular education system would suffer and erode their identities. A popular initiative, the national service programme, started in 2004, puts youths of all the races under a single roof. Students are chosen at random and taken to camps for about three months in the hope that they will learn team work and absorb each other's culture. But, the experts say racism is too deeply entrenched in official policies and the socio-political system for such 'half-hearted' measures to make impact.

''The survey's findings might be a bitter pill to swallow but it tells us who we really are behind the façade we show the world,'' said Sivanesan. (END/2006)

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Minorities Wary of Islamist Party's Overtures

Baradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 13 (IPS) - Malaysia's opposition Pan Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) has been making serious overtures to the country's non-Muslims, promising them ‘justice and equality'. But non-Muslims, who make up a significant 40 percent of the country's 26 million people, though deeply desirous of political change, are refusing to bite the bait put out by the fundamentalist PAS. While all Malays are deemed Muslim by the constitution, ethnic Chinese who form 24 percent of the population are mostly Buddhists or Christians while Indians, who make up another eight percent, largely follow Hinduism. The PAS experiment seeks to persuade non-Muslims that they need not fear Islam and that the religion offers a more wholesome alternative to western secular laws, besides protection and preservation of their own culture, traditions and religions.

Both moderate Muslim and non-Muslim voters had punished PAS in the 2004 general election for building its campaign entirely on a promise to set up an Islamic theocracy, if it comes to power. Since then, however, the PAS appears to have undergone a major makeover that is more in tune with the secular principles on which the country's constitution is based, recognising the rights and interests of Chinese, Indians and other minorities. But PAS' problem is that a moderate, western-educated cabal of liberal leaders has been voted to high office and change is also sweeping through the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO)-led National Front coalition government. Prompted by the sound drubbing at the polls, PAS strategists are beginning to see wisdom in accommodating non-Muslim views and fears. Changes on the anvil include the party's willingness to accept minority Chinese and Indians as associate members, readiness to field non-Muslims as candidates in elections under the Islamic banner and opening membership in the all-male Supreme Council to women. "PAS members are now more mature and educated to accept such ideas," said PAS deputy president Nasaruddin Isa. "Islam guarantees equality and justice for all members, irrespective of their religion and race." Critics, however, say the changes are insincere and opportunistic and designed to discard the party's extremist image in order to woo non-Muslims ahead of a general election, widely expected late next year. It is still unclear how non-Muslims, who fear the PAS and oppose its ambition to turn Malaysia's multi-ethnic society into an Islamic theocracy, would react to the changes. But PAS is not waiting to find out and is readying a road show to convince non-Muslims of its new moderate outlook and openness. PAS, which rules Kelantan state, is also offering non-Muslims something they have desired since independence in 1957 -- equality with native Malays and an end to affirmative action policies that favour ‘sons-of-the-soil' over non-Malays of immigrant stock. PAS is also promising a transparent, accountable and corruption-free government in which the sole criteria for participation would be merit rather than race or religion, as is practiced now. All the promises are attractive for non-Muslims but the fear of Islam is also deep-rooted. That fear has traditionally driven them to support the ruling 14-party coalition government that has been in power since independence, no matter how shoddy a deal they might get. Led by the UMNO, the National Front has dominated politics because non-Muslims have supported it in exchange for a guarantee of adherence to secularism. "It is a very interesting experiment PAS has embarked upon. Previously, there was considerable non-Muslim sympathy for PAS because it had dedicated and incorruptible leaders who preached justice and equality," said Raja Petra Kamaruddin, editor of the ‘Malaysia Today' news website. "But after 9/11 and the ‘war on terror' the very word Islam terrifies non-Muslims," he told IPS. "PAS is out to clean up this image in time for an early general election....if they succeed here other Islamic parties can do the same elsewhere in the world," Kamaruddin told IPS. Kamaruddin admits that the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims has widened considerably. "Even opposition political parties refuse to join an opposition coalition if PAS is a member," he said. "There is simply no market for Islam among non-Muslims here and everywhere in the world."

In the 1999 general election non-Muslim voters punished the opposition Democratic Action Party or DAP for forming a coalition with PAS. After the DAP walked out of the coalition the same voters rewarded it in the 2004 general election. Opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim is however racing against time to convince non-Muslims to understand the true dimensions of Islam and not fall prey to the anti-Islam phobia. Anwar, who has formed an alliance with PAS, is wooing the secular DAP, an opposition party that largely represents the interests of ethnic Chinese. But, many of its leaders are opposed to the idea and refuse to have anything to do with a coalition where PAS is a member, unless the party publicly renounces its Islamic agenda. Over one million Malay Muslims had voted for PAS in the 2004 general election and by that they had implicitly endorsed the party's Islamic state platform. For PAS to renounce it would be a major disaster and would possibly cause serious internal dissension and turmoil, political analysts said. Many non-Muslims are caught in a dilemma -- they like the PAS leadership for its clean image, incorruptibility and transparent management but they oppose a political programme based entirely on Islam. "I will join PAS if it gives up Islam," said trade unionist A. V. Kathiah.

"Like me, many Malaysians will consider joining PAS because it has clean and credible leaders," he told IPS. "The problem is that these leaders see everything through the prism of Islam." However, Mahfuz Omar, a senior PAS leader said non-Muslim fears of Islam are irrational and unjustified. "PAS is making a big sacrifice by opening its doors to non-Muslims," he said. "Over time non-Muslims will realise that Islam is perfect for this life and the hereafter what more would anybody want," he said. Non-Muslims want equality, repeal of unequal laws and an end to policies that favour one particular race. Critics say that the image of PAS as an extremist organisation is too deeply ingrained to be erased merely by throwing open party membership to non-Muslims. The party's strategy thus far has been to explain to non-Muslims that the justice and fairness in Islam will protect and promote their interest and that they have nothing to fear. But such assurances are not enough. This strategy is acceptable on matters of cultural autonomy, ethnic equality and integrity but suspicion returns with the party's often controversial policies on religious freedom, morality and gender equality, and even dress codes. Experts say PAS has to do two things if it wants to appeal to non-Islamist votes. First, it must widen its appeal and articulate it in Malaysian rather than Islamist language such as by campaigning against issues such as hikes in the prices of petroleum products, which affects all Malaysians irrespective of race and religion. Secondly, PAS must change its lukewarm attitude to democracy and commit itself to push for established civil society objectives. (END/2006)

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