By Dave Avran
CURRENTLY race and religion seem to be the default narrative to explain anything that we Malaysians are unhappy about.
The aftermath of the Mat Over and David Teo altercation got me thinking about what makes a true Malaysian as I read the harsh and judgemental comments on social media.
Although Malaysia has enjoyed decades of prosperity with little violent conflict, this does not necessarily equate to harmony today. In recent years, with religion being politicised and more children being schooled separately, the Malays, Chinese, Indians and Lain-lain are growing further apart.
I am old enough to remember that we had better race relations in the early days of our nation’s birth. We were a simpler, gentler people living in acceptance and harmony. We were a more liberal society and had a desire for progress that allowed us to not only become successful individuals but also to contribute to our beloved nation, ensuring mutual success.
Sadly we have regressed as a multi-cultural society.
A recent study commissioned by CIMB Foundation and conducted by Blavatnik School of Government and Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, studied this national identity crisis.
The most intriguing finding is how we define the term “Malaysian” – for Malays, being Malaysian means being Malay, while respondents from other ethnic groups define being Malaysian as a more collective identity, by having more inter-ethnic interactions and relations.
According to the study “Malays might be projecting their ethnic identity onto the national identity, thus possibly conceiving of being Malaysian as being ‘the same thing’ as being Malay. Thus speaking in terms of being Malaysian to a Malay audience may not promote integration, and could potentially hinder it.”
It was also found that “respondents identified strongly with their religious groups, particularly the Muslims and the Hindus”.
The study highlights how minority groups feel about being Malaysian. Faced with perceived “discrimination”, “nearly half of Chinese respondents reported a strong desire to emigrate from Malaysia, while more than half of the Indian respondents reported a strong willingness to participate in collective action.”
So Malaysians seem to live alongside each other, but they are apart – having little meaningful interaction with people from other races for most of their lives, preferring instead to spend time with people from their own racial groups.
About 90 per cent of Malay respondents, 80 per cent of Chinese respondents and 70 per cent of Indian respondents reported that almost all of their friends were from their own respective racial groups.
It will certainly be interesting to view the data from the upcoming second part of the study, where the research team aims to survey respondents from Sabah and Sarawak.
Cultivating positive inter-racial interactions at various levels – neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools should be the core theme of Malaysia’s policy for improving relations.
National and local policymakers must work together to understand how schools, housing and regeneration policies can improve or inhibit inter-racial mixing.
These must be implemented in a way that respects deeply-held values and beliefs of all the groups in question.
Personally, I think that we must do away with race and religious-based politicking. We must reboot our thinking towards a nation that is progressive, economically sound, and able to stand united among the developed nations of the world.
We – you and I, must be the kind of Malaysian that we want to see, which will lead to a united multi-cultural country to proudly live in and practise compassion and acceptance in our daily lives.
We can only do this if we all work together, as true blue Malaysians.