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Oleh/By		:	DATO' SERI DR. MAHATHIR BIN MOHAMAD 
Tempat/Venue 	: 	RUMAH UNIVERSITY, UNIVERSITY MALAYA 
Tarikh/Date 	: 	12/01/83 
Tajuk/Title  	: 	A TALK ON ETHNIC RELATIONS AND 
			NATION BUILDING AT A FUNCTION 
			ORGANISED BY THE MALAYSIAN SOCIAL 
			SCIENCE ASSOCIATION 




Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Let me first and foremost congratulate the Malaysian Social Science
Association and the United Nations University for their efforts and
initiative in organising this International Conference. The theme and
subject matter of the Conference is relevant for many nations today and
certainly relevant for Malaysia and other members of ASEAN.

I am sure, with the participation of distinguished scholars from the
region, the Conference can provide positive insights on many of the issues
and problems which are of concern to all of us.

2. To be amongst eminent social scientists of the region is a rare
privilege for me. Now given this opportunity, Ladies and gentlemen,
3. Science, as we know it, is not value-free. This is more so with social
sciences. And certainly, a subject such as ethnic relations, which tends
to have an emotional overtone cannot be expected to be presented or
analysed with pure objectivity, however one claims, or wants it to be. To
an extent, the treatment of the subject depends on the angle that the
person is looking at, his theoretical orientation and even political bias,
and his short and long-term motives.

4. A social scientist may look at, or even magnify ethnic relations to
legitimise his discipline, or even for scholarly recognition. A writer may
provide a sensational tint for commercial purposes. A politician may use
it to catch votes and wrest power even if he knows it can instill ill-will
and suspicion. I am not saying this because I do not believe in the study
of ethnic relations. In fact, I believe studies in ethnic relations can be
healthy and injustices motivated by discriminative and oppressive
tendencies.

5. I do not claim to know which is right in terms of solving ethnic
problems, for "right" too is subjective. But I believe ethnic relations,
if it is to be positive, must be viewed within a particular historical
context, as well as the relevant socio-cultural, economic and political
setting. As such, answers to questions pertaining to Malaysian ethnic
relations must necessarily be peculiarly Malaysian.

Ladies and gentlemen, 

6. We have to be conscious as well as concerned with the ethnic dimension
of our Malaysian life. To be otherwise is to delude ourselves. It is an
accepted fact that homogeneity is becoming less and less the dominant
feature of modern states. While we can blame history for it, it is a
reality that we have to accept and live with, and more so, it will be the
reality for the future because of greater contacts and communication among
societies. Societies, more than ever before, must learn to cope with
ethnic problems if the world and human civilisation is to have a
meaningful future. I am sure all of us realise that this is not an easy
task, and it is made no easier by the pressures for open discussions
insisted upon by the so-called "democrats." 7. The multiracial nature of
our society is a fact. It is something that every Malaysian must accept,
live and cope with. Besides Malays and Chinese which are the two major
communities, Malaysia has numerous smaller communities and
sub-groups. Malays and other indigeneous groups form the
majority. Different groups differ in terms of customs, beliefs, economic
activities, locations etc.

8. History showed us that what is Malaysia today is part of what was
previously the Malay world, with its people, its system of Government and
its customs and laws . Being at the cross-roads of east-west commercial
routes, Malay civilisation had a long history of contacts with many
nations. Foreigners not only visited us, but some of them have settled
down here, and there had been inter-marriages with the local people. What
is considered as Malay culture or way of life, even in the days before
independence, carried many alien traits. Malay language, attire, food,
customs and so on have gone through a process of change, assimilating
foreign elements along the way. Hindu and Islamic influences, though
dominant, are but two features. One can only go through Bahasa Malaysia
dictionaries to see that Malays have adopted words from all over, not
confining to Sanskrit and Arabic. We could have said that what has been
regarded as Malay culture is, in fact, hardly Malay. Present day Malay
culture is really a mixed culture in which elements of Chinese and Indian
cultures have been absorbed, albeit modified in form. The fact that
Malacca Babas, or Straits Chinese, without coercion, had evolved its
Malaysian identity is a living testimony to what a Malaysian culture can
be. Hance, the logic of using Malay and indigenous culture as the basis of
the Malaysian Culture.

9. The phenomenon whereby immigrants adopt certain aspects of the way of
life of the people among whom they have settled is neither new nor
peculiar to Malaysia. It is indeed universal. Unfortunately if was easier
in the days when settlers were cut off from their homeland than it is
now. The reaction to a consious effort to retain the original cultures of
the immigrants is of course a similarly conscious effort by the indigenous
people to reject the influence of the immigrant communities. And so the
prospects of integration and cross-assimilation are reduced. Indeed the
opposite may take place as is shown by the effort of the Malay-speaking
Straits Chinese or Babas to relearn and use Chinese dialects.

10. The task of moulding a common national culture and to integrate people
of differing ethnic groups is, therefore, much more difficult today than
it was before. Indeed, the natural tendency is for disintegration rather
than integration. Hence, the need for a conscious effort at integration.

11. The task of improving ethnic relations in Malaysia is made more
difficult because the different groups live apart, pursue different
vocations and are economically and socially quite isolated. If
integrations is to take place these "aparthied" or separateness must be
broken. The (NEP) New Economic Policy was conceived with the view to
"remove the identification of race with economic function" i.e. to break
down the largely economic barriers which keep the races apart.

12. Initially, of course, it was thought necessary only to have a common
language and culture. But it was noted that even in countries populated by
people of only one race, the animosity between rich and poor, urban and
rural can reach the stage when rebellions break out. If the rich and poor,
urban and rural divisions are amplified by racial or ethnic divisions as
well, the potential for a conflagration is infinitely greater. Indeed one
of the major causes of the 1969 race riots in Malaysia was due to this
division. The formulation of the NEP was therefore an essential part of
the strategy for national integration.

13. In Malaysia a clear distinction is made between race and
nationality. Neither the indigenous people nor the immgrant settlers and
their descendents, wish to lose their different identities. Similarly, the
national culture and the racial cultures are not identical. While elements
of the racial cultures of the different ethnic groups are incorporated
into the national culture, each race continues to practise its distinct
culture in the environment of its own society.

14. Naturally the culture of the indigenous people was selected as the
basis of the national culture. Just as naturally the non-indigenous
Malaysians are unhappy about this. But there is really little choice. It
the cultures of the non-indegenous peoples are made the basis of a
Malaysian national culture than Malaysia would become simply an appendage,
or an extension of the countries from which those cultures come. In the
eyes of the indigenous people this would, in fact, mean being socially
conquered.

15. Many would criticise the decision to use the indigenous culture as a
basis. Among them are the "liberals" of the West. But we have seen how the
British, for example, who are so fond of condemning Malaysia for treating
non-Malays as second class citizens, have actually legislated into being
three classes of citizens, based on the colour of the skin of the
immigrants.

16. What Malaysia does in order to solve the problem of ethnic relations
is not by any means the ideal. But, the exodus that we see in Indochina,
for example, has not been seen in Malaysia. The vast majority of
non-indigenous Malaysians prefer to stay in Malaysia. Indeed, most of them
show by deed, and words, that they accept the need to identify with the
indigenous people and to reduce the chasm between them.

17. Unfortunately, politicians and journalists cannot leave things well
enough alone. Politicians see in racial chauvinism an issue demanding to
be exploited. Journalists see too good a story to be by passed merely for
the sake of national unity.

18. Nation building in Malaysia has thus become an uphill task. Between
the Malay racialists who want to eliminate all non-Malay influence, and
the Chinese and Indians who object to anything even remotely Malay or
indigenous, the wounds of conflict are kept raw. Ethnicity remains a thorn
in the Malaysian body, stifling change and progress. But there is no
choice for Malaysia and Malaysians. We just have to continue our efforts
to bring the different ethic groups together and to lessen tension and
animosity as much as possible.

19. In the kind of situation Malaysia is in, we have to be grateful even
if we achieve a minor degree of success. It is obvious that we are not
going to achieve full unity, nor can we remove ethnic conflict
completely. Any course that we set for ourselves will result in
unhappiness for someone or others. If we are to favour one particular
ethnic group, we will make them happy, but the rest very unhappy
indeed. If we favour anyone of the other groups we are going to get the
same result. So, since we cannot make everyone happy and satisfied, nor
can we favour just one of the groups, the only choice left to us is to
make everyone equally unhappy. Thus, no one group is favoured in
Malaysia. Even the indigenous people are not getting all that they ask
for, and are consequently just as unhappy and dissatisfied as are the
non-indigenous.

20. We hope that in time everyone will come to accept the situation. We,
of course, will do everything possible to encourage this acceptance. A few
disgruntled non-indigenous people have emigrated, though most of them are
careful to retain their Malaysian citizenship. We don't take much notice
of these birds of the passage. They are obviously opportunists out to get
the best for themselves, with little regard for contributing towards
nation building. But there are signs that the vast majority have come to
terms with the situation.

21. After highlighting some of the issues, let me mention the vision of
future Malaysian nation. The modern Malaysian nation is one which shares
common values, identity and loyalty in line with our basic socio-economic
and cultural policies. Ours will be a diligent, responsible, and active
people whose potentials will be channelled for productive purposes so that
there will be greater opportunities for all Malaysians in all aspects of
Malaysian life. Ours will also be a disciplined and moral society,
progressive and prosperous, united and living in harmony.

22. This is not something impossible. It may take time, true. But with
responsible cooperation, God willing, we will certainly achieve it. The
Government can only do part of what is necessary. We need the fortunate
groups, irrespective of their ethnic origin, to also strive to do more so
that we can bring up all Malaysians to the level that we aspired for. The
fact that one group has to be helped does not mean that the others have to
be stopped or retarded. Such thinking and attitudes are negative and not
beneficial to the nation. But in striving for success in whatever fields,
the more fortunate, must adopt a genuine Malaysian thinking of
distributing the opportunities so that Malaysians of every community can
actively participate in the Malaysian life. If, I may cite an example,
while we want businesses to restructure so that ownership and employment
opportunities will represent our multiracial character, we must see that
everything is being done to ensure business success because business
prosperity can generate more revenues and more opportunities for all
Malaysians. Thus entrepreneurship and initiative on the part of any group
must not be dampened because they are important to our development and in
helping to resolve our ethnic problems.

23. Malaysia, being a multiracial country, has been of concern to
many. Our ability to survive after independence was doubted by the many
prophets of doom both from inside and outside the country. There were, and
still are sceptics about our future. These people, besides making money
with their sensational writings, are waiting impatiently to pronounce to
the world the failure of Malaysia as a multiracial society and nation. We
can only fail if we so choose to do. I know we have difficult periods in
front of us, but with care and reduced ethnic overtones, and by
channelling our energy to productive uses we can bring our vision to
reality.

Thank you.

 



 


 











 
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