Malaysia: Finding unity in the unlikeliest of ways

Malaysia: Finding unity in the unlikeliest of ways
By Zan Azlee

MALAYSIA is a deeply polarised country; from its governmental and political system right down to it’s society, it’s a nation built upon tolerance, rather than acceptance.

For those unfamiliar with Malaysian society and her political makeup, allow me to explain why I say this.

The country is built upon a political system that is inherently racist. The ruling coalition is Barisan Nasional (National Front) and it consists of component parties that each represent the different racial groups that form the Malaysian populace.

We have Umno (United Malays National Organisation), the lynchpin party of BN that represents the Malays who make up the majority of the population. Then there is the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and the MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), who represent the Chinese and the Indians, the country’s second and third largest ethnic groups.

These are then followed by a slew of smaller parties who represent the different indigenous groups in the East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah.

And because of this political system, every single national issue tends to revolve around race. Each political party is tasked with convincing their ethnic voters why it is crucial to keep BN in power to ensure their rights will always be protected by the government.

They say this is to enforce the social contract, the agreement reached by Malaysia’s founding fathers to grant citizenship status to Malaysia’s non-Malays, in exchange for special rights for the country’s indigenous peoples. And to make sure this social contract is adhered to, the government, led by ruling Umno, has institutionalised racism by practicing an archaic form affirmative action that is enforced by laws.

This is known as the Bumiputera (sons of the soil) status, a status that gives all kinds of privileges to the Malays and the indigenous groups, from economics to education. The Chinese and the Indians, of course, have a role too in this contract but oftentimes it is argued that affirmative action has caused these racial minorities to be treated as second-class citizens.

Initially put in place to ensure that all the different racial groups will achieve equal status, the argument is that these policies are now used and abused by the political elite to make sure they remain in power. And so this has led to plenty of dissatisfaction on so many levels.

The non-Malays specifically face many disadvantages, from unfair racial quotas in the jobs and property markets to business and education opportunities. And because the Malays are, by law, Muslims, this even affects how different religions are perceived and allowed to be practiced in the country.

So yes, Malaysia has a complex and at times troubling racial and even religious landscape. Perhaps this is the result of the government’s divide-and-conquer approach, but this seems to have created a fragmented society whose different sections see eye-to-eye on very little.

However, as one recent incident has taught us, Malaysians may not be so divided after all.

If you’ve been reading trending news the past one or two days, you would have probably noticed the story of the group of three Malaysian youth who went to Osaka, Japan, for a holiday. According to reports, the group violated the rules of a guesthouse they were staying in but when they were told off by a member of management (a Malaysian himself), they verbally and physically abused him.

Not only that, they allegedly even defecated in the shower stall to express how upset they were at being told off for breaking the rules of the guesthouse.

After the owners of the guesthouse posted video footage and photos on the Internet, Malaysians from all levels of society started condemning the group of unruly Malaysians.

Some even apologised to the guesthouse owners on behalf of Malaysia.

After seeing how much anger they had caused, one of the three youths eventually apologised online. But that isn’t the point I am trying to make. What I am trying to say here is that Malaysians, it seems, aren’t that divided after all.

The Malaysians who took to the Internet to condemn the act and also apologise for the behaviour of these disgusting youths came from all walks of life – different races, religions, social statuses and different places from within Malaysia.

Although Malaysian society is plagued by racial intolerance and differences, at least it is heartening to know that we all agree that taking a poo in a shower stall is uncouth, rude and uncivilised. I guess that’s one common ground we can start on. Just too bad it had to be about poo.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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