This is the printable version of an article from Infernal Ramblings ( The original web-optimised article is also available.

Do the Minorities Have it So Good?

The special treatment of Malaysian minorities isn't all that special, unless you're talking about the virtual apartheid we have.

Written by johnleemk on 2:20:17 pm May 30, 2007.

A common saw of the Malays when confronted with the inequitable ethnic situation in Malaysia is to justify their apartheid with an argument along the lines of "The minorities are not treated as good as this anywhere else in the world."

I have rarely seen evidence of this presented in an argument; the operative assumption appears to be that this statement is self-evident, and that no proof is necessary.

But what makes the treatment ethnic and religious minorities have been given here so good? Is the treatment special? Without a doubt — but it is hardly special in the good sense.

The only "special" treatment that can possibly be construed as good is the granting of government funds to vernacular Chinese and Tamil schools. Contrary to common belief, allowing these schools to operate is nothing unique; indeed, some countries such as the United States have obviated the need for parallel public school systems altogether by allowing the usage of minority languages like Spanish in the classroom if the community feels it is necessary.

And even then, the minority communities are not united in their support of these institutions. Many, including myself, feel that they are stumbling blocks to national unity, and that the slightly worse proficiency in Chinese/Tamil that will result from integrating these schools would be more than outweighed by the subsequent benefits in terms of national unity.

How else are minority communities treated specially in Malaysia? Many Malay supremacists seem to think that they owe the minorities nothing, and that we should be grateful that we have not been forced to assimilate and assume a Malay identity, as occurred in Indonesia.

But this is nothing special or unique; many multicultural countries have similar policies, and coercive assimilation would run counter to international compacts like the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Indonesia and Thailand, two countries often mentioned in a discussion about the benefits of Malaysian minorities, are not multicultural countries, and if you are seriously thinking about modeling your policies after might want to rethink where you look to for inspiration.

(If I were the type to argue that correlation implies causation, I would point out that both Indonesia and Thailand are not exactly economic powerhouses, have a history of military coups, and have suffered from significant civil unrest due to their poor handling of racial issues.)

So since we've only established that the only thing unique about Malaysian minorities is that they have vernacular public education streams set up for them, how else are they treated specially?

Well, Malaysia is the only country in the world where you can trace your local ancestry back four centuries and still be labeled a pendatang asing. It's one of the few countries, if not the only country, where someone who dies for his country can be considered a good-for-nothing migrant, while a drug addict who has contributed nothing to society can be considered a laudable Bumiputra, all because of an accident of birth.

Certainly, ours is the only country where being a citizen does not mean you are a citizen. Holding a blue IC and a red passport don't count for much — you need to have the right parents, the right skin colour, sometimes even the right religion, before you will be recognised as a true Malaysian.

Is that the special treatment Malay supremacists talk about when they mockingly talk of how the cultural and religious minorities have it so good in Malaysia?