Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Apartheid, A Colonialist Legacy

Written by johnleemk on 3:05:10 pm May 29, 2007.

Only two countries have ever colonised the whole of Malaysia — Britain and Japan. The Portuguese and Dutch colonised Malacca, but did not bother with the rest of the Malayan peninsula (to say nothing of East Malaysia). (Incidentally, this makes Najib Razak's claim of "400 years" of colonisation and thus justifying apartheid rather specious.)

One interesting thing about both the British and Japanese administrations is that they were often blatantly racist in their treatment of the locals. Both distinguished between the Malays and non-Malays, and gave special treatment to people depending on their race.

The Malays were often well-provided for in the areas of politics and the civil service. This held true under both the British and Japanese eras of colonisation.

Meanwhile, the non-Malays were by and large discriminated against, and left to their own devices in the commercial sphere, so this is where they mostly gravitated to.

Even those non-Malays who were born in Malaya and had no intention of returning to their ancestral homelands were discriminated against. When they asked for jobs in the civil service, the top British colonial administrator dismissed them as "aliens".

The Japanese took this discrimination even further, and openly and violently pitted the Malays and non-Malays against each other. A common tactic of theirs was to make armed Malay vigilante forces track down non-Malay partisan rebels.

What makes this interesting is that now, 50 years after we have supposedly won our independence, we are still grappling with these issues. The authorities still have this sense that the non-Malays, despite having known no other homeland, are "aliens" and pendatang asing.

Meanwhile, there are open attempts to divide the Malaysian populace and pit them against each other. There are authority figures calling for bloodshed and dismissing the Constitution if they cannot get their racist ways.

And yet, ironically, one of the justifications for the badly-implemented New Economic Policy (which, thanks to its hapless implementation, is actually apartheid) is that the Malays have been discriminated against economically for centuries by the colonialist powers.

The solution to discrimination is not more discrimination. The solution is well-targeted affirmative action to uplift the willpower and capabilities of the affected people, and to change mindsets. Calling for tokenism which deprives the qualified of positions they deserve only harms all involved.

We are often eager to dump anything which reeks of colonialism, even if there is no reason to. And yet, even though we have no reason for doing so, we perpetuate the racist legacy of our colonialist masters.

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