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Being Malaysian Does Not Mean Being Malay

A Malaysian is not 100% Malay, 100% Chinese, 100% Indian, or 100% of anything else. A Malaysian is just a Malaysian.

Written by johnleemk on 2:13:56 pm Jun 27, 2007.

Last night, I engaged in discussion with one of the brightest and most outspoken Malaysians I have had the pleasure to know, Shen Yee Aun.

One thing that really impresses me about Yee Aun is his command of the Malay language, which rivals that of most Malays, let alone most Malaysians. His written Malay is better than his written English. Both of us liberally peppered our conversation with whole sentences in Malay.

Yee Aun had applied to study law at two local public universities, but his applications were rejected. He is now planning to do a degree in Malay Studies at the University of Malaya. He is also an avid amateur student of Islamic theology, who has even debated Muslims on their own turf by arguing that according to the Prophet Muhammad, Lina Joy has the right to apostasise.

Some might wonder if Yee Aun is a Chinese who wants to be a Malay. But talk to him, and you realise that he is not Chinese, he is not Malay — he is Malaysian.

What I like about people like Yee Aun is that they represent a Malaysia where race is no longer an issue, where we do things and behave the way we behave because we feel free to be Malaysian, instead of being constrained by our race.

The fact is, speaking Malay like a native and freely mixing with the Malays does not make one a lesser individual, any more than it makes a Malay who speaks English, Chinese or Tamil like a native and who freely mixes with non-Malays less of a Malaysian.

Of course, Malaysians will strenuously deny that they hew to any such paradigm. All is fine and well in the peaceful and harmonious world of Malaysia.

But actions speak louder than words. Economists never trust how people say they will spend their money; they carry out experiments to see how people actually spend their money, and the reality often differs from how people imagine they would behave.

Just look at how Malaysians behave. We often shy away from speaking anything than our own language, from interacting with those of our own race, from learning about the other cultures of this country in depth (as opposed to superficialities such as school-organised cultural dances).

I still remember a trip I went on as a Scout when I was 14. There were a lot of Malays on the trip, and even though I had spent much of my life studying in the same classroom and hanging out with Malays, I felt I had gained a far deeper understanding of the Malay way of life after that trip — a kind of understanding I felt sad that few non-Malays would ever experience.

The same goes for many Malays — I often feel there is a huge gulf between all races that goes both ways, because we all stick to ourselves so much, and take so much pride in refusing to amalgamate. How can we ask others to understand our point of view when we refuse to understand theirs?

We have to accept that we must be Malaysian, not Malay, Chinese or Indian. And we must accept that being Malaysian will mean accepting some aspects of the Malay culture, some aspects of the Chinese culture, and so forth. A Malaysian is not 100% Malay, 100% Chinese, 100% Indian, or 100% lain-lain. A Malaysian is a Malaysian, plain and simple.