Racial tensions have been slowly rising after the Chinese backed Pakatan Rakyat coalition won the majority of the vote but still failed to secure Malaysia’s parliament. Now, an influential Malaysian NGO, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia, has stirred the pot by suggesting that the Chinese were brought to Malaysia to destroy the Malay identity.

Malaysia

Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) president Abdullah Zaik Abdullah Rahman made comments calling the Chinese “trespassers” and arguing that the British brought the Chinese in to destroy the Malay identify. Malays are Muslim, by law, and descend primarily from island settlers from the Malay archipelago (most of which is now part of modern-day Indonesia).

Charges filed against Isma

The Malaysian Chinese Association, part of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, has filed charges against Isma for “affecting public tranquility.” Whether or not Isma or its leaders will be found guilty in court remains to be seen, but the Malaysian government does take disruptions to public harmony seriously.

The police are now probing remarks, using the Sedition Act which strictly forbids disturbances of peace. The police have already warned both pro and anti-Chinese parties from making inflammatory remarks, trying to ease tensions in an already tense environment.

Why the British brought Chinese to Malaysia’s

When the British arrived in Malaysia, they decided to take a novel approach to colonization. Instead of establishing direct control over the local population of Malays, British colonial administrators tried to take what then appeared to be a more benign approach: import labor from elsewhere.

Despite what leaders of Isma might think, British intentions in importing labor were actually quite good. Instead of disrupting local populations and destroying an entire culture and way of life, the British would simply encourage immigration from elsewhere.

Malaysia was home to some valuable resources, such as tin. While the British might have been willing to let Malay life go relatively unimpeded, they were not willing to simply overlook these valuable resources.

Immigration policy resulted in disparities

The British might have had good intentions, but as was often the case with colonization, the results were less than perfect. By the time the predecessor to Malaysia, then called Malaya, moved towards independence in 1950, most of the private sector economy was in the hands of the Chinese.

British efforts to protect the Malay community from colonization left Malays woefully under prepared to join the global economy. At the same time, the gap between the Chinese and the Malays would have been impossible to over come without some government intervention and programs designed to help Malays catch up.

Malay affirmative action programs backfired

Successive Malay Prime Ministers tried to close the wealth gap between the Chinese and the Malays. While there were some notable successes, and the Malays also successfully took ownership of the government, by-and-large the affirmative action efforts failed. Malays still lag behind the Chinese in terms of ownership of the economy and academic achievement.

Worse yet, many believe that the government’s policies not only failed, but actually backfired. Many of the governments affirmative action programs did not place enough emphasis on achievement. As a result, people were rewarded not for hard work, but instead their ethnic heritage.

Many, including former Prime Minister Mahathir, whom installed numerous affirmative action programs, now believe that the programs restrained the Malays’ work ethic and created an entire group of people now dependent on government hand outs. While this view may seem extreme, it does have some merit.

Even with substantial government support to start businesses, attend college, and otherwise advance themselves, Malays as a whole still lag far behind their Chinese counterpart. Now, many Chinese are being driven abroad, heading to Singapore, Australia, and elsewhere. Abroad, the Chinese will face less discrimination for their ethnic heritage than even in their home country.