KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 — Malaysia, as a country, has always prided itself for its rich diversity of cultures and races. “Malaysia, Truly Asia” may have started life as a Tourism Malaysia tagline but it has a lot of truth in it.
Yet, amidst all this diversity, Malaysia has not been immune to the challenges of racial tensions.
In recent years, political rhetoric has certainly widened these divisions.
Recent public perceptions suggest a growing distance between the Malays and the Chinese, Indians, and other ethnicities.
Does the average Malaysian Malay distrust his/her fellow Malaysians of a different race?
Mohd Hafizuddin Othman, 25, an electrician who grew up in Selayang, challenges such a prevailing narrative.
He said that he has never felt awkward or superior to his non-Malay friends. He dismisses such notions as a story spun by politicians in order to gain control.
“Politicians from way back used these racial stories to control us, so we would adhere to their agendas. It’s all nonsense,” he said.
“I think the younger generation who aren’t well informed may fall for this but in all honesty when they meet with their Indian or Chinese friends I doubt the kids really care about race.
“It’s the few rotten apples here and there who are maybe influenced by their parents and what’s happening at home who may bring that sort of racism outside.
“Now this must be checked and stopped in my opinion. After all these years for us to think we are the ones being oppressed and our rights trampled on doesn’t make sense when we are many,” he added.
Ahmad Syakir, 22, a student, said he actually feels more at ease with his non-Malay friends. He shared that these friendships provided an environment free of judgment and unnecessary policing of behaviour.
He said that he feels he is able to let his guard down with his non-Malay friends.
“I don’t have to put up this facade of Malayness. You don’t have to wonder if it’s okay for you to do something and whether they will snitch on you, or whether they will take offence if you do something. There’s less policing.
“If you’re a certain type of Malay, then it’s easier to have non-Malay friends. My Malay friends have similar sensibilities — those that are close to you, the rest you’re still suspicious of,” he added.
Moreover, Ahmad stressed the value of having friends from different races, highlighting the broader perspective this offers on various issues and the enrichment that comes from immersing oneself in different cultures.
The sentiment that friendships should remain uninfluenced by politics reverberates among many Malaysians.
The majority recognise the significance of forging connections that transcend political divides, considering such relationships as genuine reflections of shared values, respect, and understanding that rise above political agendas.
Nursarah Aisyah Abdul Malik, a 21-year-old junior software quality assurance engineer, emphasises that these friendships contribute to a more united and peaceful nation.
“Main thing to note is we’re all the same. We all live in the same country and we have been living together for years without turmoil. We’ve got a wealth of cultures, food and we all have our own hobbies.
“I’ve always cherished my non-Malay friends and I don’t understand why they are made out as a threat to us. It’s silly.
“We should all love one another, be kind and start helping each other rather than bring each other down. We have a long way to go to become a strong nation and I hope we can begin by strengthening our unity,” she said.
Similarly engineer Abdul Rahimuddin, 28, said the only thing that sensible Malays do not like is when non-Malays are made to look like the problem in order to deflect from the real culprits.
“Normal lah all this, easy to target someone else kan? But we’re not stupid, it’s like they’re gaming us,” he said alluding to politicians and political parties using race and religion as fodder for campaigning.
“I’ve been hurt by Malays and non-Malays alike so in the end all are human and all make mistakes. There aren’t statistics or proof that non-Malays are the problem in Malaysia so again all are just games played by politicians and their cohorts. I’d like them to focus on the real work.
“I have many non-Malay friends and I don’t let the noise outside influence me and I hope others don’t as well,” he added.
As Malaysia moves forward under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the path towards unity remains both a challenge and an aspiration.
It is heartening that Malaysians like Norzahra Naeem Khairunnisa, 22, a freelance graphic designer, advocate for living with one another in respectful ways.
“We should all love one another, be kind and start helping each other. We have a long way to go to become a strong nation,” she added.