Saturday, February 25, 2012
Most Malaysians identify themselves according to their ethnicity, but not all Malaysians are racists.
Historian Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim (pic) told The Malay Mail yesterday former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had exaggerated by saying all Malaysians were racists.
“He is speaking as a politician. Not everyone is racist, but a majority of Malaysians are not brought up to distinguish the difference between nationality and ethnicity,” he said.
“They still think ethnicity is more important than nationality.
”Khoo said an individual was criticised if the person were to speak up for the nation instead of ethnicity. He attributed this emphasis on race to the failure of the education system to foster unity among young people. He said children were increasingly socialising with people from their own race.
“From young, Malaysians are brought up to be aware of their ethnicity,” he said. “Even some very educated people are not comfortable being around people of different races.” This, however, was not a recent development, as the racial divide among Malaysians had existed before World War II.
“It goes back to 1949,” he said.
Khoo cited works by scholar Phillip Loh and historian Dr Ho Seng Onn, who wrote about racial segregation inherent within policies on education and the Malayan society.
He said politicians merely amplifi ed the public’s sentiments for their own interests.
“The people themselves must decide what they want. If they want to live separately, then what are the politicians to do?” he asked. “They play it up, you see.”
Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim echoed Khoo’s sentiments, and said racism was still prevalent in the education system today.
Although she declined to comment on Dr Mahathir’s comments, she said the separation of national and vernacular schools had intensifi ed racial segregation, dividing the young rather than unifying them.
This divide was exacerbated by the Islamisation of the education system,.
“Racial segregation is evident from the beginning of the schooling experience,” she said.
“How do you expect these kids to be united, regardless of race, when they have grown up?”
However, Noor Azimah said, the racial divide in schools could stem from political motivations.
“It is the divide-and-rule mentality,” she said.
“The best way to do that is through schools.”
She said the teaching of science and mathematics in English could serve as a catalyst to foster unity in national schools as more non-Malay students would enrol in these schools rather than vernacular schools.
“Now, parents who want their children to study these two languages have to enrol their children in international schools, which further creates a divide between the rich and poor children.”