Is Malaysia Multicultural – Myths and Facts

Malaysia truly is a melting pot, as well as a greta place to travel, not least helped by its Malay, Chinese and Indian communities, making it often celebrated as a benchmark for multiculturalism. Yet while there are multiple cultures in Malaysia, are they really the standard bearer for multiculturalism?

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Like most of the constructed states Malaysia is a relic of colonialism. Initially the country was a British colony before the bells of independence started to be rang by the Malayan Communist Party, which triggered an insurgency known as the Maliayan Crisis or depending on your slant on things the “Anti-British National Liberation War”.

From a political standpoint though the conflict was about much more than the independence of the region, instead becoming much more embroiled in the nascent Cold War.

Britain supported by commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand, as well as the United States eventually defeated the People’s Republic of China influenced Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), but a long term solution was needed to keep the largely Chinese dominated communists at bay.

The Formation of Malaysia

Malaya, under the dominance of the Muslim and anti-communist Malayan people was granted independence in 1957, but a solution was needed for the rest of the region.

The British proposed a federation which would include Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore, while the then communist Indonesia and other left-wing parties opposed the move.

Cold War politics meant that the British got their way, with the new federated set of Malaysia coming to pass in 1963. Singapore was to leave in 1965, with the state since becoming a federation of 9 sultanates, 4 non-monarchal states, as well as 3 federal territories.

The ethnic makeup  and politics of Malaysia

While technically modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system, Malaysia also has as number of unique tenets. Technically it is an elective monarchy, although the reality is that the King role simply get shared around between the monarchs.

Parliamentary customs though are based almost squarely on race, with Malays ((70  percent), Chinese (23 percent) and Indians (9 percent) all tending to vote for ethnic parties that then negotiate themselves into a coalition.

The system meant that from independence in 1963 to 2018 the country essentially existed a one party state under the Barisan National Coalition, itself a direct successor to the three-party Alliance coalition formed by United Malays National Organisation, Malaysian Chinese Association, and Malaysian Indian Congress – and thus an all ethnic big-tent party.

Their 61 year sin power were ended in 2018, but to most local observers very little has actually changed.

Race and work in Malaysia

Malaysia is Malay and Muslim majority country, with a Malay Prime-Minister, as well as constitutionally guaranteed Muslim king. The myth of multiculturalism comes from the fact that religious freedom is guaranteed and that the large Malay, Chinese and Indian populations co-exist, but coexistence and getting on are two very different things.

Jobs wise it is almost completely accepted that government jobs go to Malays, something you will notice as soon as you enter the country. You will almost never see Chinese, or Indian immigration officers, with this divide being further seen in other jobs of state, such as the police and government.

Statically this means up to 90 percent of civil service jobs being occupied by Malays in certain areas and whilst it gets brought up as hot topic, nothing ever actually changes.

The Chinese for their part are famously good at business and thus control a lot of key industries, including banking. This has, as in much of other parts of the region added to anti-Chinese sentiment from Malays.

Indians on the other hand are overly represented in professional trades, such as the medical profession and until recently on average earned as much as 70 percent more than Malays, again another source of friction between the races.

The myth that Malaysia is multicultural

Therefore with three such prominent ethnicities the stain by local and foreign populations is to state that Malaysia is some kind of ethnic utopia, the truth of course is slightly less so.

While Malaysians do indeed exist together without trying to massacre each other, almost every facet of their lives are lived apart. Races do their own jobs, raves socialist with themselves and most tellingly people tend not to Marr out of their race, or religion.

In fact the statistics are just…… of people intermarrying.

So, rather than a multicultural melting pot, what you actually get is three very distinct races lives together, but apart almost like three countries in one. As the saying goes people tolerate difference rather than embrace it.

And why is this myth perpetuated? From an innocent standpoint the existence of the myth helps keep racial tensions at bay, or at least mitigates them, but the actual reasons are probably for more simple. The promotion of this mythological multiculturally happy state suits the powers that be of all races, as they govern from the top, surrounded by their own people.

For the west of course singing the praises of places such as Malaysia helps them also extol the virtues of an experiment that has rarely if at all every truly worked out..