Friday Jottings: Having it both ways

INTERESTINGLY, a columnist with a local news portal had highlighted that both Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron contended that the concept of multiculturalism had failed.

Though they had raised their concerns more than a decade ago, central to their narratives is that integration, instead of assimilation, had fostered segregation among the different races/cultures/nationalities.

In the initial stages, when they raised a concern or rather despair, over the impact of multiculturalism, they suffered a backlash from advocates of liberal and civil societies.

Eventually, ordinary Germans and Britons began expressing opinions and concerns over the growing impact of multiculturalism on their society.

Their concern centred on the tendencies to isolate among the migrant communities, holding on to their own language, and culture and refusing to learn and embrace the culture and language of their adopted nations.

The locals felt that the growing number of emigrants was threatening their sense of nationhood, fearful that it would be supplanted by that of the immigrants.

Simply put, the concern of the majority, or primary race, towards the migrant races is over the refusal of the latter to embrace and assimilate to the local culture and instead, were imposing the culture imported from their original nations.

Reacting to these fears, the majority race then started promoting the idea of imposing specific rules on the emigrants – insisting that they speak the local language at all times including when they are at home.

Actually, Cameron wasn’t the only Briton concerned over the lack of assimilation resulting from multiculturalism.

A couple of years before Cameron raised his concerns, a post-master of Sri Lankan origin who had stayed in Britain for 17 years had taken up the cudgel.

He insisted that anyone seeking service from his post office, located in a racially mixed inner city in Nottingham, must be able to speak English and failing which, bring along an interpreter, or suffer being denied service.

Deva Kumarasiri was quoted in a Daily Mail interview then as saying: “If you don’t want to be British, go home,” then adding: “The fabric of the nation begins to unravel if we don’t all speak the same language.”

As a result, Kumarasiri was transferred on the insistence of the shophouse where the post office was located and he was also ejected by the Liberal Democrats party of which he served as a local councillor.

Despite that, reportedly, he was inundated with cards and messages of support from all over the United Kingdom which to many reflected that Kumarasiri’s stance reflected popular sentiments.

Closer to home, liberals have insisted that Malaysia is multi-racial and multicultural.

But if the political divide is of the essence, it could be assumed that the majority of Malays are still insisting that the nation is Malay-led and that the definitive culture and race must be Malay.

It is not a mere assumption but rather based on the provisions of the Constitution that the national language is Malay and the religion of the Federation is Islam, both of which are considered proof that the nation is a Malay Muslim nation though the other races can practice their culture, language and religion.

That is the result of the nation’s elders opting for integration and not assimilation.

In other words, though it is an acknowledgement of the nation’s demographics being multi-racial and multicultural, the definitive and primary race is still Malay and with all its trappings.

There have been demands to insist on the Malaysian immigrant community to what the Sri Lankan postmaster did in Nottingham, but it had never been put to test and it is doubtful anyone would really dare to push the envelope.

Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that there had been numerous occasions when it had been explicitly shown how the local community begrudge fellow Malaysians who were unable to speak Malay, despite having lived in the country for generations.

On the flip side, questions over privileges and quotas accorded to the Malays and Bumiputera had been raised and advocates for equality had compared Malaysia to neighbouring Indonesia and Thailand.

Of course, they would immediately be reminded that the neighbours were assimilated and in the process of assimilation, the primary race, culture and even religion are predominant and in most instances, the culture and race of the immigrants’ origin are dwarfed and indistinctive.

Unluckily, when Malays in Malaysia raise issues over concerns that their race and culture become supplanted or diminished due to the refusal of the immigrants to embrace the local culture and language, they are labelled as racists and bigots.

Unfortunately, too, those making such labels are at the same time advocates of equality, colour blindness or preferential treatment for the Malays that, in essence, is very much a result of assimilation.

But they do not want assimilation. They want integration, to be allowed to pursue the race and culture of the country of origin of their earlier generations.

At the same time, the trappings that came with the agreement for the nation to opt for integration must be questioned and removed, and the sooner the better.

Cliched though, it is about having the cake and eating it. –Pic by BERNAMA

  • Shamsul Akmar is an editor at The Malaysian Reserve.