A dream of Malaysian unity — CKL
MAY 31 — I have read with sadness the many letters you have published regarding Malaysia’s brain drain. I am one of those, who left Malaysia for many reasons, chiefly, because I did not see any future for my children in a country which had become increasingly racist, moving from moderate to fundamentalist Islamic and also increasingly intolerant.
To those who say that I am unpatriotic and that I should stay on to help change the country, I tell you that it cannot be changed! Whilst working as a professional in Malaysia, I also served for 14 years in the Territorial Army of Malaysia (Rejimen Askar Wataniah), rising to my last rank of Major.
Rejimen Askar Wataniah is the army reserves of Malaysia and we undergo weekend military training every fortnight. During those years, not only was I prepared to risk life and limb for King and country, but I also initiated and helped set up Askar Wataniah societies in mainly Chinese tertiary institutes which recruited Chinese students into the Askar Wataniah. Every year, those societies recruited some 100+ Chinese students into the Rejimen Askar Wataniah, compared with a miserly 10+ in the regular army.
I expected nothing from my efforts because I enjoyed my time in the Askar Wataniah and I was patriotic, then! But I certainly did not expect brickbats and every effort being made by my fellow Malay officers to run me down because they were jealous (my efforts in recruiting such large numbers of Chinese into the Askar Wataniah had caught the attention of the military top brass and also assorted politicians, in particular MCA politicians) or as one of them told me, “perasaan dengki” which Malays always seem to have for those who are more successful than they are.
Perhaps they thought I was taking their rice bowl away from them. Whatever their reasons, it was made very clear to me that I was not one of them, even though I had sweated and toiled with them during military exercises in the jungle and training courses.
That was when I realised that no matter what I do or try to do, I would always be to them, and legally too, firstly a non-Malay, secondly a non-Bumiputera, thirdly a non-Muslim. I was not a Malaysian to them first and foremost!
However, I was lucky. I was a successful professional with skills and experience which could be transferred overseas. I have been working for the past few years in the Middle East, which although fully Islamic, treats me first and foremost, as a Malaysian!
There are only two types of people here, locals and expats. Yes, locals have better conditions and benefits but it is their country, isn’t it? And they certainly don’t discriminate amongst one race or another amongst their citizens.
For those who have been here, you would know that there are many Indians who have settled in this area for many years, ending up as citizens in their adopted countries. There are no discriminatory laws which favour one particular race amongst their citizens above others, unlike in Malaysia!
I was certainly luckier than those non-Malay officers serving in the regular army as, without an exception, every single one of them had tales to tell me about junior Malay officers being promoted over them, even though these non-Malay officers had both the qualifications and experiences which entitled them to promotion!
One particularly poignant tale I heard came from a retired Chinese senior officer who had been passed over many times for promotion even though during the final years of the communist insurgency, he had actually commanded an operation which caught a communist insurgent.
But the non-Malay officers were in many ways luckier than the non-Muslim Bumiputera officers, i.e. Ibans. They are supposed to have the same rights and opportunities as Malay officers, yet they did not receive them. They suffer the same fate as many non-Malay officers in having junior Malay officers with less experience and qualifications being promoted over them!
Just talk to any Iban officer and you will hear their frustration and anger at such discrimination against them, even more anger than non-Malay officers. As they used to moan to me, “Sama bangsa tetapi tidak sama ugama”! To those who have served in the military, you will know exactly what I am talking about, that is, if you have not buried your head in the sand like an ostrich!
Everyone seems to have forgotten how the Malaysian Constitution was achieved. It was negotiated, chewed over and fought over in words at the height of the Emergency, at a time when the British and Malayans thought that the communist terrorists was not winning but certainly not losing either.
The British basically gave Malaya its independence because they had been bankrupted by the Second World War and it was the platform that the communists were ostensibly fighting for. At a stroke, by giving Malaya independence, which was also what Malayans were fighting for, they helped removed any support for the communists.
Yet, it was not easy to achieve the compromises that the Constitution eventually became. Many Malays and the Islamic parties at that time wanted an Islamic state with limited rights for non-Malays and non-Muslims.
In fact, the biggest dispute was about granting citizenship rights to non-Malays. It was only after intense negotiations with the British acting as referees, that our present Constitution came about.
Please remember, the original Malaysian Constitution gave equal rights for all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or creed. Islam was recognised as the religion of the country but with no special rights over other religions and original, the Malays were given certain rights over other non-Malays in order that they could achieve economic parity.
Further, ethnic bargains between the Alliance parties were the mainstay of the Constitution. The MIC and MCA agreed to give special rights to the Malays and maintain Malay as the national language. Umno, on the other hand, agreed to allow Chinese and Indian participation in politics and be awarded citizenship. After much discussion, the Constitution was finally agreed upon and became known as the Merdeka Constitution.
Those rights were originally meant to last 15 years after independence and were actually recommended by the Reid Commision, which was set up by the British to look into the requirements for an independent Malaya.
They were meant to act as a walking stick and not a crutch! As to the effect of those, originally 15 years of Malay rights but which later became permanent, well, one has only to look at the Malays in Malaysia, 53+ years after Merdeka, and ask the simple question, are they ready to stand on their feet without any special rights or government assistance?
As to Malaysia’s brain drain, one has only to read the prophetic words of Tun Tan Cheng Lock, the first president of MCA, when in 1943, he wrote:
“The best way of treating the Chinese is to trust them and to give an opportunity to those of them, who have resided in Malaya, especially if they have done so with their families, for a sufficiently long period and have become domiciled in the country, to acquire the right of Malayan citizenship by naturalisation, so as to enable them to identify themselves completely with the interests of the land of their adoption. This is the wisest course to adopt by way of solving the so-called Chinese problem in Malaya in the humble opinion of the writer.
“It is the firm conviction of the writer that the ideal to be aimed at by every community in Malaya is that they should learn to regard themselves as Malayans first irrespective of their race. This should not only for inter-racial unity and harmony such as has so conspicuously characterized, for instance, Switzerland, but would also contribute to the unity, strength and stability of the Malayan State, which would thereby enabled to raise itself (the country) to the rank of a worthy and important partner in the great British Commonwealth of Nations”. (On the occasion of drafting a Memorandum On “Self-Government” in 1943)
And in 1945, he wrote:
“We are strongly of the opinion that the only safe, sound and wise policy for the future Government of Malaya should be to rally to its support those true Malayans, who passionately love the country as their homeland and those who intend to settle there, and who are united by the legitimate aspiration to achieve by proper and constitutional means the ideal and basic objective of Self-Government for a united Malaya within the British Commonwealth and Empire, in which the individuals of all communities are accorded equal rights and responsibilities, politically and economically, including a balanced representation of the various communities in the Government to ensure that no one community will be in a position to dominate or outvote all the others put together”. (On the occasion of submitting a memorial relating to Malaya to Secretary of State for the Colonies, London, in 1945)
Prophetic words indeed, and the chickens have certainly come home to roost!
* We asked readers who have left the country to tell us in their own words why they migrated. This is one of the stories.