Official affirmative policy and tribal prejudice

Overall, the ordinary Malay is finding his place in the sun. Affirmative action policy, to assist the Malays to catch up with the other communities and become more viable, is working. Sometimes, there is a token gesture, such as a Malay guard at a Chinese bank. The rest are Chinese. The question, of course, is why should a Chinese bank in multicultural Malaysia or Singapore employ only Chinese? When it is not a family business, how could the owners justify their exclusion policy?

But how can Australia criticise any other country? The current deputy mayor of Sydney, a Chinese migrant, was allegedly denied a job with the city council some years ago. And the national taxpayer-funded TV channel kept Asian faces off our screens until recently – no coloured news reader or reporters were visible for decades – even if their accents were acceptable (e.g. educated English).

Australia does have racial discrimination legislation, but whether it helps a coloured person to break into senior positions in mainstream business is not known. I would think it doubtful, as law generally cannot punish where it cannot persuade. But we would certainly do with some affirmative action of the Malaysian kind to assist Aborigines, for at least a generation.

Beyond a generation, as in Malaysia, expectations arise and discrimination sets in. All top positions in government, all senior diplomatic positions, and apparently all top academic positions, are occupied by Malays. Did they all get there on merit? Not long ago, a Ceylon Tamil lost his senior position in administration at a university (as I was told) because his juniors claimed that, if a Malay could do the job, he should automatically have it. What does that do to multiculturalism and one nation?

My impression is that the non-Malays have accepted that they cannot expect to get to the top in key policy areas again. But the private sector is wide open, abilities rewarded, and they have no real expectations about sharing power with the Malays except in the political arena. In the longer term, why should not those who have contributed very substantially to creating the Malaysian nation participate on an equitable basis in key policy areas and in top administration? The world at large will then see a … multicultural nation, rather than a Malay nation with a sub-stratum of non-Malays.

In Singapore, no community has a prior claim on power, and relative merit would seem to apply. In Australia, it is claimed by some academics that Anglo-Celts control the core institutions. But it is really too early to say whether the white non-Anglo-Celts have been denied a fair chance; we need another generation’s experience to judge by. Yet it seems that top policy positions are becoming the playground of the Celts, with the Anglos increasingly marginalised. That may not last, once the prejudiced die off. Death does remove some barriers.

It would be ludicrous if this take-over by certain Celts were to reflect some attempted compensation for any alleged discrimination suffered by their antecedents. One can only hope that it does not reflect the continuation of the sectarian wars; and that the take-over merchants can mature enough not to march to someone else’s drumbeat.

(I have said, in at least one of my books, that I felt sorry for the Malays being over-run in their own terrain by immigrants during the colonial era. But affirmative action operating for more than one generation – say, about 25 years – should have been adequate. Regrettably, tokenism and exaggerated expectations have led to a Muslim nation.

To what extent were the British responsible for the disparity in equal opportunity in this multicultural nation? Did divide-and-rule give way to divide-and-leave, as in sub-continent India?

As for Australia, white non-Anglo-Celts have no cause for complaint in terms of equal opportunity. Another 25 years will show how coloured immigrants and the Aborigines have fared.)

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