Let us celebrate our Diversity

January 16, 2016

Let us celebrate our Diversity

by Dr. Kamal Amzan



Festival season makes me treasure the country more.This is probably driven by the feeling that we are losing the plot as a nation, and together with it our country and the Malaysian way of life.

The worry is that we will one day lose all the things we take for granted today– what more celebrate and appreciate our differences. I was brought up in a multiracial family and spent a lot of my childhood days with my maternal grandparents.

They (who are known as “pendatang” to some) were the ones who taught me Malay ― yes, that’s right ― while my Dad who goes by the name of Amzan made English, Hokkien ― and for a while Mandarin ― the official language at home. As a result,I was mostly, if not completely, oblivious to the different races in the country.

My debut into the 1Malaysia world began in Standard 1 when the class teacher asked me to write about my race, favourite food, and colours in a profile book. The things that you would ask a seven-year-old to do.

So I looked around for answers. The boy on my left wrote “Malay”, and the girl on my right wrote “Indian”. I looked at her and said, “Is that your favourite food? I think you need to write what sports you like. Like in a race?”

She looked at me as if I was an extra-terrestrial being. So I raised my hand and asked the teacher, “What ‘race’ do I put here? I like swimming, badminton. Does that count?”

It was then the teacher’s turn to give me the “look.” But the frown on her face, and the bewildered look she had made me feel like I was the most stupid person in class if not the country.

After what felt like an eternity, she finally blinked and asked me in Malay (which was my first encounter with sarcasm), “What language do you use at home, KAMAL?! That is your race. Write that down!” So, I wrote “English/Chinese” in the race column and my favourite food, “Wantan Mee.”

There was another time, during Agama when the Ustazah asked, “Can Muslims eat non-halal food?” In a classroom of around 30 Muslim students, I was the loudest one who asked, “What is ‘halal’?”


Perak’s Harussani and Political Mullah Najib Razak

My parents were called to school numerous times to explain my “rebellious” behaviour. They would sit down and talk to me after every visit about the people who are so-called Malaysians.

I pitied my parents as a kid. And as a boy who knows very little about “races” and “what to eat”, I’m sure I was pitied by many of my teachers back then. But now, at the age of 34, I pity those who live in the country but do not experience the real Malaysia.

And as I grew older, travelled more, I realised that there is no better place to learn about cultures, religions, languages, food than a country of 30 million that is so ethnically, religiously, culturally different, and ever so sensitive of things that would make them be perceived as less Malay, Chinese, Indian etc.

The same diversity that I realised would either make or break us.For instance imagine if Malaysians are made to speak just three languages out of the 140 found in the country (which is not something impossible), how attractive would our graduates and workforce be to the world?

Imagine the number of companies that will vie for them. And imagine the number of FDIs we can attract to our shores if we equip them with the necessary knowledge, skills and keep them at home. You wont even need Talent Corp and worry about significant brain drain.

That is just one example and a peek at how our differences can be our strength.But what do we do?’We worry about losing our “identity.” We worry about not being able to speak (Malay) and sound “right.” So worried that many resist efforts to be associated with other races forgetting that ― commercial value aside ― the ability to integrate and respect one another is the thread that holds this multiracial nation ― read everyone ― together.

So worried that we refuse to let our children mix in schools. The education system is flawed, but why do we consciously partake in the systemic segregation of the next generation through schools, justifying our actions by the fact that one is better than the other instead of finding ways to make the one nation, one school system work?

Everything is racially and religiously driven to the extent that it applies even to where we shop for our IT gadgets in Kuala Lumpur.It would have been funny, if not for the fact that our world is getting smaller, opaque and porous, when the country is flooded with the influx of princes and princesses from Africa, religious bigots and extremists, and the millions of foreigners who come in to fill up jobs in our estates and construction sites.

I now have Chinese patients who never had Malay or Indian food, whose command of the Malay language is worse than a four-year-old Malay boy. I also have acquaintances who still feel that the non-Malays are here to rob the country and then leave, putting aside the logic behind the non-Malays investing years of hardship into building this country and their Malaysian families. How sad.

We have the potential to be a nation that truly respects, tolerate and embrace racial and cultural differences, whose citizens celebrate each other’s differences and not antagonise, suspect and oppress one another.The only question is, how bad do we want it?

I was driven to write this while listening to Chinese New Year songs in malls and thinking what festival comes next. May the celebration bring forth the kaleidoscope that allows us to view the colourful tapestry that makes this country unique, special and truly remarkable.

I know it’s early. But since the lanterns and songs are up and abound, allow me to wish all Malaysians a Happy Chinese New Year. Gong Xi Fa Cai.

7 thoughts on “Let us celebrate our Diversity

  1. Is he for real? He doesn’t sound right in this bolehland. It needs another 10 million of his kind who think likewise, to have any chance to get to what he writes about. If it ever come about, all will be better for it.

  2. Diversity is the icing on the cake. We have to get the cake right. its ingredients, right amount of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour must be worked out. Attention must be paid to the micro in order to determine the right temperature at which the cake should be baked. Then and only then you determine the icing.

    Just look at JPJ. There are so many micro problems that needs fixing and the story
    is (I am not sure readers will have check it out) that making of number plates are going to be controlled and restricted to a few companies.

  3. Thanks for reminding Malaysians to be themselves And not ape desert kingdoms of middle ages.

    Is there still chances for Malaysia to get back in the right track?

    Love starts with finding and recognizing the commoness between the partners…..
    Hate starts when we begin to see only the differences….

    We are of one Race, the rat race!

    Happy New Year to everyone
    and also to our now silent contributers like Mr. Bean, Frank, Dr.
    Familiaris etc.& etc.

  4. Diversity is a fact of life, I believe it has been deliberately created , or programmed by Nature that different people on Earth learn to understand one another in our different, different ways….
    Nature is very subtle….thus we learn through differences : For every thesis, there’s always an anti-thesis to every Value in creation , the purpose of which is , so that Man uses his faculty, to synthesize and come up with better or ” higher ‘ values – without which I believe , Man will retain the primitive values which Evolutionist/s believe that ” Man had descended from the apes….” .
    Little wonder then that we all still go Aping around, was it in the DNA ?

    But, I greatly admire the East Malaysians, to see how close they are, always in an ambience of Cordiality – so close , to the extent they are never conscious they are of different ethnicity ? – Truly a great atmosphere there , they are NEVER artificial in their outlook – Good people…..

  5. When the likes of Salleh Keruak, Syed Ali bin Abbas and if course Ibrahim Ali reaction to DAP fielding more Malay Candidate, THEY WANT TO BE RACIST denying others humanity while insisting their indulgence of perverted privileges as rights.

    Like it or not most Malays are no longer able to embrace diversity and treating others as equals

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