KUALA LUMPUR: Any talk of assimilation should not be raised in a diverse country like Malaysia, former prime minister Najib Razak said, picking up on an analogy used by his predecessor Dr Mahathir Mohamad when commenting on race relations.
Najib said there was no need for Indians, for example, to be more Malay-like for them to be recognised as Malaysians. “We accept them because they are our friends,” he said at a function organised by Makkal Sakti, the Indian-based party founded by former Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leaders this evening.
“We accept them because this is a diverse and unique nation.”
Last month, Mahathir remarked that the Chinese had maintained their culture and way of life in Malaysia, citing the use of chopsticks instead of “adopting the Malaysian way of eating” with one’s hands.
His remarks, found in his recently released memoir, sparked a backlash from Malaysians and leaders who said it was offensive and insensitive to the Chinese.
In defending his stance in an interview with CityPlus radio yesterday, Mahathir said in other countries, foreigners who wished to become citizens of a particular nation would adopt the local culture and eventually abandon their own culture.
The same however could not be said about Malaysia, Mahathir said. “In Malaysia, the Chinese and Indians insist on maintaining their cultures.”
Najib, who previously said that it didn’t matter how the Chinese community ate their food as long as they were “truly Malaysians at heart”, said the country was built on integration and not assimilation.
This meant that people of various races could retain their language and cultures, yet live harmoniously side by side. “And it is not about making the Chinese more Malay.”