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So, a newly-formed coalition of Malay-Muslim NGOs, Barisan Bertindak Melayu-Islam (Bertindak) wants to strip some 1.75 million non-Malays of their citizenship claiming that they had failed to take the oath of citizenship.

In other countries, if it was really necessary to correct such an oversight, a simple ceremony would have been held to remedy the situation instead of demanding that those affected be stripped of their citizenship.

But this is a country where racism and religious intolerance has run amok, where morally and intellectually bankrupt racist and extremist groups masquerade as patriots and righteous men and get away with it.

It’s easy to dismiss them as part of the lunatic fringe, but, sadly, they are the cheer-leaders of a deeper malaise that stains our nation’s honour – the acceptance, adulation even, of racism and discrimination as an organizing principle.

So omnipotent is the issue politically that even our national leaders indulge such intolerance and bigotry by refusing to publicly condemn or confront it. Their silence only empowers, encourages and legitimises this evil that gnaws at the very soul of our nation. 

Consumed by prejudice

Such is the depth of racism and intolerance that 60 years after independence, and more than 100 years after the last significant wave of migrants came to Malaysia from China and India, there are still groups that are offended by their presence, unwilling to accept the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity that has defined our nation from its genesis.

And so we have this constant griping against minorities, these incessant moves to challenge their right to exist, to curtail their God-given and constitutionally-protected rights, this steady stream of provocation, invective and scurrilous allegations.

They think nothing of welcoming newer migrants from Indonesia, the Middle East, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Bangladesh by the thousands, make them “sons of the soil” and even vote them into high office but cannot find it in their heart to accept the dwindling Malaysian-born minorities in their midst. They wholeheartedly defend the granting of PR status to foreign extremists but harden their hearts to those who were born here and have lived here for as long as many of them have.

They are so consumed by their prejudice that they cannot see the real challenges that are threatening to destroy our nation – the plunder of our nation’s wealth, the crumbling of our nation’s institutions, the subversion of our constitution, the abuse of power, the injustice, the corruption, the takeover of national assets by foreign powers, the gradual erosion of our maritime sovereignty.

Paranoia and insecurity

Despite controlling all the levers of state power, decisively dominating the armed forces, police, civil service and academia, every single national institution, and having a commanding grip on the economy, they still appear to feel insecure and fearful that somehow non-Malays might usurp their power.

The latest PAS initiative is a case in point. Even though a non-Malay non-Muslim has realistically about as much chance of becoming PM as a snowball in hell, PAS wants to introduce a constitutional amendment to bar non-Malays and non-Muslims from becoming prime minister. And this is on top of earlier statements that even the post of chief minister should only be held by a Malay Muslim.

Such an amendment would not only relegate non-Malays to second-class status constitutionally, it would also disenfranchise the bulk of Sabahans and Sarawakians who are ‘Bumiputras’ in their own right.

How long before we become a fully-fledged apartheid state? 

We are Malaysian too 

None of this, however, changes the fact that though we may belong to an ethnic or religious minority, we are as Malaysian as they are.

This is our country, our homeland, our birthright as much as any other Malaysian. We have put in the time, made the sacrifices, paid the price in blood, sweat and tears to make Malaysia what it is.

Some of us have also been here for more than two centuries, way longer than many more recent arrivals from other parts of the world.

Whether they like it or not, whether they accept it or not, we are not “pendatangs” but full and proud citizens like anyone else and we don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore.

Religious intolerance

Nothing they can do will diminish who we are.

They can burn our churches, kidnap our pastors and confiscate our bibles. They can demolish our temples, mock our sacred symbols and demonise us. They can threaten to close down our vernacular schools, force their edicts upon us and denigrate our culture. They can classify us as an existential threat, conduct workshops to demonise us and excuse the hateful and hurtful remarks of racist university lecturers and school teachers. They can question our loyalty, minimise our contributions, rewrite us out of the nation’s history but it cannot erase who we are.

We are Malaysians, every last one of us. 

We still believe

Despite it all, we still believe in our nation and its people and in the vision of our founding fathers of an inclusive nation where all of Malaysia’s diverse people can live together and prosper in peace and harmony.

We press on because we owe it to our country to stand with like-minded Malaysians of every creed, colour and culture to defend our Constitution and the secular democratic traditions that spring from it.

The road ahead may be long and arduous but we will not lose heart. We may be hard pressed on every side by bigotry’s taunts and jeers but we will not be crushed. We may be perplexed by the hate around us but we will not despair. We may be abandoned by many but we will press on towards the goal of building, together with our fellow citizens, that great nation, that shining light upon the hill that we glimpsed from afar in 1957.

And if by chance we fail, if our nation eventually becomes the antithesis of all that our founding fathers hoped it would be, we can at least take solace that we fought the good fight, we ran the race that was set before us and we gave our best to the nation we love.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 1st May 2017]