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Pilot project to measure racial harmony

KUALA LUMPUR, 16 June 2009: A pilot project to measure racial harmony is underway in five places, with plans to roll out the research nationwide at the end of the year.

The Malaysian Ethnic Relations Monitoring System, known by its acronym Mesra, was developed by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies (Kita) and was launched on a pilot basis in February.

The project’s aim is to develop early-warning indicators to prevent potential racial clashes.

Kita founding director Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said the five places were three around the Klang Valley, one in Sabah and one in Sarawak.

The research methodology includes use of a quality of life index and a perception index to gauge people’s needs and feelings about race relations in their area.

Shamsul Amri said the quality of life index included criteria such as housing, health, income and education.

“Combined with the perception index, we can know who is getting what, who is not getting what, and what are the points of differentiation between different ethnic groups,” he told reporters at a Kita public forum on race relations today.

“By mapping people’s quality of life and their perceptions, hopefully we can see what is making people really unhappy.”

Shamsul Amri said Kita hoped to conduct similar research projects in more places by the end of the year with the help of the National Unity Department’s officers in these areas.

The public forum was launched by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of unity, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, who said the government would support Kita’s endeavour as it was in line with the implementation of the 1Malaysia concept.

“The Mesra project will contribute to the empowerment of 1Malaysia. At policy level, the government does not want any race to be marginalised. But at local level, we must be able to implement this.

“Had we known about the living conditions and about the inter-racial relationships in a place like Kampung Medan, we could have taken preventive measures to avoid the racial clash there,” Koh said, referring to the riots in a poor residential area along Jalan Klang Lama in 2001.

Koh said measurements or indicators that could help predict potential clashes were needed, as currently, a simplistic picture of race relations was obtained through the number of police reports on inter-ethnic fights.

Appreciating diversity

The public forum’s guest speaker was Prof Dr Aneez Esmail, a medical professor and also the associate vice-president for equality and diversity at the University of Manchester in the UK.

Aneez said the debate on race should never be confined to “singular identities” as this would cause people to take up fixed positions which were difficult to negotiate.

Instead, the race relations debate should accept the “multiple identities” of people to find holistic solutions that would address needs.

“If people give themselves and others a singular identity, we’ll never get beyond that to appreciate the diversity and complexity of each person’s identity.

“You are never just a Chinese [Malaysian] or whatever race. A rich Malay is different from a poor Malay, who would have more in common with a poor Chinese or a poor Indian [Malaysian],” Aneez said.

Aneez is of Indian heritage but was born in Uganda. His family became refugees during Idi Amin‘s rule. They fled to the UK where he became an anti-racism activist.

Speaking to reporters later, he said he observed from the question-and-answer session that Malaysians appeared to have “a huge desire to talk about race relations”.

“But I also sense that desire is constrained, perhaps by politicians or by singular identities,” he added.

During the question-and-answer session, several members from the floor spoke against politicians who used the race card to maintain their popularity with their constituents.

Aneez also spoke about affirmative action policies, saying that class-based affirmative action was acceptable but not race-based action. His comments on that were applauded by the audience.

He also spoke on the UK’s Race Relations Act 1976, which although could not get rid of racism completely, was essential in creating a framework for debate.

“You must have legislation in order to have a platform for people to start talking about racial discrimination openly,” he said. The UK law outlaws discrimination as well as promotes activism on racial equality.

When told by some members of the floor that the government had raised and then shot down the idea of a similar Act last year, Aneez said debate on the matter should continue.

More than 300 people attended the public forum, including police officers, civil servants and school heads and principals.

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4 Responses to “Pilot project to measure racial harmony”

  1. Malaysia Ku says:

    As long the NEP and ketuanan Melayu are not solved, unity will be only seen on the surface but not to the root.

  2. Nicholas Aw says:

    Pilot project to measure racial harmony. Great! Then recently it was stated that National Service does promote racial harmony. I am of the opinion that whatever is implemented to promote racial harmony is only superficially effective.

    Allow me to make a parallel to these good but ineffective intentions. When a contractor builds a supporting pillar, [he/she] makes sure that the steel bars used are arranged and [tied] properly before encasing the bars in concrete. In this manner you get a very strong pillar that lasts a lifetime. In the case of the government, it builds a pillar by putting only one steel bar (one race) and encasing it in concrete; the other remaining steel bars (other races) are left dangling on the exterior of the pillar. Obviously that pillar is going to collapse in no time at all like the Middle Ring Road.

    Until and when the government is willing to make sure that all the steel bars (all races) are given due importance and used to build that pillar, the result is a foregone conclusion.

    Let the rakyat of all races share equally the same cake and everything will fall in place. No need for pilot project or National Service!

  3. tebing tinggi says:

    Racial harmony is not something you inplant. It’s something that you develop within, with a correct aproach. It’s not something we share; it is something we live with.

    Can we reach a state of harmony if we don’t even know each other? We are born [to parents of the same ethnicity], we go to different kindergartens, we go to different schools and we grow up in entirely different environments. [We are] just aware that there are different people around us [but] we hardly know who they really are.

  4. Kamal says:

    What we need are more laws that prevent discrimination. We also need to start recognising, as Prof Aneez rightly pointed out, race is not the solution to social inequalities. Rather it should be class sensitive programmes. Positive discrimination should firstly not be based on the majority of seats; it should be a minority (let’s say 30% of university seats) – positive discrimination [that] favours marginalised groups according to class-based criteria (not race-based).

    If you say a candidate deserves help because [he/she] is Malay [Malaysian], what we mean is that regardless of [his/her] socio-economic position, the candidate is handicapped. How do we resolve this? Any which way you look, [he/she] is handicapped by virtue of [his/her] race! This cannot be true, and worse, it discriminates [against] both truly socio-economic disadvantaged [Malay Malaysians] as well as socio-economic disadvataged non-Malay [Malaysian] groups.

    For all my life in Malaysia (and I still live in Malaysia), race is rarely the real problem. If you ask me, people are not happy with what they see as unfair practices and discrimination. But these are not inherent in people. They are problems embedded in structures and therefore the solution is not to go out and target awareness and reform among the general population. Rather, it is to introduce measures that target specific structural problems.

    In a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, we should have learnt by now that diversity is to be appreciated. Indeed if we take a closer look at our history there are many instances of syncretism where cultures blend and mesh. There never was such a thing as a pure Chinese, or Malay, or Indian, or Kadazan, or Iban, that lived cocooned in a pure culture isolated, away from ‘pollution’ of other cultures. Rather, through trade, colonialism, religion, marriage, the tradition of merantau or berjalai, people moved, adapted, adopted and carried on.

    I was amused to learn from Hokkien friends that someone from Penang, Johor and Sibu although speaking Hokkien, may not fully understand each other because of the infusion of many local words in the dialect. But if we think about it, that isn’t so surprising. Most groups are more influenced by their geographical regions (in the past) and social spheres today.

    There is no special gene that transmits race. If anything, Malaysia is the proof of cosmopolitanism before the term even became vogue! So why do politicians and academicians want to continue boxing up society in those rather dated categories of race? I think, it would be far more interesting to talk to groups of people from the same neighbourhood asking about their grouse and happiness regardless of their race and comparing these findings with groups of people from other neighbourhoods.

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