KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 — National identity and what it means to be Malaysian hold different meanings to Malays and non-Malays, according to a research paper sponsored by the CIMB Foundation.
The study by Oxford University found that while respondents from the three major ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese, Indian) identified more strongly with their ethnic identities rather than a national one, Malay respondents believed that there was little difference between “being Malaysian” and being Malay.
It added that integration efforts by the government, such the 1Malaysia concept, may not be successful in its intention as different ethnic communities had varying ideas as to what being Malaysian was.
“Further, the fact that ingroup friendships were associated with increased levels of both national and ethnic identification for the Malays suggests that Malays might be projecting their ingroup ethnic identity onto the national identity, thus possibly conceiving of being Malaysian as being ‘the same thing’ as being Malay,” the research paper titled Attitudes and Ethnoreligious Integration: Meeting the Challenge and Maximising the Promise of Multicultural Malaysia found.
“Thus speaking in terms of being Malaysian to a Malay audience may not promote integration, and could potentially hinder it. More research is necessary to replicate and further investigate the relationships between these variables,” it added.
The study by researchers from Oxford University — Ananthi Al Ramiah, Miles Hewstone and Ralf Wolfer — was carried out in Peninsular Malaysia between September to October last year and was based on a survey involving 503 Malays, 500 Chinese and 501 Indians.
By associating the Malaysian identity with being “Malay”, the researchers said that this could in the long run create “negative consequences”, as non-Malays may then view their contributions to the national identity as being disregarded.
The study added that by assuming the Malaysian identity as being Malay, there was also a risk of it being perceived as an exercise in assimilation rather than integration.
“The question of what constitutes the ‘right’ or ‘true’ national identity is a very complex and fraught one, with which governments and people across the world must grapple. However, Malaysia is utterly lacking a meaningful conversation around this topic.
“In the absence of that, Malaysians are in the position of having an ill-defined Malaysian-ness thrust upon them, which can, over time, serve to weaken rather than strengthen national integration,” the study said.
In its recommendation, the study said that the government should rethink its 1Malaysia policy.