Historian claims ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ erodes racial identities, especially the Malays

local historian Zaharah Sulaiman says the ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ slogan can be interpreted to mean combining all ethnic and racial identities into one, and could result in a race being swallowed up by history. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
local historian Zaharah Sulaiman says the ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ slogan can be interpreted to mean combining all ethnic and racial identities into one, and could result in a race being swallowed up by history. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 2 — The use of the “Bangsa Malaysia” slogan to foster national unity could instead erode racial identities, especially for the Malay people, a local historian has claimed.

Utusan Malaysia reported Ikatan Arkeologi Malaysia history researcher and writer Zaharah Sulaiman saying the slogan can be interpreted to mean combining all ethnic and racial identities into one, and adding that it was a loss as it could result in a race being swallowed up by history.

“The slogan itself is not based on any solid evidence and fact, compared to Malay history obtained via extensive research,” she was quoted saying during a talk on the origins of the Malays at Wisma Perundingan Melayu here yesterday.

The Bangsa Malaysia concept and slogan was mooted by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his first tenure as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, where he sought to promote cultural inclusivity and a national identity for multicultural Malaysia. The idea was for Malaysians to identify as one nation, speak Bahasa Malaysia and accept the Federal Constitution.

In Zaharah's view, the Bangsa Malaysia slogan was created in the shortest time for short-term goals without consideration for the future.

“Continued use of the slogan will see the racial identities including our beloved Malay identity which our ancestors handed down to us over tens of thousands of years, will simply disappear like that.”

Zaharah also refuted the book Contesting Malayness written by Timothy Barnard and published in 2004, which stated the Malays have no basis in calling themselves a race as they are a combination of various racial groups.

She also argued that allegations that the Malays are also immigrants are also factually wrong, saying research shows the group inhabited the region as far back as 60,000 years ago, longer that the human migration to Yunnan (in modern China) some 40,000 years ago.

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