Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Malaysia urges Australia to confront racism, but should it be casting stones?

Graeme Dobell in Kuala Lumpur reports that "Malaysia will welcome Prime Minister John Howard to the annual East Asia summit with the message that Australia must confront the racism and xenophobia revealed in Sydney's riots."

But Malaysia should be a little slow to point the finger of racism. Malaysia has a sad history of race riots and exclusionist policies on the basis of race. The country's "bhumiputra," or "native son" policy granted preferences to the Malay majority. Adopted in 1969, the bhumiputra policy gave Malays preferences in business opportunities and university admissions, but it left out other groups, such as the mostly labor-class Indians who comprise 11 percent of the country's population.

The policy was created to boost the Malays' economic standing, mainly against ethnic Chinese, who make up 33 percent of the nation's population but control 70 percent of its wealth. This disparity has contributed to some of Malaysia's bloodiest conflicts.

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