He reiterates the need for Malaysians to overcome mutual fears.
Amid a quarrel between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and some DAP leaders about who were the “extremists”, Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang said the issue was not about the ex-prime minister but about nation-building.
This was after Mahathir said some leaders in the DAP were extreme while others were moderate, prompting DAP leaders like Ronnie Liu and P Ramasamy who had been singled out to fire back.
Mahathir also said that Lim and his son Guan Eng were “extreme” during his first stint as prime minister from 1981 to 2003 but added that they have changed to become more moderate.
Lim, in a statement today (April 18), said the DAP had stood against Mahathir in the past because he had pushed for assimilation as a means of nation-building.
He said this included opposing the ban on lion dancing, preserving vernacular schools, and fighting against the campaign for one language, one culture, and one religion.
In the end, Lim said Mahathir himself in 1994, after 13 years as prime minister, acknowledged that the nation-building policy of assimilation was unsuitable for a plural society and had publicly acknowledged this.
Lim also noted that Mahathir reiterated the abandonment of the assimilation policy just before he left office in 2003.
“I commended Mahathir for having abandoned the assimilation policy in favour of integration as the basis of nation-building in plural Malaysia and for the courage of publicly admitting such a change of mind and policy about a decade ago,” Lim said.
Throughout those years, Lim said the DAP faced great odds to change Malaysia’s nation-building course.
Lim said DAP’s principle of nation-building is one of integration over assimilation.
The DAP supremo said apart from assimilation and integration, there was a third route – different communities living side by side but separately under the same political system.
He said this was similar to how British writer JS Furnivall described colonial Malaya – “the communities mingle but do not mix”.
“There are Chinese who live completely in a Chinese universe of their own, without interacting with other races; just as there are Malays and Indians who live completely within their own respective Malay or Indian universes.
“This is not the Malaysia that DAP and I strive for,” he said.
Lim noted that when the DAP fought against Mahathir’s assimilation policies, it was branded as extremist but now, there are also accusations that the DAP was selling out the Chinese.
However, Lim said the DAP’s struggle for integration has never changed.
“The Malaysia I want to see is one where the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, and Ibans come out of their own universes to interact with other communities; to learn, appreciate and accept that Malaysia is not to be identified with any one community but with all the different communities who have made the land their mother country.
“Where a Chinese has not betrayed race and culture for his exquisite Jawi skill, a Malay has not betrayed race and culture because of his Bharatanatyam repertoire, or an Indian betrayed race and culture because of his mastery of Chinese calligraphy,” he said.
Lim added that as long as Malaysians included other Malaysians in the concept of “other”, then Malaysia has yet to succeed in nation-building.
“One question all Malaysians must ask: Who is the ‘Other’ in the Malaysian context?
“Is the ‘Other’ the Chinese and Indians to a Malay Malaysian, the Malays and Indians to a Chinese Malaysian, and the Malays and Chinese to an Indian Malaysian?
“If this is the answer, then we have not yet succeeded in Malaysian nation-building, for the ‘Other’ must be a non-Malaysian, whether from Indonesia, China or India or any other part of the world,” he said.
Lim expressed concern that Malaysia seems to be trapped in an “extraordinary situation” that could lead to greater divisions and disunity.
“This extraordinary situation is one where the Malays feel threatened, the Chinese feel threatened, the Indians feel threatened, the Kadazans feel threatened, and the Ibans feel threatened.
“Every community is made to believe that its culture and ethnicity is facing an existential threat. But who is creating all these threats to all racial groups in the country?
“Not only the various races feel threatened, Islam feels threatened and the non-Islamic religions feel threatened,” he said.
Lim said Malaysia must develop a new self-confidence to reach for the stars and exorcise the various “contrived or imaginary fears and demons”.
He said only then can Malaysia excel in various fields of human endeavour so as to achieve a golden age for Malaysia.