Saturday, May 2, 2015


Most politicians struggle to run countries that are unified in a single place, but how do you run a country that comes in two very distinct parts, one of them the northern tip of a large island shared with other countries, and itself two distinct ethnic regions, the other, six hundred and forty miles away across the sea, sharing all but the tip of a peninsula with another one, which used to be another part, but broke away?

When Malaysia was still a British colony, it was known as the Federation of Malaya. Then the Japanese occupied it, during the Second World War, and Britain granted independence under its new name in 1957, including Singapore, which is the piece that broke away in 1965, and with Sabah and Sarawak, previously part of Borneo, on that island far away across the China Sea.

Britain likes to think of itself as the epitome of multi-cultural, but Malaysia is a far better example, with the Moslems making the religious majority, and ethnic Chinese not far behind in numbers, though ethnic Malays, if you do the census secularly, are actually the largest group, and then there is the Indian community, and various indigenous groups, many of them extremely ancient. Having multiple cultures does not, however, also mean having equality and mutual respect. Most of the wealth-generation is done by the Chinese, most of the power-games are played by the Malays, most of the poverty lives among the Indians.

Rainforest products (palm oil, rubber, timber) and computer disks provide the most significant sources of revenue, though nothing beats tourism - which statement should worry Malaysia, as it should worry the dozens of other countries in the world which are now dependent on tourism to sustain their economies: tourism is a dependency industry, a service industry, passive, obsequious-responsive, and unproductive. Just as every city has its rich quarter, and somewhere nearby the poor quarter where the valets and concierges and swimming-pool attendants and laundresses and housekeepers live, so do rich countries have tourist-countries, where they like to go for a holiday and spend their spare change, but expect to be treated as kings and queens while doing so. There is one key difference between the home-cities and the holiday-countries. When rich people lose some of their money, they downsize but keep the servants. When rich countries go into recession, they take their vacations at home. A country that has become dependent on tourism is a country with no economic future beyond dependency and service.

And in the meanwhile, sex trafficking, drug smuggling and discrimination against refugees provide counter-ballast to Malaysia's economic growth, with migrant workers coming to Malaysia from Nepal, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Around a hundred thousand of the refugees are Rohingya from Burma (Myanmar), but there are also large numbers of ethnic Indians, and the children of Filipino and Indonesian illegal migrants. The Rohingya face the biggest crisis, because the Burmese government stripped them of their nationality in 1982, but Malaysia has declined to grant them Malaysian citizenship, preferring to keep them as stateless refugees. A number of Filipino and Indonesian children whose parents failed to register them have been awarded birth certificates nonetheless; unfortunately these birth certificates carry the stamp "foreigner", so the children are prohibited from attending government schools and unlikely, given the poverty of their refugee status, to be able to afford a private one. I have taken these facts from the CIA WorldFactBook, and simply note that, in the USA, such people are known as Mexicans.

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Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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