ALSO BY

By Eric Loo

Study shows stereotypes persist in Malaysia

The shopping crowd in Kuala Lumpur's Megamall at this time of the year shows all is apparently well with multiracial Malaysian society. The facade, however, belies the entrenched racial polarisation since the 1969 race riots.

After three decades of social engineering with its "one citizenry, one language, one culture" credo, the government has seen few fruits in building a collective consciousness of what it means to be a Malaysian.

A proposal by the Defence Minister Najib Abdul Razak in November last year to introduce a six-month national service for all 18-year-olds starting in 2004 reflects the clutch at new strategies to unite its citizens. But given the long history of race-based policies of recruitment and promotion in the army, navy and air force, it begs questions of how non-Malay parents would endear to seeing their sons through national service.

There is even a Chinese saying, "hao nan bu dang bing" (a good son does not do soldiering), which underlines the low status accorded to military activities apart from the unspoken sentiment that non-Malays will have little access to equal career opportunities in a predominately Malay civil defence sector.