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During Gerakan’s recently concluded 43rd national delegates conference, Johor delegate Tan Lai Soon made a remark that “except for the natives of Sabah and Sarawak and the Orang Asli, everyone else in Malaysia is a pendatang (immigrant).”

Tan backed his claim by saying that “when Umno members say that the Chinese are pendatang, they obviously forgot that they were also pendatang from Indonesia.”

Tan was most probably referring to former information minister Zainuddin Maidin who wondered why the Chinese were annoyed when they were referred to as ‘pendatang’ because they identify themselves by speaking in their own dialects, and continue to isolate themselves by not mastering the national language.

Needless to say, Tan came under fire for making such a radical statement. Despite his apology, he has been suspended from his party, and may face criminal charges as a coalition of Malay NGOs called Pertubuhan Pembela Islam (Pembela) lodged a police report over the issue.

Gerakan deputy president Cheah Soon Hai attempted damage control and insisted that Tan’s remark was not the party’s stand. Cheah went on to say that Gerakan is a party of all races and that no Malaysian is a pendatang

Let us all ask ourselves the following questions. Does identifying whether the Malays were/are pendatangs:

(i) Help improve racial relations?

(ii) Propel our country to greater heights?

(iii) Solve the social ills that plague our society?

(iv) Curb crime?

(v) Reduce our fiscal deficit?

(vi) Improve the living standards of Malaysians?

Any reasonable man would be able to tell you that the answer to the aforementioned questions is a simple ‘no’.

Delving into whether Malays are/were pendatangs is akin to opening a Pandora’s box. It would have severely detrimental and far-reaching consequences

What matters is that Article 153(2) of the federal constitution  guarantees the special position of the Malays and the bumiputeras of Sabah and Sarawak. Let us learn to respect that.

It is also a fait accompli that the non-Malays and non-bumiputeras were once immigrants, in the sense that their ancestors came from different parts of the world, for different purposes (mainly to make a living). Let us learn to acknowledge that.

Question no longer relevant

But let us take note that was way before we achieved independence! Many of the non-Malays and non-bumiputeras are at least second or third generation Malaysians. Therefore, the question of ‘who is a pendatang’ is no longer relevant!

Malaysia has been an independent nation for 51 years. That's over half a century. It is shocking that after so many years, we are still divided by history.

History should bring us to the realisation that we Malaysians are stronger together. As cliched as it sounds, there is so much truth in the idiom ‘united we stand, divided we fall’.

Instead of focusing on what pulls us apart, why not focus on what brings us together? Things like sports, fighting corruption, eradicating poverty, combating crime, and addressing wastages of taxpayers’ monies

I beseech both sides of the divide to cease fire. Stop dishing out ‘pendatang’ remarks (or any divisive/racial/derogatory remark for that matter).

We are ALL here to stay. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee. The sooner you realise it and celebrate our diversity, the quicker our nation can progress.

JOSHUA WU is a first year law student who blogs at www.

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