Author: Lau Guan Kim
Date: 04-20-02 07:23
ISLAMISATION OF CHINESE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Lau Guan Kim
Many of us, living in the proximity of Indonesia, are appalled by the government's sluggishness in addressing the problem of the Chinese. There were even talks that the army was in collusion with the rioters in looting Chinese assets during the riots of 1998, a suspicion not unfounded as press pictures showed soldiers standing by nonchalantly as the looters went on the rampage. In all this we have an idea of the weak leadership of then president Habibie, a person known for his impractical grandiose projects when he was No. 2 in Suharto's cabinet.
There is a change of leadership, but it is apparent the legacy of Suharto persists.
Malaysia and Indonesia are Islamic countries in Southeast Asia. Compared with other non- Islamic states, these are the two countries with dismal record of persecuting Chinese, with Indonesia's outright defiance of world opinion. There were attempts at one stage in Malaysia to Islamise the Chinese, and lest they the Malays lost their identity among the Chinese "Muslims", the Islamised Chinese were to be prefixed with a name such as Abdullah.
In both Islamic nations, the governments coerced the Chinese to lose their ethnic and cultural identities. There would be not much argument against this if the Chinese were also given their political franchise. It is this that made the Chinese adopt a clique mentality for their own survival as well as a resistance to an onslaught on their cultural roots. For Indonesia, assimilation was total, but the Chinese are short-changed by being politically disenfranchised.
Lest we put a halo on Malaysia, what happened to the Chinese in Indonesia was impossible to totally replicate because the Malays just outnumbered the non-Malays in excess of 50 per cent, with the Chinese some 33% of the populace.
In conclusion, where the Chinese became assimilated and given political franchise, as in Thailand and the Philippines, there is a total absence of persecution of the Chinese. It is debatable whether a clerical state is the cause of ethnic Chinese ill-treatment when these two countries are used as exemplar, but it is telling that in Islamic nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia, the Chinese plight stands out like a large sore thumb. A likely explanation is the intolerance of other religions and the militant zeal, at least from the attitude of the states against the proselytization of other religions, that could be the root cause of the sad fate of the Chinese.
The obvious direction for the Chinese in Southeast Asia is to crusade for political franchise in this century.
Will that bring more problems to the Chinese?
With what is happening to the Chinese now, what is there to lose?