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Introduction Malaysia is a multi-racial country consisting of the Malays as the major ethnic group, the Chinese, Indians as well

as other minority ethic groups. All these groups live in harmony in support of unity in diversity.

A study on inter-ethnic relations serves to deepen inter-racial understanding and enrich positive ethnic relations in Malaysia. The need for debate on inter-racial relations in Malaysia has become increasingly necessary at the current climate due to several factors, foremost being recent incidences that indicate the existence of underlying racial tension. Even though the scenario is not new to the country as there had been previous incidences of similar nature historically, there is a general concern that the issue represents a potential time bomb for the nation. The availability of various ethnicities and cultures in Malaysia has given rise to a situation resembling a tug-of-war, where each ethnic group feels a defiant inclination to retain their individual identities on one hand, yet recognize the need to accept the fact that inter-dependency is imminent. The issue remains, is multi-ethnicity the sole factor contributing to racial tension? Most of the previous studies on Malaysian racial relations in the past have focused mainly on economic and social factors. Some sectors claim that the racial conflict stems from political leanings; others feel that the main bone of contention among the different ethnicities is due to the uneven distribution of economic gains (Sanusi Ahmad, 1989). Nevertheless, one important yet largely neglected aspect of analyzing inter-racial relations is from the psychologicical perspective. This paper will attempt to delve into the psychological dimension to show that it can oft-times be a larger source of conflict compared to economic, political or social factors. In order to establish the conceptual scaffolding in analysing the psychological dimension of inter-ethnic relations, it is crucial to first elaborate on the fundamental elements and concepts behind each ethnic make-up. It is important to have a clear grasp of the issue at hand based on cultural, historical and anecdotal contexts.

Malaysian Ethnic Backgrounds The process of national integration in Malaysia can be anaylsed based on the contact levels between different ethnic groups. Inter-racial relations in Malaysia remain, at its best, at an accommodative level, where each ethnic group is aware of each others social norms and values, yet make a strong stand to defend the erosion of their own culture and livestyles. This Cooperation and Political Understanding that was established between the races were severely tested in the 13 May 1969 incident, which now marks a black spot in the

history of racial relations in Malaysia. Today, the incident is recognized as the climax to inter-racial conflict in this country, which has since resulted in governmental efforts towards national unity and integration between the countrymen. Some of the policies that were formed for this purpose were the New Economic Policy (NEP), National Education Policy and National Cultural Policy. However, many years after the implementation of the New Economic Policy, various quarters had voiced concern over the apparent failure of the policy particularly in arresting the problem of poverty and the unequal distribution of economic wealth between the races. This phenomenon grew into strong prejudices and discomfort between the ethnic groups. By virtue of its nature, prejudice has the potent power to form dissatisfaction, which could potentially lead to drastic results. According to the sociological theory known as the Frustration Agression Theory, a particular ethnic group or individual who is constantly faced with frustration will eventually react with aggression. This theory cannot be overlooked because the possibility of serious repercussions resulting from racial tension has the potential of repeating itself.

The Psychological Aspect Of Racial Relations In Malaysia Malaysia is famed for its multi-cultural and multi-racial communities with high levels of tolerance and respect for one another. However, certain recent incidents threaten to shake the boat of racial harmony and launch a possible racial riot. The current situation is akin to a smoking volcano that threatens to spew lava at an unknown time in the near future. The three main ethnic groups have started to question each others rights, authority and credibility. This would not have happened if each ethnic group has high levels of understanding, respect and tolerance towards one another. Psychological aspects such as elements of prejudice and discrimination that are considered catalysts for racial discord ought to be understood by all levels of society before they reach astromical levels. Prejudice or biasness is one major aspect that has contributed to the general sentiments of discontent among certain ethnic groups in the country. The situation is made worse with further conflicts that arise out of negative perceptions due to misunderstandings and a lack of knowledge of another race not our own. Due to simplistic and very likely, inaccurate, information of a particular ethnic group without considering the realities associated with an individuals background and character, there is a higher possibility of prejudices escalating into aggressive behaviors and reactions. When one ethnic group has formed a high level of prejudice towards another ethnic group, it becomes very difficult to change the negative perceptions although strong facts are presented to prove their misconception. One becomes more inclined to believe what they are already ingrained with, and will usually be more susceptible towards new information that reinforces their negative opinions.

The Kampung Medan incident serves as a good example of deep-rooted prejudice between two main ethnic groups in the country. What resulted was racial riots that ended in tragedy several deaths and millions of ringgit for recovery purposes. Prejudice is strongest in an environment where one aspect of human nature, the defensive ego, is apparent. This happens when one ethnic group or individual feels that their pride or dignity is being threatened. This feeling of being under threat puts them on the defensive, making them reject or decline whatever that is being offered from the prejudiced party. In Malaysia, the quota system for institutes of higher learning is seen to be a suppression of the rights of the other races. However, a closer and more critical inspection of the system will reveal that this opinion is largely based on the prejudice of other races towards the Malays. The defensive ego of the other races makes them see the situation as unfair and inconducive towards the development of education in the country. Discrimination is the end result of a prejudice towards a particular ethnic group. It is defined as a refusal to provide similar or fair treatment to another group or race who demands equal rights. This behaviour can manifest itself in various ways, beginning with mild discrimination when an individual avoids meeting someone for whom he or she is prejudiced against. This can escalate into the maximum level of discrimination, which involves firing from a job, social seclusion, even physical abuse that can prove to be fatal. There are other factors that are believed to stand in the way of Malaysias national integration. These factors are closely related to communal values and attitudes, such as racism and ethnocentrism. These two factors are the psychological elements that are mostly influenced by historical experience, education (whether formal or informal), economic conditions and politics. Racism is defined as being overly protective of ones own ethnic group to the extent of having negative attitudes or behaviors towards other ethnic groups that could potentially lead to conflict. In the Malaysian context, this phenomenon is most apparent in business circles, politics and social settings where each ethnic group only defends the rights of the people in their own ethnic group. This racist attitude has created a social chasm in the Malaysian society and consequently caused racial tension.

Strategies Towards Racial Integration In Malaysia In Malaysia, there are various unwritten principles that form the backbone behind the attempts for national integration. Firstly, there is the general consensus that national integration is possible only when each ethnic group is bound together in the spirit of national unity. Secondly, racial integration can happen when the economic divide between the races is reduced or totally eliminated. Thirdly, the establishment and implementation of every national policy whether in the social, economic, cultural and other aspects must not get in the way of each ethnic group from their respective

endeavours and industries. Fourthly, the principle of give and take among the leaders of every ethnic group must be the core principle behind the establishment and implementation of national policies. Cultural Tolerance Nowhere else in the world is cultural tolerance more important than in a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious country like Malaysia. The culture of give and take can be viewed from various positive perspectives. For instance, while Bahasa Melayu is the national language for all official purposes, other languages are still being widely used. Similarly, although the Malay culture is practised widely by the general public in daily living and forms the pillar behind national culture, the other ethnic groups are free to practise their individual traditions. Besides that, the sharing of values and joint celebrations during major festivals help bring different races together in a harmonious relationship. Religious Tolerance Religious tolerance or mutual understanding between religions also forms an important factor in creating racial integration. Although many believe it is easier said than done and the reality poses more challenges than seen on the surface, we must nevertheless continue to be optimistic. Dialogue Dialogues between multi-ethnic societies in Malaysia form the perfect platform to promote a community where harmony and mutual understanding exists. Ideally, this approach should be initiated in schools and continuously cultivated through institutes of higher learning right up to employment stage. However, the use of dialogue to promote inter-ethnic understanding must be carefully planned so as to avoid racial tension. Participation must be on an equal basis involving every Malaysian community concerned. What remains top priority in a dialogue is that participants are open to the differing and sometimes opposing opinions and concerns of others.

Conclusion In general, a lot still remains to be done to improve inter-ethnic relations in Malaysia. What has been discussed in this paper is just a premilary observation of the psychological dimension in inter-ethnic relations in the country. Psychological factors such as misconceptions, prejudice, discrimination and others ought to be tackled early and appropriately. The innate desire for the formation of 1Malaysia with a distinctly individual identity amidst a strong multi-racial foundation has to begin with societys understanding of the need for multi-racial and multi-ethnic tolerance. Efforts to close the racial chasm ought to be carried out on a consistent and continual, not seasonal, basis. Dividing factors that stand in the way of these efforts must be prompty identified and wisely overcome. An open attitude must form the basis in creating closer inter-racial

ties between the various ethnic groups in Malaysia. Existing tension and prejudices should be kept in check with regular dialogues or other methods to promote national integration.

PRESENTERS Sri Rahayu Ismail is a lecturer in the Department of Government and Civilization Studies, Faculty of Human Ecology, University Putra Malaysia e-mail ayu_ismail@yahoo.com Zaid Ahmad is associate professor and Head of The Department of Government and Civilization Studies, Faculty of Human Ecology, University Putra Malaysia. He was a visiting scholar at The Religious Studies Department, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand in 2003. He is also contributor and co-editor of Inter-Ethnic Relations in Malaysia: Selected Readings, Serdang: Penerbit Universiti Putra Malaysia, 2006 Haslinda Abdullah is trained as a psychologist and currently a senior lecturer in the department of Social Science and Development Nobaya Ahmad is Deputy Dean of Academic Affairs in Faculty of Human Ecology, University Putra Malaysia as well as a lecturer in the department of Social Science and Development.