Malaysian Indians are the most nationalistic

hindraf-watercannon.jpgA recent opinion poll, funded by The Asia Foundation, of over 1,500 young Malaysian adults aged 18-32 showed sharp differences of views on religion and national identity and the relation between state and religion among the country's three largest ethnic groups - the Malays, Chinese and Indians. The majority of Malays, defined under law as Muslims, identified themselves first as Muslims and secondarily as Malaysians, in stark contrast to the other ethnic groups. In addition, Malays exhibited far greater willingness to involve the government in religious affairs.

About a third of all Malay respondents hoped that Malaysia would become "more Islamic" and supported adoption of Islamic (hudud) statutes for criminal offenses. Less than a third of Malays surveyed supported equal rights for all cultures and religions. The survey found common ground across ethnic boundaries in terms of Malaysian youths' high degree of cynicism toward elected officials, apathy about current affairs and political disengagement. Over 40 percent of respondents would forgo elections in exchange for government-guaranteed peace, stability and economic growth.

The survey's results highlighted the strong sense of Malay/Muslim identity and illustrated the sharp inter-ethnic differences that will continue to work against the emergence in Malaysia of a large multi-ethnic, multi-religious political party.  Post has forwarded the complete survey data to EAP/MTS.

Sixty-one percent of Malays considered themselves Muslim first, with only 28 percent identifying themselves first as Malaysians. The Chinese put ethnicity first (47 percent), followed by nationality (44 percent) and religion (5 percent).  Indians were the most nationalistic, with 75 percent identifying themselves first as Malaysians, followed by their ethnic group (14 percent) and religion (5 percent).

When asked whether they rely upon their religion when making major life decisions, 92 percent of Malays and 85 percent of Indians answered affirmatively, while only 37 percent of Chinese agreed. Only 9 percent of Malays agreed that "it is not wrong for unmarried couples to hold hands in public places," compared with 96 percent of Chinese and 58 percent of Indians.

With regard to the connection between government and religion, only 3 percent of Malay respondents agreed that "government and religion should be kept separate," compared with 64 percent of Chinese and 47 percent of Indians.

Thirty-four percent of Malays agreed that "government should increase the implementation of Islam by introducing hudud law for Muslims," compared with only 2 percent of Chinese and 0 percent of Indian respondents.  (Note: hudud, or Islamic law encompassing criminal offenses, currently does not apply to any Malaysians; all citizens are subject to a secular criminal law system.)

Thirty percent of Malays hoped Malaysia would become "more Islamic," while that outcome was supported by 0 percent of Chinese and 4 percent of Indians. Only 31 percent of Malays agreed that "all cultures and religions should be given equal rights," compared with 61 percent and 66 percent of Chinese and Indian respondents, respectively.

A majority of Malays (53 percent) stated that they would not accept a woman as prime minister, compared with only 11 percent of Chinese and 6 percent of Indians.

The survey included various questions that attempted to determine the greatest concerns of respondents, as well as their degree of awareness about local and global political affairs. The young adults surveyed were primarily concerned with completing their education, advancing their careers and supporting their families.

According to the Merdeka Center, "only a handful" expressed concern about wider societal issues. In its summary report about its survey, the Merdeka Center concluded that "a majority of youth tend to have a negative, cynical and dismissive view about politics."

The survey indicated that most of Malaysia's young adults remain disengaged from their political environment. When asked how frequently they discuss "government policies and current issues" with friends, family members, schoolmates or colleagues, the most frequent responses were once per week (43 percent), once per month (26 percent), and rarely/never (17 percent).

Respondents placed high value on holding elections, but 41 percent would agree to eliminate elections if the government could guarantee "stability, peace and economic growth."

Malaysia's young adults, like those in many other nations, appear to focus largely on advancing their educations or careers, and pay significant attention to their families and home environment. When asked an open-ended question about how they spend their free time, the young adults listed "stay at home" as their primary response (34 percent), with "shopping complexes" (15 percent), "sports venues/fields" (6 percent), "scenic areas" (6 percent) and "go to town" (6 percent) as the next most popular responses.

Favourite hobbies were reading (24 percent), sports (23 percent), listening to music (9 percent), watching television or movies (8 percent), and fishing (6 percent).  Only 26 percent have visited another country, with nearby Singapore the most common destination by far.  Fifty-three percent of respondents stated they have no access to the Internet, and only 15 percent said they accessed the Internet 6 or more times per week.

Mobile phone penetration was significantly higher, with 86 percent of respondents owning at least one of the devices.

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