Nazism is typically associated with racialist, nationalistic movements in western and northern Europe. But Nazism (or its contemporary form, neo-Nazism) has been embraced by some far from Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
Consider the case of Malaysia, the multiracial state in Southeast Asia, where a neo-Nazi movement has sprung up to defend the rights and survival of what is called a "pure Malay” race.
The CIA World Factbook states that about one-half of the population of Malaysia are indigenous Malays, while about one-quarter are Chinese and 7 percent are of Indian descent. Malays clearly feel besieged and threatened by the rising numbers of “foreigners” in their country.
According to a report from Vice.com, neo-Nazis in Malaysia not only espouse openly racialist theories, but they have adopted some of the symbols and language of the Third Reich and neo-Nazi movements from post-war Europe, including swastikas as well as imitating Combat-18, a notorious British fascist organization. They like to shout "Sieg Heil” and “Blood and Honor” while listening to Nazi punk bands like Angry Aryan, Skrewdriver, English Rose and Brutal Attack.
Mirroring the rhetoric of neo-Nazis and skinheads in faraway Germany, Britain and other European states, the Malay far-right wants to end all immigration into their country and keep Malaysia a preserve of the Malay peoples.
Vice found a Malay Nazi band called Boot Axe and spoke to band member “Mr. Slay” about his group’s ideology.
“Malay power is important because we're concerned about keeping a pure Malay community all over the Malay Archipelago,” Slay said.
“We're extremists in regards to the Malay race, but that doesn’t mean that we're extreme racists. It’s not about racism. It’s all about being Malay.”
Slay also complained about immigrants pouring into Malaysia.
“The government can't control the entry of immigrants, and we get so many of them,” he stated. “There are so many protests against the government about this issue, but they haven’t done anything tangible to improve the situation. Race has become a focus because of the inclusion of uncontrolled numbers of these [foreign] people in our society.”
Slay then went on to express the familiar racialist canard that immigrants increase crime and threaten the safety and welfare of native-born peoples.
“The lesson that we can learn from Nazism is that we can take extreme racist action if the position of the Malays is affected by these factors,” he declared. “We won't practice overt racism if the Malay race isn't compromised, but, if threatened, we will take action. We don’t like minorities in Malaysia if they can’t coexist with the Malay race. If they are good, then we are good.”
Bizarrely, Slay has even embraced anti-Semitism, even though there are virtually no Jews whatsoever in Malaysia.
“All Malay power punk and skinhead bands are outright anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist,” Slay proudly stated. “Malay power is connected to Islam.”
Slay admitted that neo-Nazis in Europe would not accept his group as part of their global diaspora, and he also conceded that the movement within Malaysia is probably not very large.
But what cannot be denied is that Malaysia is fraught with racial problems which have periodically erupted in violence over the decades. The world caught a glimpse of the festering problems in the country in May 1969 when race riots – pitting the poorer Malaysians against the wealthier Chinese minority – killed at least 200 people (perhaps many more), leading to the suspension of parliament, the imposition of a state of emergency, and the formation of a caretaker government.
Five years before that, when Singapore was still a part of Malaysia, race riots in that city ultimately led to the breakaway of Singapore as a state dominated by ethnic Chinese, as it remains to this very day.
In recent years, Malaysia’s racial strife has focused increasingly on its restive and impoverished Indian population, who are mostly descended from Tamil immigrants who arrived in the 19th century as laborers.
In November 2007, thousands of Indians rioted in Kuala Lumpur during a visit to the country by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. A group calling itself the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) demanded that the British government pay $4 trillion in damages for what the group described as "150 years of exploitation" of Indians by their former colonial masters.
Although that demonstration dealt with abuse by British colonial rulers, the rioters also vented their rage at the dominant Malay and Chinese communities of Malaysia.
"Our community is backward, our schools are dilapidated. We are the last in the line for jobs, scholarships, health benefits," Indian opposition lawmaker Kulasegaran Murugesan told Time Magazine at the time.
Uthayakumar Ponnusamy, Hindraf's legal adviser, complained that "for over a decade we have been appealing to the government for help to alleviate our poverty but all our appeals had [fallen] on deaf ears. The British brought us here, exploited us for 150 years and left us to the mercy of a Malay Muslim government. They should compensate us now."
After the recent election, the victorious Malaysian Premier Najib Razak of the Barisan Nasional coalition appointed a new Cabinet that includes five ethnic Indians, including even P. Wayathamoorthy, chairman of Hindraf.
In addition, the Malaysian Indian Congress, which is the country’s biggest ethnic Indian political party, snared four positions in the government, with party president G. Palanivel being named minister of natural resources and environment.
"Over the past months and years, divisions have opened up in Malaysian society. Now it is time for all of us, in government and beyond, to put the bitterness behind us," Najib said. "Together we will act to bring about national reconciliation, secure Malaysia's economic future and build a stronger, more harmonious society."
The Barisan Nasional has historically been accused of discrimination against the country’s Indian and Chinese minorities.
However, two weeks after the election, Najib is being accused of electoral fraud by Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance, which disputes the results.
Ibrahim, in fact, introduced racial enmity in his comments, by suggesting that “planeloads of Bangladeshis” were brought into Malaysia to illegally vote for Barisan Nasional, thereby allowing Najib to “steal” the election. Rallies by Ibrahim have attracted tens of thousands of people across the country.
However, perhaps as a conciliatory gesture, Anwar has also spoken out in favor of the nation’s minorities and the poor.
"We want a policy that we can share and give a sense of confidence to all," he said. "More than half a century after independence, we don't want poor Malays to be marginalized or Chinese to feel discriminated and Indians ignored."
Regardless of how the election quandary is resolved, it is likely that race will continue to play a dominant role in Malaysia's body politic.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.