September 15, 2010
1609: Think and Act Malaysian
1609: Think and Act Malaysian
1609: Time to Take Stock of Race Relations in Malaysia
When I first set out to write this monthly race column in November 2008, about eight months after the last general election, I thought that I would end my column after a year as surely that was enough time to cover all I needed to say. I was hoping that I would be able to write about other important issues which I was equally passionate about.
I was wrong. Its nearly 22 months now and developments on race relations are moving so fast lately that I have decided to write a piece now instead of waiting for my usual slot on the last Thursday of the month. Tomorrow (16 September) is Malaysia Day, when the states of Sarawak and Sabah joined Malaya (then) in 1963 to form the Federation of Malaysia. Its the first time the country celebrates the occasion with a public holiday. So its a good time to take stock of our race relations and understand the real problem we are confronting as a nation.
In the process of searching for our nations multi-ethnic soul made complicated by political power plays, the racial discord has reached such a high pitch recently. Fortunately, more and more moderate, fair and sensible voices are coming out to oppose a small minority still hankering for the economic abuses, easy handouts and rent-seeking of the past. The government is also making it clear now that it has zero tolerance against any racial remarks or provocation.
If one were to analyse objectively the causes of the racial squabble in Malaysia, a major source of the problem is the differing interpretations of our Federal Constitution and the Social Contract.
Throughout the history of mankind, differing inte! rpretati ons have often been the source of many past and present conflicts such as those within Christianity (between Catholics and Protestants and within them), within Islam (between the Sunnis and the Shiites and within them) and within the other major religions and political ideologies around the world.
There will always be opposing interpretations of any historical documents or tenets signed or promulgated by leaders who are no longer around but what is more important is to know how to handle these differences with maturity, moderation and justice so that the situation will not degenerate into violence and even war. Any social deal or compromise made must be acceptable and equitable to all as there will never be any lasting peace and harmony as long as there are injustice, inequality and oppression.
1Malaysia: What it means to Think and Act Malaysian
1Malaysia appears to offer that kind of deal which is inclusive, fair and equitable to all Malaysians and is fully consistent with the Constitution and the original spirit of it. To help the country cope with globalization and a rapidly changing world, 1Malaysia redefines the values and principles and refocuses the priorities of the government in putting people first and in managing the countrys resources more efficiently and equitably. All these values and principles were already there; 1Malaysia merely re-organizes them for the people and country to deal better with the new challenges.
However, there would always be a small minority with a hidden agenda who would insist on interpreting something the way they want it and if they dont get it, they would instigate or create tension or conflict with the hope that they can still get it. These people dont care about the collateral damage caused to the country and to many innocent people of all ethnic backgrounds. They would even undermine the interests of their own race to achieve their own selfish goals.
So how does one interpret the real nature of the rac! ial prob lem in Malaysia? Is it really racism or rather racialism or racial chauvinism?
Lately, there has been an outpouring of statements and articles, not only by politicians but by journalists, analysts, civil society and community leaders, academics, NGOs and general members of the public against chauvinistic ideas and racial slurs. The sentiments expressed in the statements and articles by the vast majority of these people are good and many of the ideas and suggestions are certainly praiseworthy.
There is only one problem here, most of them are still referring to the racial problem in this country as racism and the people making racial slurs or remarks as racists.
Racism Vs Racialism
It is politically and morally incorrect to use the terms racism or racist in the Malaysian context because racism is the systematic oppression of one or more races by another race and not a mere dislike, distrust or prejudice against another race (which is racialism). Racial remarks or slurs made in developing countries such as Malaysia are generally not racist but rather racialist, unless such remarks are made in a system where racism already existed. Racism is far more oppressive, arrogant and violent than racialism.
Perhaps a scenario during my student days in Britain about 30 years ago would give some idea on what racism is about. As coloured students, if one or a few of us were to unwittingly stray into certain areas after a football match, there is an almost certainty that we would be taunted with derogatory terms such as chinks or wogs and be physical assaulted for no other reason but for the colour of our skin. This is one simple example of racism where the victims suffer physical abuses.
Racism has a deeply rooted historical and ideological basis. It was an ideology developed 500 years ago with ! the rise of European colonialism and used to justify the slave trade of Africans and the conquest of colonies around the world. How else could they have justified it in the context of the emerging white liberal conscience but to describe black (which included coloured) people of the Africa and the colonized countries as inferior, uncivilized and even sub-humans. The Europeans who colonized America (and South Africa) brought with them such a racist culture while still engaging in the slave trade.
Racism may be a stronger and punchier term but if we frequently use it incorrectly, we may be committing
Herr Adolf Hitler: Arch Racist
two sins. Firstly, we may be belittling the terrible sufferings of the victims of real racism such as the African slaves, black people in the West, Jews under the Nazi regime, Bosnians under the Serbs and the Palestinians under the current Zionist regime. It may also be tantamount to insulting the historic struggles of great leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Secondly, by describing the racial problem in Malaysia as racism, we are also not being honest and fair to ourselves. However bad the racial situation may be, it is still not racism but racialism which is the dislike, suspicion or even hatred of someone of another race. Of course, racialism, if not managed properly, can also lead to violent conflicts or riots like in the May 13 case.
Asians (and black people) on the whole cannot be racist. Just like an analogy that women on the whole cannot be sexists. The Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kazadans, Ibans and Dayaks and the other ethnic communities of Malaysia have no history of systematically oppressing another community based on race. Asian cultures generally have humble roots and a strong sense of justice and fair play. We have more in common than our perceived differences.
Perhaps one can argue tha! t intens e racialism in some cases may be a prelude to racism but there are fundamental differences. All racists are racialists but not all racialists are racists.
One can understand why the Western dictionaries would attempt to whitewash their past atrocities and inhumanity by tending to define racism as any hatred, prejudice or a feeling of superiority against another race. (Racism has often been referred to as a white mans disease.). It is so convenient to include the rest of the world now as equally responsible for racism. I am not anti-white or accusing all white people as racists. But the supremacist culture which has thrived for 500 years and seeped into the sub-conscious minds of white people cannot just disappear overnight even with the best intentions of current governments or political leaders there.
If we do not even understand the true nature of our racial problem, exemplified by the frequent misuse of the terms involved, what hope is there that we know how to deal with it? If we can appreciate that our problem in Malaysia is not so bad (as racism), then there is still hope that we would be able to address the issue collectively and more proactively. Using the wrong terms can also be divisive and demoralising amongst the people who are opposed to racialism.
Teach Malaysians to Fish: Give them Knowledge
Teach Them to Think and Act Malaysian
Our country seems to be sailing into unchartered waters and is still evolving in search of sustainable harmony with two main opposing forces: the old way of giving the man a fish (GMF) and being more racially exclusive (contrary to the true spirit of the NEP) and the new way of teaching the man to fish (TMF) and being racially inclusive as espoused by 1Malaysia.
The TMF way, as opposed to GMF, is the only sustainable approach to overcome poverty for all races! . Any ne ed-based affirmative policy would help the poorer Malays anyway to achieve a higher level of income in the long run and make them more self reliant, successful and competitive to take on the world. Change is not an option for our countrys survival and 1Malaysia and NEM can show the way.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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