Sunday, May 18, 2014

Malaysia Slipping into a Racial Cocoon

Seriously I find it disturbing that the voices of mono-ethnicity and mono-religion are becoming louder in Malaysia. They may be the minority but not many of us seem ready to tell them off, and the result is they remain unchallenged.

Major countries all over the world, at least the ones that matter, are embracing and celebrating diversity and pluralism.

They proudly put on the badge of multi-culturalism as a showcase to tell us that they have real cosmopolitan cities.

The irony is that Malaysia had a head start. Of all the Asean countries, with the exception of Singapore which was then part of us, no other country in the region could regard itself as a plural society.

From the many places of worship of different religions to the diverse choice of food and the make-up of our demography, Malaysia has the perfect credentials to tell the world that we are truly Asia.

Take a walk down Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling in Penang and we find a mosque, a Chinese temple, an Indian temple and a church standing next to one another.

No one has ever complained that this centuries-old cluster of religious places has caused uneasiness to the people.

Now, try to do the same in modern Malaysia. Try building all these places of worship of different faiths today and see how our extremists react.

They will tell us that it is politically and religiously incorrect and there will be howls of protests from various non-­governmental organisations.

These instant NGOs, with a membership of five persons, including the wives and children of the presidents, will claim that they represent a particular race or religion.

And yet many of us, including those in authority, fall
for such pressures and demands. The rest of us, mainly rational and level-headed moderates, are not quite prepared to argue our case. Silence, unfortunately, can be interpreted as consent.

Suddenly, pluralism, moderation and secularism are politically incorrect words, regarded as threats to the fabric of nation building. It's astounding. Since when did this degeneration of proper thinking begin?

It's only in Malaysia, and only in recent times, where we argue insanely over whether we should be Malaysian first, or Malay, Chinese, Indian and lain-lain (others). And yet these same people, when asked the same question overseas, will dutifully and proudly declare themselves Malaysian.

But on their return to Malaysia, possibly even during the flight home, they will transform themselves, in typical Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde fashion, into their racial cocoons. Or is it caves?

So last week, we had an online news portal outlining the achievements of non-Malays, presumably to rebut Malaysian Muslim Solidarity (Isma) president Abdullah Zaik Abdullah Rahman who referred to non-Malays as trespassers and who had questioned the contributions of non-Muslims to the nation.

The Malaysian Insider's top 10 list included badminton hero Lee Chong Wei, international shoe maker Jimmy Choo and world squash champion Nicol Ann David.

Soon, the infamous controversial lecturer Ridhuan Tee Abdullah joined in the fray and listed out the achievements of Malays. Repeat: Malays, not Muslims. The lists of achievements from the portal and Ridhuan, seriously, are childish. I think most Malaysians are embarrassed. We like to see ourselves as Malaysians and at every sports event, we are cheering for our Malaysians. When Lin Dan squares off with Chong Wei in Kuala Lumpur, we know who to cheer for, even if both are ethnic Chinese.

And Abdullah Zaik's Isma is supposed to represent Muslims. He has forgotten that a Chinese, Indian or a Kadazan can be Muslims. Ridhuan can think and dream like a Malay but he is still a Chinese. The fact also remains that Ridhuan was given the name of Tee Chuan Seng by his parents.

Surely, he is not going to ask his family members to pack up and leave the country if they are unhappy.

Most of us feel sorry for him. He seems to suffer from an identity crisis problem. No matter how much he tries, the reality is that one cannot change one's ethnicity. Even his religion does not require him to do so.

He doesn't need to be an apologist for anyone, or to prove that he is more Malay and more Muslim than others. There is no need for him to make damaging, presumptuous and racist remarks.

Even his argument about who pays the most tax is flawed when he could not make a distinction between personal and corporate tax. It is also incorrect to equate government-linked companies with Malay entities.

Someone needs to tell him that it is perfectly all right to be a Muslim and Chinese at the same time. Just ask the 25 million Muslims in China, which is more or less the official figure, though some claim that the number could be as high as 100 million.

Malaysia has a long history of pluralism from the days of the Malacca Sultanate with its huge influence from the outside world.

It is a fact that our past and present Prime Ministers all can trace their lineage to the land of Siam, the Bugis, the Turks, the Indians and the Chinese, and some of our royalty have Western blood in them.

But at the end of it all, it doesn't really matter because the colour of our blood is red. What does matter is that we are all Malaysians.

My father comes from Kuah, Langkawi. He speaks Bahasa Malaysia with a northern Malay accent. He uses his hand to have his meals and the curry dish is compulsory. I still eat with my hand, like many of my family members.

My mum wears the sarong, as did my grandmother, as nyonyas. Wearing the songkok and sarong does not make one a Muslim as these paraphernalia have no religious bearings.

Be that as it may, there are certain aspects of our citizenship that we should take seriously, including our love for our national language.

As a Malaysian, I cringe each time a Chinese struggles to speak in Malay. I get upset when the Chinese cannot speak Malay or refuse to speak Malay. If one can speak English or Mandarin well, why can't they speak Malay just as well? It's a disgrace.

As I mentioned in last week's column, I continue to deepen my understanding of Islam and Malay Literature, which I began in my Sixth Form and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia days. I will continue to defend the need to study these subjects. All of us, regardless of our race, have contributed to make Malaysia what it is today.

The Chinese and Indians, with their contributions in the tin mining and the rubber industries, helped Malaya to bloom.

The Malays, who made up the majority in the government administration, including the police and security forces, made the country safe.

Without the many Malay teachers to educate our children, Malaysia would not have been possible.

So can we stop the nonsense of whether any of us have contributed to this great nation of ours?

Why can't we think and talk as Malaysians? Only we, Malaysians of all races, care deeply for Malaysia. No one else does because he or she does not have a reason to. But we do because this is our one and only home.

Wong Chun Wai
The Star
Asia News Network

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