Overcoming Fear of The “Other”

June 17, 2012

Overcoming Fear of The “Other”

Dr. Kamsiah and I have just returned from the Eastin Hotel, Petaling Jaya where we attended a dialogue session organised by Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) in conjunction with Project Dialogue.

This interesting dialogue session lasted for more than 3 hours. There we met Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa of IRF, Haris Ibrahim (Lawyer and Activist), novelist Faisal Tehrani, Jerald Joseph, Elsa Singam,  author-journalist Dina Zaman and  IRF Researcher-Analyst Faud Rahmat who was the moderator.

Racism is today a serious problem, to put it mildly and combined with religion, it has become a dangerous development ahead of the forthcoming general elections.

Those present were very knowledgeable about its politics and agreed that the racism genie is already out of the bottle and that there is an urgent need to keep it under control.

The challenge is how do we build civic citizenship ( a sense of being Malaysian as opposed to being Malay, Chinese and Indian) when the temptation is to play the race card to win elections.

It would appear that there are no clear cut answers, but it was agreed that we should start with educating our younger generation and those after them to think critically and act rationally, and to appreciate that pluralism is here to stay in our country.

Diversity is our source of strength and enlightened leadership at the political, social and community levels will be needed if we are to meet the challenges of changing times. Malaysians must learn to separate facts from fiction and to stand up for truth, peace and harmony and eliminate the fear of “the other”. If we are successful in this undertaking, then over the long haul we will be able to make PERKASA and other extremist elements including religious bigots of various sorts irrelevant.

Talking about this subject, I would like to bring back for your kind consideration an article by my friend KK Tan, which was written two years ago It appeared in my blog at the same time it was published in the Sun Daily.–Din Merican

Understanding the real racial problem

The Sun Daily
Posted on 22 June 2011 – 01:30pm
Last updated on 22 June 2011 – 03:06pm

by K.K. Tan (09-15-10)

WHEN I first set out to write a monthly column on race 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. It’s nearly 22 months now and developments on race relations have been 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 is Malaysia Day, the day when the states of Sarawak and Sabah joined Malaya (then) in 1963 to form the Federation of Malaysia. It’s the first time the country celebrates the occasion with a public holiday. So it’s 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 nation’s multi-ethnic soul made complicated by political power plays, racial discord has recently reached a high pitch. 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 of racial remarks or provocation.

If one were to analyse objectively the causes of Malaysia’s racial squabble, a major source of the problem is the differing interpretations of the Federal Constitution and the “Social Contract”.

Throughout history, differing interpretations have often led to conflicts, such as those within Christianity (between Catholics and Protestants and within them), within Islam (between Sunnis and Shiites and within them) and within other major religions and political ideologies around the world.

There will always be opposing interpretations of any historical document or tenet 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 lasting peace and harmony as long as there are injustice, inequality and oppression.

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 globalisation 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 country’s resources more efficiently and equitably. All these values and principles were already there; 1Malaysia merely re-organises them to enable the people and country to deal better with new challenges.

However, there will always be a small minority with a hidden agenda who will insist on interpreting something the way they want it, and if they don’t get it, they will instigate or create tension or conflict with the hope of still getting it. These people don’t care about the collateral damage 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 selfish goals.

So how does one “interpret” the real nature of the racial problem 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, non-governmental organisations and 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 — most of them still refer to the racial problem in this country as “racism” and the people making racial slurs or remarks as “racists”.

It is politically and morally incorrect to use “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 exists. 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 of 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 would be an almost certainty that we would be taunted with derogatory terms such as “chinks” or “wogs” and be physical assaulted for no other reason than the colour of our skin. This is one simple example of racism where the victims suffer physical

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. The Europeans who colonised 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 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 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 lead to violent conflicts or riots like the May 13 tragedy.

Asians (and black people) on the whole cannot be racist – just like an analogy that women on the whole cannot be sexist. Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kazadans, Ibans, Dayaks and 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 that intense 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 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 man’s disease). It is convenient to include the rest of the world now as equally responsible for racism. I am not anti-white or accusing all white people of being racist. But the supremacist culture which has thrived for 500 years and seeped into the sub-conscious minds of white people cannot disappear overnight even with the best intentions of current governments or political leaders.

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 of knowing 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 wrong terms can also be divisive and demoralising among people opposed to racialism.

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 New Economic Policy), 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 overcoming poverty among all races. Any need-based affirmative policy would help 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 country’s survival and 1Malaysia and the New Economic Model can show the way.

17 thoughts on “Overcoming Fear of The “Other”

  1. In 1973-75 Australia removed the “White Australian Policy” and the Government of the day (Al Grasby , Gough Whitlam, Fraser) removed all resistance to bring about a Mulkticultural society with egalitarian values on one society-manycultures- values. The objecttives were by and large reached in 2012 and the process is goingn on. Rascists like Hanson and the like were mowed down by the united front of the whole nation.
    The sucess was due to move made by top to bottom.

    In Malaysia, hmmmm I wonder. When the TOP is promoting racsim, relgious bigitory , where Malay-Perkasa -UMNOMelayu sponsred racism is firmly legislated, government and civil institutions practice sanctioned institutionalised racism, government policies reeks with official racism, attitudanal racism is entrenched and its practice rewarded with political patronage by the ruling UMNOelitists , you guys at the grassroot level can dream on to bring about chnage from the bottom.

    A total social and political revolution, the kind Najib says “we will defend Putrajaya with our ….” should be countered with we the rakyat will rise with our fists and parangs and sticks to fight the evil that has engulfed the top .

    Until this happens, you guys can have a million meeting or gatherings to crack your heads, the Top will swipe you aside like flies.

    Alternatively, the country must go through the toptal process of entropia, total collapse (financial and social) and from the ashes a new nation may rise where every individuals are seen as nindividuals and not as racial being.

  2. Racialism and Racism share the same basis. it is rather an hair-splitting exercise to find differences between the two. the extreme versions of ‘race intolerance’ according to Mr. Tan would be genocide and ethnic-cleansing.
    racism, just like ‘a rose by any other name smells as sweet’ is like shit, that by any other name emanates the same stench!

    wonder what the malaysians, melayus, chinakoois and the kelings would do when the martians land in Kuala Lumpur? (hopefully they’ll sink in the Lumpur).

    umno will scream, ‘these are pendatangs and they are superior beings, so they should become Bumiputras!’
    chinas and indias will scream, ‘Injustice, WTF we are the pendatangs, born and bred here, why they? why can’t we become Bumiputras!’

  3. In Malaysia when the speak of fear of other, it really means this,

    fear of the chinese, economically
    not so much fear of the Indian , we the malays are better for sure and this is our homeland.

    that is the mindset that needs to be overcome.

    It isnt easy , call it what you want but there you have it in a nutshell.

    What the malays must realise is it has been 54 years, the struggle has changed.

    Everyone must realise that the true challenge is happiness and a sense fo belonging of all Malaysians must be the target of the policies (and nothing else). That means, quality education for all to ensure those in poverty have a chance at a decent standard of living, one legal system for all, no religous oppression, equal opportunities for all.

  4. Quality Education for all to confront poverty, but it has to be managed through good Governance.
    My humble opinion here, is that you all on this blog are the Brave New World (Dato Din’s blog with few million following) – brave to substantiate ‘truth’ even in your thoughest language (with decency of course), and to accost untruths. KK Tan & CW Wong as examples, together with the Commenters, are the New breed of Leaders to face this brave new world ! Its Quality, not Quantity that will be the catalyst for change….
    Racial things & racism is beyond me, and there are experts handling or accosting the difficult measures to tamper down the tone. As i understand the Malay psyche, race in itself do matter for much to them, as long as one is a ” muslim” – religious bigotry then rears its ugly head in its stead.

    i feel enthralled by Rhonda Byrne’s latest book ‘ The Magic’ ( following her earlier ones, The Secret and Power. ). to try to overcome religious bigotry, i had on two previous threads, indulged in ‘ Syncretic Knowledge ‘ which deals with Congruity of human values no matter from what Belief system, cultural or traditions, though not identical, but similar & convergent

    On the opening page itself, Rhonda quotes from the Gospel of Matthew :
    ” Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him ” – more than two thousand years before !
    She then compares a verse in the Koran and the mystery became clearer :
    ” And ( remember ) when God proclaimed : ‘ If you are gratefull I will give you more; but if you are ungratefull verily my punishment is indeed severe. ‘ It is hidden in the Universal law of motion too, as exemplified by Isaac Newton…

    So there you go, Rhonda then dealt with it in length, about this notion of GRATITUDE, which truly according to her works ” magic “, or magical.

    From the time of revelation of the Koran – usages in Arabic – there are about three or four Congruent terms used repeately, over & over again : Kesyukoran, Kerede’an, Pengabdian, ucapan ‘ Al;hamdu’lillah’….( sentiasa terima kasih )

    This is what i wish to say : In the daily practice of this Gratitude, in the Malay muslim hype, he humbles himself to complete acceptance of that notion, in these words to reach the core of his heart :

    ” BANYAK PUN TAK CUKUP, SEDIKIT PUN TAK HABIS….” – And the Magic Works in miraculous ways….

    Truly be the Brave New World….


  5. “Fear of the Other?”
    I say, this is one heck of a monumental topic! Religiously, Philosophically, psychologically, socially and historically.. So i won’t belabor the ‘process’, the methodology and the reverse engineering required to alleviate ‘Otherness’. Need to get PhDs is Humanities, Genetics and Divinity first.

    I’ll just concentrate on the consequences. Since dogs like me, are intrinsically unable to figure out macro-history, i’ll just plagiarize the ideas of Arnold Toynbee:
    “Civilizations die from Suicide, not Murder!”;
    “The root cause is the decay of society’s ‘Creative Minority’.
    and Jared Diamond’s addition:
    “..a position of inherited privilege that has ceased to merit.”

    Otherness? The ‘Original Sin’.

  6. The challenge is how do we build civic citizenship ( a sense of being Malaysian as opposed to being Malay, Chinese and Indian) when the temptation is to play the race card to win elections.- Dato Din

    Tough call …. Very tough call when you have a DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER of this great and wonderful multiracial and multi religious nation who proclaimed “I AM A MALAY FIRST MALAYSIAN SECOND”

    Note this not said by some ministers, it is announced by the second most powerful leader of the country .. And the same individual who is the EDUCATION MINISTER.

    Tell me, what kind of message does Muhyiddin Yassin send to the school children under his watch????? And at the same time he mouths all those crap about national unity and wanting to be the next Prime Minister.

    Muhyiddin Yassin only wants to be the PRIME MINISTER for the Malays, not for the other races.

    if at all,this should be the sole reason, UMNO should not be allowed to run this country after the next GE. As for Najib, he has no balls to take on his deputy who is a proxy of Kutty Supremo (the mamak who claims to be more Malay than an ethnic Malay). Chances are Najib will be removed as President of UMNO by the pro-Muhyiddin faction like how Pak Lah was pushed out.

  7. Rhonda Byrne quotes Roald Dahi :

    ” Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it ”

    Followed by a quote from Ibn Khaldoun, one of the earliest muslim Scientists :

    ” Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it ”

    ( as some of the Magic Formula )

  8. Its simple then we cannot have a person who leads whilst saying he is only the PM of one section of the community. The leader must take care of his entrie flock musnt he ? Children learn by emulating the adults. If you pour poison into them by your conduct they will grow up with that poison running throiugh their veins. We would have created disaster for the next genration and generations to come if we allow disunity to contimue.

  9. The real trust and honesty have been destroyed & lost over the years
    The divide & rule policy has been very successful
    It will take another 4-5 generations for these old wounds to heal and be forgotten forever
    Otherwise we will remain divided and polarized
    Just too BAD …dino

  10. First thing is to remove the old notion – INI TANAH MELAYU
    WITHOUT getting rid of this notion we will go nowhere
    Will be stuck in the MUD forever!

  11. Being called “A PENDATANG”….
    Dino – for a minute consider yourself sitting ON the other side of the FENCE?
    AFTER – serving THE KING & this nation, defending it with your blood, sweat & tears LOYALLY!

  12. DINO – I do hope you would publish my comments and let the world read it
    You can always call ME and contact ME
    You know who I really AM
    No secrets
    ‘They can surely track me down thru my IP’s’
    The truth needs to be told as “IT IS” !

  13. Thank You Dino, for the truth needs to be told to the younger generation, they must know how we fought for Independence and how we struggled against the Insurgency threat as a Band of Brothers!
    How we toiled this land to make it what it is today.
    How people sacrifice their lifes’ & limbs for peace to prevail in this land.
    How all of us were equals but still treated as not-equals!
    HISTORY – is for us to learn and recognize the truth & facts, not by hiding IT, and hope it will go away!
    No matter how painful, the truth shall & must prevail.
    Then and only then we can have closure!
    We need to Wise up in order not to make the same damn mistakes again!

  14. Dear SiILENT 1,

    That was quite a load off your chest. Been wanting to say what needs to be said but was afraid of offending other peoples sensibilities.

    I bet you feel a lot better now, huh?

  15. NB.
    What i meant to say, i did not say when i quoted Rhonda Byrne, to make exhortations to You All as potential Leaders of this brave new world : please read or reread Rhonda’s experiences, and to try & answer this :

    Should’nt we, or can We not, begin to come closer and Embrace one another – Rhonda says whatever religion does not matter – because of Similarities and congruity of Human Values not matter from Value-system we have been brought up with ?
    It is only the language barrier that kept us apart, which all say the SAME things in different, different ways….thank you for ” listening “..

  16. Dear Ai-Tze, having said what I needed to say…THE PAST years have hurt our society & nation badly, if we prolong this matter & situation we will never heal!

    I have witness Somalia, Bosnia & Haiti, first hand, it is horrible beyond what you hear, see and listen in the news, I WAS THERE!


    Otherwise we are all to be BLAMED!


  17. SILENT 1, you really want change in your beloved country???

    Don’t whine and develop a self-pity mentality. Getting those things off your chest on Dato Din’s blog will NOT change anything. The only change it does to you is make you feel good… its called feel-good self-therapy.

    Here is what YOU SHOULD DO if you want change:

    1) Be a foot soldier for the opposition coalition. That is the only hope you have if you want change. Pick a Malay opposition politician and help that guy to win his seat a rural seat. NO point trying to help those DAP/PKR candidates in the KL/PJ. They will win. You need to win the rural pakcik and makciks over to change the govt.

    2) I don’t know how good is your Malay. If you can speak good Malay, go out to the rural Malay heartland and talk to the pakciks and makciks on how bad the country has been and how insulted you feel those idiots call you a pendatang. If you cannot speak Malay, you are a disgrace.

    3) Start a blog or Facebook and write or help spread anti-UMNO/BN messages and pro-PR messages.

    If you can’t do above… then you should just suck your thumbs and sulk because heroes like Ibrahim ALI and Perkasa will continue to call you and UNGRATEFUL PENDATANG, even though you are born here.

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