June 17, 2012
Overcoming Fear of The “Other”
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
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.