The discredited idea of race

July 19. 2015

The discredited idea of race

by Josh

Mahathir- The Kerala ManThe Kerala Man

Let’s be clear – the melee at Low Yat Plaza last weekend was racially motivated, because the thugs were clearly going after the Chinese around there, not sparing even the journalists covering the commotion. But it would be a grave mistake to label it as a ‘racial riot’, for there has been no retaliation on the part of the Chinese; even the wider Malay community has condemned the incident and urged calm.

It is therefore of utmost importance that the general public refrain from provoking the situation further by lashing out at others with a racially-charged tone. For instance, what purpose does it serve if the non-Malays tar the entire Malay community with the same brush? It would only alienate those who are equally disgusted by the hooligans in their midst and, worse, push some of them onto the brink of extremism.

hishamuddin-husseinThe Turkish Man

An eye for an eye only makes the world go blind. Enough said. Then again, what is a race? Once, a Malay friend asked me: “I just met a distant relative, also a Muslim and Malay, but he looks so Chinese to me. Why?”

“Ya lor, why ah? Did you ever ask why the Sultan of Johor has a very Eurasian face but is still a Malay?” I threw the question back to her, and she looked puzzled. (Although I am not so sure if the royals would often speak Malay among themselves to qualify them for being Malay as one of the criteria set out in the constitution!)

Najib al BugisThe Bugis Malay

To me, race is never genetically determined but socio-politically constructed. Taiwanese, for example, are culturally Chinese but they are now possessed of a very different identity from the mainland Chinese due to the socio-political development over the last three decades. More and more Taiwanese now desire a distinct ethnicity that would mark them out from China. Nearly two decades after the handover from the British in 1997, there are noticeable signs that Hong Kong is heading in the same direction.

Zahid Hamidi The Java Man The  Java Man

Meanwhile, there are still a sizeable number of Japanese who were left behind in China after World War II and adopted by Chinese parents. Some eventually ‘returned’ to Japan as adults but found themselves unable to fit into contemporary Japanese society. One can’t blame them, for they had been raised as Chinese all their life.

Similarly, why would a Ceylonese Tamil be so eager to differentiate him or herself from an Indian Tamil despite the virtually identical language, food, culture and religion shared between them? Years ago, when I was a language student in Germany, there was a classmate from Russia who happened to be of German ancestry. He told us his grandparents were born in Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg), an erstwhile Prussian territory acquired by the Soviets after the Third Reich was ended, but he would grow up feeling more Russian than German.

What made the discussion even more interesting was that our lecturer was a Dutch national who was born and raised in West Berlin, and a native German speaker!

Given her experience of growing up in a purely German environment, the lecturer could have claimed herself to be a ‘true-blue’ German while the Russian-born classmate could not. But would any DNA test produce a result that says one is German while the other Dutch, other than stating the obvious that they are all Caucasian?

A belief in essential differences

Back to Malaysia. The myth of a pure race is so strong that everybody has an ideal imagination of his or her own race. A belief in essential differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is a given, and these differences, often concocted rather than real, are perceived as natural and inherited. The much-touted and ‘celebrated’ multiculturalism is hence simultaneously a blessing and a curse, for we are compelled to constantly identify ourselves against others.

Syed Mokhtar Al-BukharyThe Arab Bumi UMNO crony

The state does not help either, as it excels at exploiting the ethnic differences for its own purpose. With the constitutional definition of the Malay race, it has created a hierarchy within which the Malays are deluded into developing a sense of entitlement. So when a Malay youth is out of job, he or she may not know how to question the government’s employment policy or even the corrupt government itself, but vents his or her anger at the non-Malays.

“At least I am a bumi.” So he or she would reason, and this is also how populists such as Mahathir Mohamad relish in reinforcing the delusion for their own not-so-hidden agenda. It is not too dissimilar from the poor and jobless white youth in America who take delight in beating up the non-whites for ‘stealing jobs from us’, instead of challenging the exploitative and unjust capitalist model that the Republicans hold dear.

Saying “get real, dude, this is a white country and at least I am white” is the only way for them to assert their identity and compensate for their lack of social skills. In UMNO-controlled Malaysia, one can easily replace the word ‘white’ with ‘Malay’ and the implications remain valid.

Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan speaks to Reuters during an interview in Singapore October 29, 2014. An educational four-year reign as owner of English second-tier club Cardiff City has been akin to graduating with a PhD in soccer management, Tan told Reuters on Wednesday. But the chastening experiences of relegation, the hiring and firing of managers, fan objections to kit colour changes and upcoming court cases have only strengthened Tan's commitment to Cardiff and he plans more soccer investment in Europe and MLS. REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: SPORT BUSINESS SOCCER)

The  Crony China Man

The same goes with the Chinese, because they are brought up thinking every success is based on their own merit, so much so that even Ling Liong Sik was rich enough to claim his son to be ‘a self-made billionaire’. Not to mention the unspoken habit of the Chinese suppliers in charging the Malay customers more simply for being ‘a victim of the Malay government’.

It is this obsession with ‘a same race with shared moral tendencies and natural affinity’ that prompted the Chinese Malaysian netizens to cry out “we Chinese must unite against them” in the aftermath of the ruckus at Low Yat Plaza, rather than a common stance against violence and racism. Didn’t they know the police who were risking their own safety to control the mob and prevent more untoward incidents are Malay, too?

When would Malaysians learn to stop fighting racism with racism? Race is really a socio-political construct with a clear intention to create a hierarchy for exploitation, manipulation and domination, much as how the colonialists once justified slavery and subjugation based on ‘racial differences’.

Biologically, I may be determined to belong to the Mongoloid race, but there really isn’t a way to conclude genetically if I am Chinese, Korean, Mongol or Japanese. After all, if I met an accident and needed urgent blood transfusion, what would truly matter is if the right – human of course – blood type could be found, not Chinese, Indian, Malay or even Malaysian blood.

Bank Negara Governor Zeti should resign

July 16, 2015

COMMENT: I have not known any Bank Negara Malaysia Governor who has compromised the independence of our central bank. Governors Aziz Taha and Ahmad Don resigned when former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad interfered in the affairs of Bank Negara. Governor Jaffar Hussein did not and, as a result, he took the fall when the Bank suffered huge foreign exchange losses in 1992 that technically bankrupted our bastion of financial integrity and independence, requiring the guarantee of the Malaysian government to continue its operations.

ZetiGovernor Zeti is the first to compromise Bank Negara. Not just that, she has condoned every 1MDB decision made by the Prime Minister who is also the Finance Minister and, therefore, failed miserably as Financial Advisor to the Government and regulator of our banking system. First of all, she should not have allowed some Malaysian  banks to finance 1MDB and 1MDB management to transfer massive amounts of  the loan proceeds or keep them overseas. In addition, she did not take action against 1MDB for transferring money into Najib’s personal bank accounts to fund the UMNO-BN GE 13 campaign. WSJ revelations merely confirm that Governor Zeti has let the country down.

She should resign. In stead, she shamelessly clings to her job and continues to serve a corrupt and dishonest Prime Minister who should be charged for criminal breach of trust and countless abuses of power. Governor Zeti is  a member of the special task force, which will likely give our Prime Minister a clean bill of health. It is plain to see that  she cannot be part of the quartet since she is an interested party who has plenty to answer for failing to do her duty as bank regulator.–Din Merican

Governor Zeti should resign

by Navina

Zaid Ibrahim has expressed his disappointment that Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz did not resign before the damaging allegations by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) involving the Prime Minister and 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) surfaced.

“She (Zeti) should have said ‘thank you very much, I don’t want to be part of this’. But she is a part of this (WSJ allegation),” said Zaid in an exclusive interview with FMT today (July 15). The former Law Minister felt that the highly respected governor has now jeopardised her reputation as a banking system regulator internationally.

“Why did she get embroiled in this? I’m sure she knew about this.” A total of RM2.6 billion in 1MDB-linked funds was alleged to have been deposited into the personal bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak ahead of the 13th General Elections according to the WSJ report. The movement of those funds particularly since it involved billions of ringgit, should have caught the attention of Bank Negara.

All investments exceeding RM50 million per calendar year and any offshore borrowings exceeding RM100 million by resident entities, requires the central bank’s approval.

When asked for his thoughts regarding the investigations into the WSJ allegations, Zaid scoffed at it, saying he was convinced nothing would come out of it. “It is a waste of time, I feel sorry for Zeti out of the four (those heading the special task force). Zeti’s got a good name internationally.”

A special task force has been set up to look into the WSJ allegations, and apart from Zeti, include the Attorney-General; Inspector-General of Police and the head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Malaysia: The Low Yat Plaza Incident is the Hand Maiden of Racists

July 14, 2015

COMMENT: The Najib Administration must not  be dismissive of  this incident. His divide and rule politics of religious exclusivity and racial differentiation has come to roost and is now beginning to threaten communal harmony  and political stability with attendant effects on an already difficult economy.

There is so much anger and frustration in Malaysia that the situation can flare up at the slightest provocation. Pekida and other UMNO-sponsored Malay right-wing elements, the Chinese triads and Indian terror groups  can pounce into action to create chaos.

Kee Calm Eat Kangkung

The Prime Minister must cease playing survival politics and get down to the serious business of governance. Otherwise, like William Shakespeare’s Richard The Third ( Act 5, scene 4, 7–10) he can be expected to be trading his besieged  kingdom for a horse. –Din Merican

Malaysia: The Low Yat Plaza Incident is the Hand Maiden of Racists

by Boo Su-Lyn
Low Yat Plaza  V2

The Low Yat Plaza riot which injured five people was scary with its disturbing racial overtones, and we don’t do Malaysia any favours by pretending that the whole incident had nothing to do with racism.

The original incident seemed simple enough. A Malay man allegedly stole a smart phone from a Chinese trader at a shop in Low Yat Saturday. He was caught and handed over to the Police. Then the upset man brought a group of friends over who allegedly assaulted the workers from the mobile phone outlet and damaged the store, causing about RM70,000 in losses.

The story then took a strange racist twist, with rumours suddenly popping up on social media about how the “cheating” Chinese had tried to sell a counterfeit phone to the Malay man. The Police, by the way, have reportedly dismissed claims about the counterfeit phone.

A riot broke out at Low Yat the following day, with disturbing videos of the violent Malay mob attacking a car with passengers cowering inside, as well as three journalists from the Chinese press.

The shoplifting was not unusual and had nothing to do with race, certainly. But the subsequent fallout was motivated by racism, with all the belligerent calls on social media to #BoikotCinaPenipu and to boycott Low Yat. There were hostile calls for Malay unity and vague threats of assault, with a photo of a gunman and the words “Call of Duty Low Yat” on Facebook.

Low Yat Plaza violence

There were even calls for arson. Malays were painted as victims, oppressed by the Chinese. At the mob gathering on Sunday night, a Malay man is seen in a video making a racist speech about how Malaysia is “bumi Melayu” and how the Chinese humiliated the Malays.

Police, politicians and the public have been quick to say that the Low Yat incident was not about racism, but just a simple case of theft. Wake up and smell the coffee — the Low Yat riot was racially motivated and it shows how ugly things can get when the economy is bad.

For all our campaigns about “moderation”, the truth is, racism exists in this country and we can’t ignore it. People look for scapegoats when the economy is in the doldrums. The Jews were made a scapegoat for Germany’s economic problems after World War I.

It is easier to blame a person from another ethnic group living near you, who is sitting in the same LRT and eating at the same fast food restaurant in which most of the counter staff appear to be Malays, for robbing you of opportunities in life.


It is  easier to get angry at news of someone from another race ripping off your fellow brethren over something tangible like a phone, than at the purportedly missing billions in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal.

After all, you don’t know exactly how many of those billions come from your taxes. And you don’t see physical cash from your taxes being diverted into someone’s personal bank account.

It’s easier to hit a fellow Malaysian of a different skin colour over perceived injustices, compared to trying to slap the Prime Minister who’s protected by bodyguards and whom you only see in the news, not on the streets.

The government too should be blamed for allowing, and even encouraging, circumstances for a riot to happen. The race-baiting in Utusan Malaysia, the refrain for Malay unity, and Friday sermons that repeatedly label minority groups as “the enemy” have all contributed to this powder keg of racial tension.

A minister who brazenly called for Chinese traders to be boycotted should have been sacked. But instead, he remains in government. The ethnic conflict between the Malays and Chinese is driven by the perception that the Chinese are significantly wealthier. It’s unclear how much of that is really true.

A Khazanah Research Institute study shows that 26 per cent of Bumiputera households earn less than RM2,000 per month, compared to 20 per cent and 14 per cent of Indian and Chinese households respectively. So it is arguable if the Chinese really do dominate the economy.

Racism is not just caused by politicians who use the race card to get support. There are things that do not make it in the news – the wariness of the Malays at eating or drinking at Chinese coffee shops, the unnatural fear of pork to the extent of shunning Chinese ice-cream sellers, the undercurrent of complaints against the Chinese for stealing the country’s wealth and for trampling on the rights of the Malays.

There’s breeding resentment on both sides. The Chinese complain about not getting equal treatment and having to work twice as hard to get the same opportunities as the Malays, who receive coveted positions at public universities, housing discounts etc. They look down on the Malays and perceive them as “lazy”.

When a Malay is hardworking and does make it to the top, they say she’s an exception, not the rule. This makes for uncomfortable reading. But we need to confront racism head on.

We need to acknowledge that we hold racial stereotypes and that such stereotypes comfort us. They make us feel good about ourselves. They make us feel superior. We can laugh at racist jokes but we secretly place our colleagues, acquaintances, civil servants, and traders into racial stereotypes that they happen to fit in.

I myself am guilty of doing it. I compare the Chinese and Malay nasi lemak sellers at the wet market that I regularly go to. The Chinese nasi lemak seller is fast and efficient, but she’s very careful with her portions, always measuring them so she does not give too much.

The Malay trader’s nasi lemak is tastier and he lets customers dole out their own portions, charging a far cheaper price too. But he arrives at a later time than the Chinese, which means fewer customers, and he’s slow.

So I secretly think that the Chinese is a better businesswoman, even though I prefer buying from the Malay nasi lemak seller (when he arrives early enough).And I allow myself to take comfort in the (dangerous) belief that yes, the Malays may get everything handed to them on a silver platter, but we Chinese can still beat them because we’re better, smarter and faster than them.

I feel uncomfortable admitting this in writing. But I must, just like all of us must similarly admit the racial stereotypes we hold if we want Malaysia to move forward. We will never eradicate racism by burying our heads in the sand and pretending that it does not exist.

We need to perhaps befriend more people of other races. Maybe even get into interracial relationships and have babies of mixed ethnicity. Then maybe, just maybe, Malaysia will be a little less racist.

1MDB Story–Seeking the Truth

July 14, 2015

COMMENT: The highly regarded The New York Times, the reputed Wall Street Journal, the Sarawak Report and dinat UClocal web-papers have been at this revelation game for a long time. Investigations by the bi-partisan Public Accounts Committee of the Malaysian Parliament headed by UMNO’s MP Nur Jazlan, the Auditor-General who has just released his yet to be made public preliminary report and the ongoing work of the 4-man Task Force have yet to come up with the facts (or truths if you like) concerning 1MDB.

The effect of the WSJ smoking gun evidence that the Prime Minister used 1MDB funds (of some Rm2 billion +)  to fund the 2013 GE campaign is rapidly wearing thin. As each day passes, facts and fiction have combined to confuse the Malaysian public.

It is clear to me that the Prime Minister will escape censure. In fact, he will be declared as clean and pure as Caesar’s wife. A few scapegoats may be found and charged to appease us. We know that all these so-called investigations are being directed and monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office. After spending time and loads of taxpayers ‘money, nothing substantive will come out of all these efforts. 

All at home and abroad should now know that Malaysia is a fine exponent of shadow play (wayang kulit) politics. Our man in power must be protected at all cost because if he falls, those associated with him will crumble like a stack of cards. Off course, I could be wrong in coming to this conclusion.–Din Merican

1MDB Story–Seeking the Truth

by Thomas Fuller

BANGKOK — The Malaysian Police said on Monday that they were opening an investigation into whether government officials, including central bank personnel, were the source of leaked documents purporting to show the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars into the bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife.

Mr. Najib, who was already unpopular for imposing a nationwide sales tax in April to pay for large budget shortfalls, has been embroiled in a scandal over billions of dollars that his critics say are missing from a sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, also known as 1MDB.

The leaked documents were part of an investigation into the fund and were published by The Wall Street Journal and a website, Sarawak Report, this month. They purport to show transfers of around $700 million into what are described as Mr. Najib’s personal bank accounts. Sarawak Report also reported cash deposits of two million ringgit, or around $525,000, into the account of Rosmah Mansor, Mr. Najib’s wife, this year.


Mr. Najib’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, but he said in a statement this month that he had “never taken funds for personal gain.” He has also denied that money is missing from the sovereign wealth fund.

The Police said on Monday that they would investigate whether leaking the documents constituted “economic sabotage against Malaysia.”

“These criminal acts are very serious and raise national security implications,” Khalid Abu Bakar, the country’s Inspector-General of Police, said in a statement, referring to the leaks. “The Royal Malaysia Police have not eliminated the possibility of a conspiracy to subvert Malaysia’s democratic process and topple the Prime Minister.”

The central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, on Sunday rejected suggestions that its officials might have given the documents to the news outlets. “Such allegations are without basis,” the bank said in a statement. The bank transfers have raised questions about how much Bank Negara knew about the transfers and whether they violated money laundering laws.The bank said it was committed to “uncovering the truth in a fair and just manner.”

Mr. Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has governed Malaysia since it gained independence from Britain 58 years ago, and numerous financial scandals have failed to dislodge it from power. But the investigation into the sovereign wealth fund has the backing of powerful politicians within the party, including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The investigation has split the governing elites and even appears to have divided Mr. Najib’s family. The Prime Minister’s brother, Nazir Razak, a banker, praised the central bank on Monday for its commitment to uncover the truth. “Great statement — timely, firm and unambiguous,” he wrote on his Instagram account.

Ibrahim Suffian, Director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling company, said the scandal over the tangled finances of the sovereign wealth fund had been difficult for the public to follow. But Mr. Mahathir’s recent attacks on the prime minister, and the allegations of the transfers directly into Mr. Najib’s accounts, have brought more clarity and urgency to the issue and made it more dangerous for Mr. Najib than past scandals have been, he said.

Rosmah Mansor“I strongly suspect that this time around it’s going to be different,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “People feel personally linked to the issue.” The imposition of the sales tax in April made Malaysians feel that they are “invested in the problem,” he said.

A law firm representing Ms. Rosmah, Mr. Najib’s wife, said in a statement that she had “not committed any criminal offense or any misappropriation of funds.” The law firm said the funds in her account had no links to the sovereign wealth fund, but it did not specify the origin of the cash.