The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
by Ta.Nehisi Coates
It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against “lazy” black employees. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” Trump was once quoted as saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced Barack Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump demanded the president’s college grades (offering $5 million in exchange for them), insisting that Obama was not intelligent enough to have gone to an Ivy League school, and that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers.
It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists,” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint. Trump’s rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, a man who mocks his white male critics as “cucks.” The word, derived from cuckold, is specifically meant to debase by fear and fantasy—the target is so weak that he would submit to the humiliation of having his white wife lie with black men. That the slur cuck casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one’s profligate sins into virtue. So it was with Virginia slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them. So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages. So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”
In Trump, white supremacists see one of their own. Only grudgingly did Trump denounce the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, one of its former grand wizards—and after the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Duke in turn praised Trump’s contentious claim that “both sides” were responsible for the violence.
To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies. The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a “piece of ass.” The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.
For Trump, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally. The insult intensified when Obama and Seth Meyers publicly humiliated him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. But the bloody heirloom ensures the last laugh. Replacing Obama is not enough—Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. “Race is an idea, not a fact,” the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a “white race” is the idea of not being a nigger. Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.
The scope of Trump’s commitment to whiteness is matched only by the depth of popular disbelief in the power of whiteness. We are now being told that support for Trump’s “Muslim ban,” his scapegoating of immigrants, his defenses of police brutality are somehow the natural outgrowth of the cultural and economic gap between Lena Dunham’s America and Jeff Foxworthy’s. The collective verdict holds that the Democratic Party lost its way when it abandoned everyday economic issues like job creation for the softer fare of social justice. The indictment continues: To their neoliberal economics, Democrats and liberals have married a condescending elitist affect that sneers at blue-collar culture and mocks the white man as history’s greatest monster and prime-time television’s biggest doofus. In this rendition, Donald Trump is not the product of white supremacy so much as the product of a backlash against contempt for white working-class people.
“We so obviously despise them, we so obviously condescend to them,” the conservative social scientist Charles Murray, who co-wrote The Bell Curve, recently toldThe New Yorker, speaking of the white working class. “The only slur you can use at a dinner party and get away with is to call somebody a redneck—that won’t give you any problems in Manhattan.”
Beware of Religious Zealots of All Stripes–Not Christian Threat
I have retitled Ambassador Dennis Ignatius’ article . The reason is that the subject of his article is not only of the perceived threat of Christianity (and Christmas) but also of religion and politics. It is about the present state of relations between Malaysians of the Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and others, and Malaysian Muslims.
Hannah Yeoh is not the only one to be brutalised. We have just read about the treatment of Mustafa Akyol, a scholar, author and researcher who is a Muslim, by JAWI (read my post on this blog).
Ambassador Ignatius is right to point the finger at our Prime Minister who has been playing the religion card for his political advantage. His tacit endorsement of Islamic zealots and open endorsement of Indian preacher Zakir Naik has produced a reaction from members of other faiths. As a result, he created a climate of fear of the other. He has, of course, done a lot more so that we have become a nation divided along racial and religious lines. He should stop stoking the flames of bigotry and racism before he loses control and bring irreparable harm to the soul of our country. Our Prime Minister should emulate HRH Sultan of Johor.–Din Merican
By Dennis Ignatius @www.freemalaysiatoday.com
Yet again, a Muslim group is raising the specter of a Christian threat to the security of the nation and the position of Islam in Malaysia.
A group of NGOs led by Jaringan Muslimin Pulau Pinang (JMPP) is demanding that the police investigate a “seditious” video by a foreign pastor which they claim would incite local Christians to start their own jihad to take over the country. The group also claims that references to “building the Kingdom of God” were somehow a sinister plot against Islam.
In addition, the group gormlessly regurgitated baseless allegations that Hannah Yeoh, the Speaker of the Selangor State Assembly and arguably Malaysia’s most prominent Christian, is using her book Becoming Hannah to spread Christianity and cause confusion among Muslims.
I wouldn’t be surprised if her book makes it to the Guinness Book of Records for having attracted the most number of police reports in the world.
Lost in translation
Admittedly, Christian phraseology does not often translate well in non-church settings and can give rise to misunderstanding.
“Invading” a country with the presence of God or building the “Kingdom of God”, for example, might sound ominous even though it simply means to pray that God’s presence and godly values will fill the land. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a physical invasion or a call to wage war against non-Christians. Similarly, the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with acquiring political sovereignty.
Christians certainly need to be more sensitive about how their phraseology might be perceived in a pluralistic culture, particularly when everything these days quickly ends up on social media. It might help, as well, if Christians are more judicious in what they put out on social media; not everything needs to be broadcast to the whole world.
Notwithstanding this, however, only the most delusional, irrational or obtuse would actually believe that Christians are planning an armed invasion or plotting to overthrow the government.
As for Hannah’s book, as far as I know, Hannah has not encouraged Muslims to read her book and neither has she promoted it among Muslims. In fact, the vast majority of Muslims in the country would never have even heard about Hannah’s book if extremist groups had not created a fuss about it.
There are, in fact, thousands of Christian books, videos and articles available in Malaysia and, of course, millions more on the internet. That JMPP would single out the book by Hannah, who also happens to be a DAP politician, suggests that their motives are more political than religious.
In any case, it is simply asinine to blame Hannah, or any other author for that matter, if some confused and insecure person somewhere feels threatened by a book. Going by that kind of logic, we would have to close bookstores and shut down the internet just to ensure that no one gets confused. Or, perhaps, to let them remain confused and unable to think for themselves.
A spiritual matter
JMPP and its fellow travelers might also want to note that Malaysian Christians have always eschewed violence. We don’t go around threatening to attack those who don’t agree with us, burn down their places of worship or rowdily demonstrate against religious events we don’t like.We don’t resort to guns and swords because our struggle is purely spiritual. Our “weapons” are prayer and intercession, the kind you use on your knees before God rather than with your fists raised in anger.
Like other Malaysians, we love our nation and we want to see peace, justice, good governance, integrity and godly values prevail. We pray for the prosperity and success of our nation and for all its citizens. We pray constantly for our rulers, our prime minister, for the government and for the security forces too, because our Bible demands it of us.
And we try to reach out to all who are in need and defend the rights of the persecuted and marginalized irrespective of race or religion. Many Christians, including Pope Francis and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have, for example, spoken out forcefully against the persecution of the Rohingya. In Malaysia, churches and Christian NGOs are also in the forefront of caring for refugees and other disadvantaged groups.
Of late, our nation has witnessed increasing incidents of racial and religious intolerance that threaten our very existence as a plural society. Unfortunately, intolerance and extremism appear to enjoy the tacit approval of some politicians and officials.
Every time the lalang moves somewhere in the country, PAS, for example, immediately seems to conclude that it is part of some Christian conspiracy against Islam and jumps into exploiting it for maximum publicity and political mileage.
A few months ago, they went to town on a church event in Malacca. Using highly provocative and inflammatory language, they accused the church concerned of challenging the sensitivities of Muslims and of conspiring with Zionist interests to target Malaysia. They went so far as to call on the ummah “to rise before it’s too late” as if Malaysia was on the verge of being invaded.
Even Special Branch plays to this sort of anti-Christian messaging by participating in Muslim-only seminars that discuss the so-called Christian threat. And this at a time when real jihadists and terrorists are threatening our security and well-being.
UMNO-PAS partnership will result in a talibanisation of a liberal, open and inclusive Malaysia
Whatever it is, those who make much of the Christian threat ignore the obvious reality: after nearly 500 years of Christianity in Malaysia, after decades of educating countless millions of Malaysians of all faiths and all walks of life in Christian schools, Malaysia remains as Muslim as ever.
Clearly, groups like JMPP do their fellow Muslims an enormous disservice when they make them out to be weak, vulnerable and frivolous in their faith. Let me suggest, if I may be permitted to, that Muslims in Malaysia are a lot more resilient than they are given credit for.
The only ones who appear to profit from all the scaremongering are the politicians and the extremists who cynically exploit religion for their own nefarious ends to the detriment of all Malaysians.
A leadership vacuum
Thankfully, Christians in Malaysia, unlike Christians in the Middle East, do not have to stand alone. It is heartening that several moderate Muslim NGOs and leaders are challenging the rising tide of extremism and intolerance in our land.
What’s missing, however, is leadership from the government itself. The Prime Minister, in particular, has allowed things to drift for too long. His silence, indifference even, on many of these sensitive issues has created a leadership vacuum which fringe groups and extremists, including some from his own party, are now rushing to fill. His abdication of responsibility only allows sensitive issues to fester and infect our society as a whole.
Each day, our values, culture, politics, and religion are being reshaped and redefined by extremists; the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to get back on track again.
HRH Sultan of Johor has shown what inspired leadership can do in curbing extremism and intolerance. By firmly and decisively taking a stand on intolerance in his state, overruling even his own religious officials, he quickly nipped a dangerous trend in the bud.
Little wonder why Johoreans, and a great many other Malaysians as well, look up to him. If only all our politicians would follow his courageous example.
MY COMMENT: Actions taken by bureaucrats (most of them with degrees from local universities and abroad) at the behest of their hypocritical UMNO political masters make us a laughing stock to the rest of the world. My colleagues at The University of Cambodia and my students look at me as if I were from another planet of saints of the Islamic variety who say one thing and do something else, worse still when no one else is watching.
The beer fest affair is just of one of those stupid things our politicians of the Islamic faith do to our citizens by depriving them of their rights to be themselves as long as they respect the rights of their Muslim brothers and sisters. What irreparable harm is being done when we and our friends gather socially for a glass of beer!
My friend Nades is gutsy enough to say what he thinks about this affair. By giving security concerns as the excuse for calling off the event is not only flimsy and cynical, but also nonsensical. Furthermore, in this case, Malaysians are being treated as “kids and fools”. It is alright to treat MCA, MIC and Gerakan leaders and their supporters that way. After all, they have grown accustomed to being scorned and insulted by their UMNO bosses in Barisan Nasional. But doing that to us all by infringing upon our fundamental rights to be ourselves and choose our friends is unacceptable.
I can only add my disgust at the attitude of our authorities. I am wondering how much more we as Malaysians can tolerate this patronizing attitude of the current Administration. It has been trampling on our rights to freedom of speech, association and expression since Najib Razak took office in 2009 with a 1Malaysia slogan, Rakyat DiDahulukan, Prestasi DiUtamakan. What he has shown over these years is Rakyat diKetepikan, Prestasi diAbaikan.
To think that Najib Razak’s UMNO-BN will be returned to power come GE-14 makes me throw my hands in the air. If that happens, unless our East Malaysian brothers and sisters vote to reject his leadership, I think I can say that we deserve the government we choose, one that uses religion to differentiate and divide us.–Din Merican
COMMENT | There are some moments in our daily lives when we ask ourselves, “Do we deserve to be treated this way?” The answer is always, “We deserve the government we elected.” Really?
When government leaders treat citizens as children and expect us to accept everything they say – hook, line and sinker – the anger seethes and churns in our systems. While many can take it with a pinch of salt and laugh at their antics, there are times when their puerile statements make us wonder why they are sitting up there.
When they tell us the “political sensitivity” and “security threat” have similar meanings and connotations, we are compelled to stand up and ask: “Sir, are you taking us to be kids or fools or idiots?”
Now before anyone takes up the cudgel and tar our leaders with the same brush, let it be specific.
On Monday, Sinar Harian had quoted Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) Corporate Planning Department Director Khalid Zakaria as saying that an application to hold the Better Beer Festival had been rejected because of “political sensitivity”. On the same evening, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz has declined to comment on this matter.
The organisers – Mybeer (M) Sdn Bhd – issued a statement which read: “We were further informed that the decision was made due to political sensitivity surrounding the event.”
Of course, right-minded citizens expressed their disgust over this insisting that their rights are being impeded. Joining the chorus were politicians on both sides of the divide. Well and good. Every inch of their support, although in some cases, couched in politically-correct language, was needed to stop this intrusion into one’s personal choice.
The MCA asked City Hall to be “consistent and accountable”. Its religious harmony bureau chief Ti Lian Ker, said: “They cannot arbitrarily reject the application and threaten to take action against the organiser without giving a proper account or reasons for the rejection.”
But on Wednesday, there was a complete turnaround. MCA president and Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the authorities had told cabinet during its weekly meeting that safety was one of the reasons why the craft beer festival was cancelled.
If security had been “real” reason, why was it not conveyed to the organisers? Why did City Hall have to lie by saying “political sensitivity”? If security was an issue, surely the organisers would have made other arrangements and beefed up security.
From Joe Public’s standpoint, all this appears to be an afterthought and a shameful charade. We have no intention of causing alarm and panic, but are we to assume that any congregation of people would require them to look over their shoulders while sipping their beer?
Held to ransom
Two Saturdays ago, a group of friends were at a screening party where the match between Liverpool and Manchester City was telecast on a large screen. The venue was a pub in Sri Hartamas and there were more than 100 people. Fans of both clubs enjoyed the beers and game. Liverpool fans drowned their sorrows while City fans celebrated.
Every weekend, there are scores of such screening parties in pubs, restaurants and mamak shops. Are they targets too? Will they ban such screenings?
If the mantra previously was “moderation”, it has now become “security”. What purpose do sloganeering, walks and campaigns serve when our rights are being disregarded and dismissed summarily?
Six years ago, in one of the hallowed halls of University of Cambridge, Prime Minister Najib Razak extolled the virtues of Malaysia’s moderation quoting the Quran, the Bible and even the Torah.
Today, such notations are in shambles; the nation is being held to ransom by a handful of zealots. Yet, the government is watching with folded arms and refuses to stand up to this kind of bullying.
Even the civil service has become subservient to the frolics of the few. All and sundry have got their priorities wrong for political expediency.
At every turn, religion is creeping into our daily lives unabated. Despite espousing moderation both verbally and in writing, these so-called advocates of temperance and reasonableness retreat into their cocoons when confronted with issues.
We cannot continue putting up our hands and saying, “What can we do?” We have to say, “Enough is enough”, and collectively drown the voices of the few who are trying to impose their values on the rest of the citizens.
As in many countries, racial segregation began in South Africa during the colonial period, first under the Dutch from the end of the seventeenth century and then under the British who took possession in 1795. But, it was only much later in 1948 that racial segregation became an official policy. White Afrikaner minority rule was established through legislation by the National Party which ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994.
Under apartheid legislation the population was classified into four racial groups—white, coloured, Indian and black. Millions of non-white South Africans were forcefully removed from their homes and relocated to segregated neighbourhoods. There was no political representation for non-whites.
The apartheid system went so far as to deprive South African blacks of their citizenship. Instead, they were to become “citizens” of supposedly self-governing homelands called bantustans.
Non-whites became separate and unequal inhabitants of South Africa, with little rights and poor access to decent public services and facilities. Apartheid ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
Although the term apartheid is mainly associated with South Africa, comparisons have been made with Israel. Many scholars and writers have sought to compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with South Africa’s treatment of non-whites during the period of apartheid.
Those who apply the apartheid analogy to Israel say that the institution of controls such as military checkpoints, restrictive marriage laws, unequal access to land and other resources and, indeed, the West Bank barrier itself, that West Bank Palestinians are subject to, is evidence of an apartheid-type state.
The American linguist, philosopher and political commentator Noam Chomsky said of the Occupied Territories that “what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid… What is happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse [than in South Africa]. There is a crucial difference. The South African Nationalists needed the black population. That was their workforce… The Israeli relationship to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is totally different. They just do not want them. They want them out, or at least in prison.”
What is the danger of an apartheid-type system developing in Malaysia? Most historians and sociologists who have studied the pre-colonial Malay world agree that the racial divides that characterize Malaysia today were far less prior to the coming of the Europeans.
There was a great deal of assimilation to Malay culture and inter-marriage, from where we get the Baba or Straits Chinese and the Jawi Peranakan. But colonial Malaya introduced racism that led to instances of apartheid. For example, the Selangor Club was a whites-only establishment. Locals, along with dogs and other pets, were not granted admission.
Such an environment enabled the British and other Europeans to keep up the illusion of racial purity and superiority, to forget that they were in the East, and to socialize with their own kind. Physical segregation was accompanied by racist views that the British had of the Malayans.
A.R. Wallace, the nineteenth century naturalist, said in his work, The Malay Archipelago, that “[t]he intellect of the Malay race seems rather deficient. They are incapable of anything beyond the simplest combination of ideas and have little taste or energy for the acquirement of knowledge.”
Perhaps the most well-known stereotype was that of the indolence of the Malays. The Malays were stereotyped as lazy and unwilling to perform hard work. The pioneering work of Syed Hussein Alatas, The Myth of the Lazy Native, argued that the characterization of the Malays and other natives such as the Javanese and Filipinos as lazy was part of the ideological justification of the Europeans to rule the colonies as well as import foreign labour.
The Chinese in Malaya were frequently referred to as “greedy Chinamen” who could be found anywhere there was an opportunity to make money. The European view of the Indians was extremely instrumental, looking upon them as a docile population that could be easily exploited as a source of cheap labour.
In the colonial system, racial segregation was not total. Neither was it absent. Indeed it was a system of mini-apartheid that was founded on racist attitudes towards the Malayans. Now we have to be wary that mini-apartheid is being brought back to Malaysia in a different guise, that of religion.
It comes from an excessive sense of impurity and fear of contamination that can only be a reflection of the social and political insecurity that some Malays are currently experiencing.
In such a context, there is a need to live in a way that exaggerates the Islamic identity so that the Malays can feel that not all is being lost. The emphasis on the tudung and other aspects of the dress code are examples of the bid to strengthen religious identity.
It is, of course, understandable that people would attempt to emphasize their Malayness or Muslimness if they felt themselves to be under threat economically or politically. What is horrifying, however, are attempts by the political leadership to capitalize on these fears by introducing apartheid-like measures.
What is unacceptable is to try to differentiate the inhabitants of Malaysia through legislation that would end up segregating people.
Recently it was announced that the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry is considering a reckless proposal to legislate the segregation of trolleys for halal and non-halal food items in shopping malls. This is ostensibly to alleviate the fears of Muslims regarding the contamination of the food they purchased by non-halal items.
It was suggested that non-halal products could use red trollies while halal products would use trollies of another colour. Well, let us say that the trollies for halal items were green. This would amount to Muslims using green trollies and non-Muslims using red trollies throughout the supermarkets of Malaysia. As if Malaysians were not divided enough, do we have to deal with yet another identity marker, that of trolley pusher?
Making it compulsory for supermarkets to practise such segregation, or even allowing them to do so, sets a very dangerous precedent and puts Malaysia on the slippery slope towards an apartheid-like state. Will the segregation stop with the trollies?
After some time, it may be suggested by some that Muslims feel offended or uncomfortable to see “pork-infested” items being sold in the same supermarkets that they patronize. They may object to seeing alcohol being sold in front of their eyes. They may demand that there be separate supermarkets for Muslims.
This demand may also be extended to kedai runcit and convenience stores. I can also imagine that in future some people may object to non-Muslims eating in halal restaurants. What is to guarantee that these non-Muslims may not inadvertently bring traces of porcine substances into the halal restaurants?
Therefore, it would seem sensible to call for segregated halal restaurants in which Muslims and non-Muslims dined in separate areas and used utensils that were washed and stored separately. There would even be calls to make it compulsory to have separate restaurants for Muslims and non-Muslims. The call for segregation would escalate to encompass more and more areas of life in order that the Muslim consumer would not worry about contamination.
Malay politicians and religious leaders have to take a decision. They can choose to play to the gallery of narrow-mindedness and racism and take advantage of the obsessions of certain unschooled Muslims. They can choose to capitalize on the ignorance of certain sections of the Muslim population of Malaysia. Or, they can take the lead by educating these Muslims on how to live a decent Islamic life, that is, one with a multiculturalist sensibility, that is not ridden with doubts and insecurities.
The last chapter of the Qur’an, entitled Nas or Humankind, asks humans to seek refuge with God from the mischief of Satan, the whisperer of evil (al-waswas) into the hearts or men and women. In this way, Satan attempts to destroy belief by planting psychological anxiety in Muslims, affecting the purity of their faith and way of life.
The duty of the Muslim is to fight this insecurity and live harmoniously with all. Such a spirit of Islam was exemplified by Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet and Caliph of Islam, when he advised his governor, Malik al-Ashtar, to have mercy, kindness and affection for his subjects for they are “either your brother in religion or one like you in creation.”
Editor’s Note: Animah Kosai (pic above on extreme right) is a lawyer who writes, speaks and advises leaders on creating an open “Speak Up” culture in corporations to address wrongdoing, harassment and safety concerns. She also speaks on women empowerment. Animah is creating a platform called Speak Up and can be followed on LinkedIn and Twitter @SpeakUpAtWork
Malaysia has a problem: misogyny. The country’s Parliament set yet another sordid example last week when Member of Parliament Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh, during a debate on amending domestic violence laws, said husbands were ‘abused’ when wives threw insults, withheld sex and denied consent for Muslim men to take another wife.
Another Problematic UMNO Mamak–Setiu MP Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh
In 2007, another MP, Bung Mohktar Radin, equated the leaking parliament roof to a woman’s period, picking on woman opposition MP Fong Po Kuan, and saying she ‘leaked’ every month. His disgraceful comments drew laughter from the floor. No male MP stood up to defend her.
Another UMNO Character from Penang
In April this year, Shabudin Yahaya, MP and former syariah court judge, objected to a female representative proposing a ban on child marriage during the tabling of child sex abuse laws. He said nine year old girls are already mature. That girls at 12 or 15 who had bodies of 18 year olds were physically and spiritually mature, and could be married. He explained that rape victims would face a bleak future without husbands — and suggested they marry their rapists. In Malaysia, the legal age for marriage is 18 but exemptions can be given by the appropriate judge.
Was there outrage? Yes. From civil society, mainly women, and a handful of female MPs. It’s an uphill battle when 90% of the House of Representatives are male. Only 23 out of the 222 elected members of parliament are women.
Picture a rowdy boys club that fights to determine the loudest chest thumper. The winner emerges as alpha male while the rest fall into line as loyal followers. Women entering this arena upset the pecking order. We think differently. We ask tough questions. The alpha male isn’t used to being questioned. Especially not by a woman. In front of his pack!
To keep his position, he has to remind her who’s boss. He does so through bullying rather than rational intelligent discourse. You see this in Parliament, in the workplace and on social media. All a leader needs to do is make one remark to ‘put a woman in her place’ and his sycophants will do the rest.
An UMNO Empty Vessel who makes the most noise–Teuku (aka Tengku) Adnan Mansor
A few months ago, Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was at a town hall meeting when an eloquent young woman asked him about steps to reduce street crime. She was worried for her safety. He replied, “It’s because you’re so beautiful. The next time you go out, wear shabby clothes.” The audience laughed and wolf whistles were heard.
In just one sentence, Tengku Adnan avoided answering the question, objectified the woman, blamed the victim and rallied the boys to follow his cue.
Once a leader speaks this way, he is sending the signal to the masses that it is the fault of the victim for being attacked. This is wrong and has to be called out for what it is. Patriarchy. Sexism. Rape Culture.
Why can men get away with such sexist remarks? Because they hold the power. Malaysia has the dubious distinction of scoring highest in the Hofstede Power Distance Index. In other words, Malaysia is the country in which the least powerful members of society most accept and expect the unequal distribution of power.
This means leaders can say anything knowing they will most likely not be challenged. In some families, women are reminded that religion and tradition requires them to be subservient to their husbands.
Malaysia’s Hippo-Crite –Anything for Political Survival
Zulkifly’s male abuse remarks last week came the same day his boss, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced women had hit 30% representation in management in the top 100 listed Malaysian companies. Najib noted 17 of the companies had no women directors and said companies without women on boards by 2018 would be named and shamed.
Najib, meanwhile, has only 3 women in his 35 member cabinet. His party, UMNO, has 7 women in its 57 member Supreme Council — a council that has both Tengku Adnan and Bung Mokhtar on it.
When there is big imbalance between the genders, misogyny thrives. The only way forward is for men to drop their pack mentality and let women in. It’s hard for women with 10% or 20% of the power to change male mindsets. Don’t leave the heavy lifting to us.
Men, the moment you hear a sexist remark, intervene and object. A man will be taken more seriously by a misogynist. Men are part of the brotherhood. When a woman points out a sexist remark, she is challenging the male ego. He gets defensive, stops listening and often continues his tirade. I have seen the powerful shift when a man calls out sexism. The speaker stops and thinks. He is not threatened. He may not change immediately, but a seed is planted. The more men call out misogyny, the greater the shift. Eventually men will hear women the same way they hear men. As equals.
Workplaces, social media and yes, Parliament, will become less aggressive and open up to a calmer, respectful culture where women will be happy to participate.
We need male champions for gender equality. So non-alpha male men: break ranks and support us.
FORMER British Prime Minister David Cameron went for the Brexit referendum to strengthen his position in the Conservative party and end the warring among the Tories over the European Union, thinking the Brexiteers would lose.
His complacent and cavalier approach to the referendum in the British system of representative (not direct) democracy, without a robust presentation of the facts, resulted in a campaign driven by passion, emotion, prejudice and lies – and the vote by a whisker a year ago to get out of the EU.
How that was to happen was hardly touched upon. What was exposed instead were the deep divisions that exist in Britain.
Cameron left the Brexit fiasco to Theresa May whose “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was a typical British Bulldog mess
Cameron resigned and left the mess with his successor Theresa May. Her contribution to the momentous decision was: Brexit means Brexit. Indeed, as a former Remainer, she bent over backwards to go for a “Hard Brexit”, rather like converts to a new religion who become extreme to show how true they are to the faith.
Indeed, she called an early general election to consolidate her position in the party and to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. Her “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was: no deal was better than a bad deal. All very British Bulldog.
In the event, the Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament, Theresa May’s position in the party is threatened and her hand in the Brexit negotiations weakened. She and her party stay in power through an unsavoury arrangement with the Democratic Ulster Unionists (DUP, who have an abhorrent set of beliefs – one of which is the Pope is the Anti-Christ – and who were able to extract £1.5bil from the prime minister who had famously said there was no “magic money tree” when nurses in the National Health Service sought a pay rise).
After the election last month, the Institute of Directors found a negative swing of 34 points in confidence in the British economy from its last survey in May.
Many epithets have been attached to Theresa May since. She has become rather like “Calamity Jane”. There is an appropriate Malay word that could be applied: kelam kabut. At sixes and sevens. Shooting every which way.
Meanwhile, the much-maligned leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who did so much better in the election than expected, has been elevated to being, as described by a commentator, “a cross between zen master and Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi”.
This is a romantic notion, of course. The Labour Party is as divided as the Conservative Party, on Brexit as on anything else. Corbyn represents the far left, whose economic management for sometimes laudable social policies has many a time led Britain to a fiscal and monetary dead end.
The swing of support for the Labour Party came largely from young voters attracted to Corbyn’s promise to abolish university fees – although May’s political gymnastics and calamitous proposal to put a cap on state support for the old in retirement homes did not help the Tories.
At the first Prime Minister’s Question time after the election, Corbyn was straining at the leash to push his advantage, especially as the Grenfell Tower fire in London has exposed incompetence and division in British society yet again.
He was well armed with facts and figures and had May on the back foot. However, he was not able to put her to the sword. When the British Prime Minister cleverly turned the argument against him by saying it was the last Labour argument that had presided over the housing regulations that allowed the cladding that caused the Grenfell Tower fire to become an inferno, he did not get back at her.
He should have argued any government in power – and May certainly wanted to be in power – has no right to refer to the past (it was a Conservative government that got Britain into Europe) when its duty is to govern with responsibility here and now. Really not very Star Wars of Corbyn.
Be that as it may, both leaders are polarising figures. Britain is deeply divided along the lines of class, income, race, region and age. There is not a whiff of an Emmanuel Macron figure to try and unify recalcitrant constituencies, to find a new belief and a centre to move Britain forward.
Instead it looks as if Britain is going through a death by a thousand cuts. What are the lessons from all this – the sad tragedy that is being played out in Britain – that can be learned for our country and region?
The most important lesson is the threat of division in a country and society that builds up from a long period of neglect which is always exploited in politics.
United Kingdom Independence Party exploited xenophobic instincts among both the British upper class and the underclass, by playing on their fears, whether driven by racism and dislike of foreigners or by perceived rule from Brussels (the new Rome). These emotive references are easy points from which to get support.
Facts can also be twisted, as was evident from the many false numbers that were given on the cost of EU membership. Once a base is founded on base instincts, it is not difficult to whip up falsehoods as self-evident truths.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, many positions are being taken on race and religion which divide society and cause minorities to become victims. This has been happening for some time and these countries should be mindful of destabilising eruptions.
In Britain, destabilising developments have been caused through the vote. The rule of law holds back the ugliest ramifications of deep social division. One wonders how they might be expressed in less developed political systems in ASEAN.
The other division is in income. We applaud ad nauseam the splendid economic growth rates in the region, and how ASEAN as a whole is the seventh or sixth largest economy in the world, and could become the fourth largest in 2050 or whenever, but do we give enough attention to income disparities and maldistribution of wealth?
They are increasing in ASEAN, within and between member states. Together with other divisive factors, the crunch time in Britain came in the form of Brexit and a hung parliament. In the United States, in the form of Trump. What form could it take in ASEAN countries where the ballot box is not always the preferred means of securing change?
Even with the economy, even as it grows, disruptions are now happening with digitisation, which displaces employment.
Employment for cheap manufacturing cost is increasingly becoming an attraction of the past. What are ASEAN countries like Indonesia and Myanmar doing about training and education, and retraining, for the digital economy? What will happen to micro-, small and medium enterprises and employment levels?
There is much research which shows, and empirical evidence that confirms it, that those at the lowest rung of education and skill level are the most exposed to this fourth industrial revolution.
Displacement of employment, with the already large income disparity, is going to divide society again.
Disruptions and fissures must be anticipated and filled. Otherwise, divisions in society will cause severe problems later on. And sometimes even earlier rather than later on.
We can become smug in Asia, or ASEAN – indeed, in individual countries – at how well we are doing. Even superior, when looking at the travails of other countries. We must resist this. We must learn lessons and understand we are so very far from perfect.
Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.