MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



Thursday, March 31, 2022

Racial discrimination on the rise


Amid all the political noise, the “Malaysia Racial Discrimination Report 2021” released by rights NGO Pusat Komas last week went almost unnoticed.

When I began reading the report, I was on the verge of feeling despondent but some bits of information towards the end lifted me up.

First, as they say, the bad news. According to Pusat Komas the number of incidents of racial discrimination and racism more than doubled from 21 in 2020 to 53 in 2021

We all know that racial discrimination exists although most people don’t talk about it openly either because they fear being prosecuted under one of the many preventive laws or the the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, or because it is not the Asian or Malaysian way.

Anyone who suggests that racial discrimination has been institutionalised in the nation is likely to be torn apart by ruling politicians and paid cybertroopers, so people usually stay clear of this. It is actually the biggest elephant in the room.

This seventh annual documentation of racial discrimination in the country by Pusat Komas reveals that race and religion continue to be used as a political weapon by political actors and public leaders.

And despite all the sloganeering and beautiful words, and even good plans, hardly anything gets done on the ground to improve the situation.

The report says: “The year 2021 has seen its fair share of inclusive policies and sloganeering aimed to embrace the spirit of inclusivity, unity, and respect among all Malaysians. However, these initiatives were undermined by hypocrisy, as the government trumpeted inclusivity and togetherness but reverted to the use of racial rhetoric to seize and maintain power. Race-based approaches towards policy planning continue to obscure class divisions which eventually perpetuate systems of inequality.”

The report said the largest percentage of incidents identified were racial and religious politics (28%), racial and religious provocation (23%), xenophobia (13%), racial discrimination in the education sector (11%), racism in other sectors (11%), racism in the media and internet (8%), and racial discrimination in the business sector (6%).

“Racial politics has ranked highest among all other trends over a five-year period (2017 to 2021) when Malaysia’s government experienced numerous changes in rapid succession: from Barisan Nasional (BN) to Pakatan Harapan (PH), then to Perikatan Nasional (PN), and now to a ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ government. This pattern of trends indicates that the problem of racial politics is not only deep-rooted in Malaysia, but also that its severity is not determined by which government is in power.”

The report details the incidents and names leaders who uttered racist remarks.

What saved the day for me were the 61 initiatives by the government and ordinary people to combat racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia that Pusat Komas identified last year.

It said 49% of these were activities that promoted national unity while the remaining 51% were of people calling out and responding to racial and religious injustices. Bravo to those who did so.

Not surprisingly, incidents of ordinary Malaysians giving a hand to their fellow Malaysians during the floods last year finds a place under the list of initiatives that promoted unity.

The report noted that some flood victims praised foreigners for coming to their aid in Hulu Langat and Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam, both in Selangor.

Another incident recorded was the generosity of the Masjid Bandar Bukit Raja’s construction committee which opened the doors of the mosque and allowed about 1,000 victims to seek shelter on Dec 23, 2021.

The president of a group comprising 32 residents’ associations in Bandar Bukit Raja called Zulkifli, who sought the help of the mosque committee, was quoted as saying: “I don’t care whether they are Buddhists, Christians or Muslims. In Bandar Bukit Raja, Alhamdulillah, our ties are like family.”

Bravo to Zulkifli, mosque construction committee chairman Md Nazri Mohamed Nor and the rest of the mosque officials.

Yet another heart-warning tale has been documented: that of Indians helping clean up a mosque near Klang after the floods. The report notes that several videos of such events had been released. Bravo! Bravo!

There was also a viral video of Islamic university students of different races joining hands to clean a Hindu temple in Taman Klang Utama. These students deserve to be applauded again.

Several people sent me these videos during the floods and I was deeply touched by it.

The wonderful effort by volunteers of all races at the Gurdwara Sahib in Petaling Jaya to cook and deliver vegetarian food to flood victims is also mentioned in the report.

Such incidents give us hope that despite what many politicians, ministers, senior civil servants and others may think, say and do, on the ground, many Malaysians have no qualms about helping each other regardless of race and religion.

Calls or statements about race issues such as the call by former finance ministry secretary-general Mohd Sheriff Kassim and former CIMB group chairman Nazir Razak to base affirmative action policies on needs rather than race are mentioned in the report.

The assurance by Reserve Force Division director-general Brig-Gen Padman Bhaskaran that there is no institutional racism in the armed forces is another example of the 61 instances or initiatives mentioned in the report.

“There has never been a quota for any race in the selection and recruitment process, so there should not arise any notion that the armed forces are only for a particular race,” he was quoted as saying.

So, while the situation is worrying, there is also hope that many ordinary Malaysians and some level-headed people holding posts will continue to rise beyond race and religion.

But that is not enough. Steps must be taken to dismantle institutionalised racism. Policies must be implemented with full commitment to foster a greater sense of unity among the people of all races.

At the recent Umno general assembly, Puteri Umno chief Zahida Zarik Khan spoke about how women had more guts than men (there was bounce in what she said but I’m trying to be polite here).

When it comes to rising above race and religion, our political leaders and senior civil servants lack the bounce that Zahida spoke of.

There is no doubt that our political and administrative leaders need more of what Zahida referred to if Malaysia is to truly become a united nation or a nation where race and religion are secondary to our Malaysianess. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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