The mob violence at Low Yat and worse, the statements issued on the blogs by certain groups trying to instigate a wider racial conflict and the pathetic attempts by some individuals to justify the thuggish behaviour of the rioters as a legitimate expression of frustration on the part of the Malays, indicate all too clearly that racism is still a big challenge to peace and racial unity in the country. It is time, as Dato Sri Nazir Razak said recently, to outlaw and criminalise hate speeches and racism in all its forms. The first step towards banning racism is to recognise its existence and this must come from the very top of the political leadership, which we saw happening in the the U.S when President Obama told the nation in a televised address that its difficult for America to hold its head high as a world leader in democracy and to lecture other nations on human rights when there are frequent incidents of hate shootings by whites against innocent blacks , and when there is open racial discrimination in the work place or in university campuses.
He used the derogatory word ”nigger” to refer to the blacks (a word which is no longer polite to use because of its insulting meaning) saying they are still regarded as inferior people because they are descendants of slaves. Although slavery was abolished after the American Civil War 150 years ago and the Bill of Rights was passed by Congress 50 years ago to criminalise racial segregation in all states, racism is still widely evident in American society. His strong words pricked the conscience of the nation and led to the momentous decision by the South Carolina state legislature, following the hate shooting by a young white male killing nine innocent black worshippers in a church, to pull down the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State Capitol. The flag was flown in full view of the public for over a century to commemorate the state’s leading role in the civil war, which the Confederate south fought against the north to demand the right of the whites to use slavery. To the blacks, the Confederate flag is an insulting reminder of their past slavery. When the flag was pulled down in a ceremony a few days ago , the event was viewed as a historic break from the past, a symbolic admission of guilt over the unfair treatment of the black population. It also helped to give closure to the families whose loved ones died for no other reason than being black.
In Malaysia, we have to emulate the U.S to ban certain words being used as racial slurs. For example , the word “pendatang” is as insulting to the Chinese and Indians as the word ”nigger” is to the black Americans. Indians get insulted by the word ” pariah”. Christians are insulted by the ban on the use of the word Allah in their Malay language bibles Then we have BTN (Biro Tata Negara ), which has been criticised because its training programme , ostensibly aimed at instilling love and loyalty to the nation, is tainted with racial bigotry to remind the civil service trainees and government scholarship holders that this country. owes its progress and existence to the Malays. The BTN is like the Confederate flag mentioned above, a daily reminder of racial supremacy of the majority over the minority. Further, we have school text books on history and civics whose contents sound racial to the discerning ear.
I am sure other people will have better ideas than me what other symbols that we can pull down to eliminate the notion of racial as well as religious supremacy.
Let us not hide the fact that racism exists in our schools and universities, in the civil service and other institutions of government and in the application of Islam, with overzealous bureaucrats and little napoleons taking it upon themselves to impose their own social and religious values on all Malaysians. Often the excuse given for their racist actions is that based on their interpretation of the constitution, the “social contract”, the New Economic Policy, and the special position of the Malays and Islam, what they are doing is right. Its just too bad that the non Malays have shunned the national schools, government service , the police or the military because they cannot accept the system. This ambivalent attitude towards the segregation of the the races cannot go on if we seriously want the various races to study , work and live together as one happy country.
We should look at the U.S Bill of Rights to study how they did it to end segregation and unite the whites and the blacks in the schools and the work place. Today, although racism still exists in America, its no longer institutionalised in the system. An employer in America and Britain can get sued in the courts if he discriminates against an employee on grounds of race, colour or religion. Nowadays, you see many black faces in the White House and many Asians in the British Parliament. That shows how far the Americans and the British have come in their struggle to improve race relations.
The lesson to us in Malaysia from the experience of other countries is that although its human nature for one race to find fault with other races and there is nothing government can do about personal prejudices but what government can do at the official level is not to condone racism in the law and in the system of justice.. as well as in the daily functioning of government. In fact, it is incumbent upon the government to condemn hate speeches, racial and religious bigotry among school heads and teachers and discriminatory practices in the civil service to demonstrate that such inflammatory behaviour will not be tolerated under the law.
Racism is bad but institutionalised racism is scary in a multiracial country like Malaysia. Investors and businesses and our most talented managers and professionals will lose hope for the future and abandon this country, putting us back to where we were at the time of independence. When Malaysia becomes a failed state, those who will suffer most are the Malays. If Low Yat is closed for ever, tourism will be affected by the bad publicity across the world and many Malays will lose their jobs.
In this regard, the public is most grateful to the Inspector General of Police for his firm action to arrest the culprits responsible for the Low Yat violence, without fear or favour. The police action has restored confidence in the area for business to resume.This is a change which we hope will lead to other improvements in dealing with those who issue hate speeches to incite racial clashes.
Our leaders must start with educating the civil service , government ministries and religious authorities that they have to accept change as a necessary part of national development. Those who walk in the corridors of power have to discard the racial and religious ideology and instead, think of the larger interest of the whole nation.
As the experience of Greece is showing us, its better that we make the change ourselves before it is forced on us by external forces . My heart would bleed if a prime minister of this country were to face the same situation as the Greek prime minister who had to plead with parliament to pass the law to accept the painful austerity measures imposed on Greece by foreign creditors and their demand for immediate reforms.
We in Malaysia should do the economic, education and religious reforms now while the going is good. We must not let race and religion be the cause of our Greek tragedy.
Related story, The Star