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Racism: Have we gone too far?

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How can we secure our national interest if we are still facing the same issue due to certain types of people playing the race card, Umi Nur Zahidah MK writes.

The concept of national security emerged more than 350 years ago.

In the early days, national security was defined as a nation’s ability to protect its sovereignty and integrity. National security also allows a nation state to shape its own governance without interference from others.

However, with the onset of globalisation and complex interdependence and cooperation among nations, national security is no longer merely confined within national boundaries.

Differences caused by differing political, social, cultural and religious views have contributed to tension among countries with different belief systems.

At the same time, certain countries with similar worldviews have become allies forming defence blocs. In this sense, they practise what they refer to as “collective security”.

National security in a broader sense

Barry Buzan, an emeritus professor of International relations at the London School of Economics, describes security as “the ability of the states and societies to maintain their independent identity and their functional integrity”.

After World War Two and in the ensuing cold war era, many nations focused on building and expanding their military capabilities.

The tension between countries that promoted capitalism versus those that practise socialism and communism was palpable. It led to an arms race, especially among the larger and richer nations, which built up their military capabilities to deal with threats both real and imagined.

But over time it has become increasingly clear that focusing on ‘military security’ alone is not sufficient for a country’s wellbeing and development. Buzan argued that security should not only be defined in militarised terms but also take into account other aspects – political, economic, social, environmental – that affect lives.

Looking at today’s political scenario, a discussion of Buzan’s expanded definition of national security – that it not only depends on the military strength of a nation but also the wellbeing of the nation’s biggest and most important asset, its people – essential

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The question arises: what if the biggest asset within a nation is not fully united but has divisions? Would the differences cause enough disruptions to threaten national security eventually?

The US is facing a race crisis. The Americans are not only battling an increasing number of coronavirus infections, but they are also in the midst of a profound issue that has long been debated – race relations. Recent incidents affecting members of the black and non-white communities have raised the spectre of police brutality and racial profiling.

According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, non-whites and minorities such as the African American, Hispanics, Asians and native Americans are more likely to be killed by police use of force than whites. The blacks are three times more likely to be killed by police and 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed compared to the whites, despite making up only 13% of the population. Records show that, of the blacks killed last year, up to 24% of those deaths could have been linked to racial profiling and police brutality.

In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement was established in response to the shooting death of an unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, who was brutally assaulted by a police officer.

By 2020, the movement came out in full strength upon the death of an unarmed African American man, George Floyd, who was pinned down by four police officers. One white officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes until he lost consciousness and died.

This sparked outrage among some Americans who were incensed with these incidents. Some of them took matters into their own hands by looting and destroying public and private property.

Some have argued that there is no right way to protest and what the protesters did could be justified as they were seeking justice for other civilians who might be the next ‘victim’ of such brutality.

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Others argued the atrocious acts of the protesters have done nothing but further validate the narrative that minorities are the problem and that the stigma of the majority towards the minority is justifiable.

No matter how one sees it, it all comes down to the deep-rooted issue of racism.

Simmering racism in Malaysia

Like it or not, racism is not exclusive to the US, but extends to most heterogeneous countries around the globe, including Malaysia.

We have to recognise we have race issues, and until the day comes when we can finally deal with it for the betterment of our country, we have to live with our current situation.

Some might say they are comfortable with how things are because we have more to lose if we confront the issue – but I am not one of them.

Many are saying though we have issues at home, we cannot equate this with the bigger issues the Americans have and it is simply ignorant to “remodel” the issue to fit our domestic socio-political climate.

The way I see it, the race issue in Malaysia is simmering and, if unresolved, in danger of over boiling and eventually spilling over.

The Pakatan Harapan government only lasted for 22 months. After 63 years since the independence of Malaya and 57 years since the formation of Malaysia, we finally saw regime change. Many Malaysians were overjoyed to have a new government with refreshing policies and a new work culture.

However, this came to an abrupt end after less than half a term. I attribute the downfall in large part to the race narrative Barisan Nasional and Pas supporters and ‘cybertroopers’ had been stirring up since PH won power.

From the start of PH rule, elements linked to Umno and Pas successfully crafted and disseminated divisive issues to the point of overshadowing PH government efforts in promoting good governance.

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To generate distrust and fear, they irresponsibly laid out the idea that PH was selling out the Malays and Islam. They promoted the narrative that only indigenous Malays, the bumiputeras, should govern this land and that PH had the ill intention of selling out the nation to a superpower.

The argument that Malaysia was in danger of being taken over by the Chinese and non-Malays due to the strong influence of the DAP in the PH government seemed to have gain credence among the Malay community.

The strong measures taken to fight corruption and to bring to justice those who had robbed the nation was not fully appreciated.

As for appointments to key positions, cybertroopers seemed more concerned with the ethnicity of the appointees rather than what they could do for the country.

This lack of judgement only furthered the belief that race is no longer “just a social issue” but has now become a determinant for the future of a government.

This ethno-centric idea is not only dangerous but damaging to the social structure of the country because, instead of fair play, we now have a zero-sum game in which the majority always win despite the unethical acts of those sitting in government.

Maybe our racism is not exactly the same as what is happening in the US, but the issue remains important.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what matters most right now. How can we secure our national interest if we are still facing the same issue due to certain types of people playing the race card – which is probably the most sensitive and divisive issue here in Malaysia?

Can we say we are stable and secure enough or will this lead to even bigger security issues in the future? We need to seriously ponder and reflect on these issues.

Umi Nur Zahidah MK is a masters student at a local university

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Evelyn Tang
15 Jul 2020 10.35am

Hope more young people have the same thoughts as you, Umi Nur Zahidah MK. Then Malaysia has hope.- ET

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