Behind the Valentine’s Day controversy, a battle is raging for the soul of the nation, observes Casanova. Arrayed on one side are the forces of realpolitik propagating their narrow ideologies of ethnicity and religion. On the other side are young artists, social workers, academicians and people of concern who are resisting such ideologies.
In recent days, there have been reports that draw our attention to the so-called love of the nation in a so-called multicultural society. These reports indicate the usual dirty political strategy by a certain political party to win back the support of the people by stirring religious-racial issues and selectively tolerating such actions for vested political interests.
Why do such racial and religious remnants persist and receive intense and loud coverage in the media?
Whichever direction the Malaysian political scenario may have moved towards – a racialised one or otherwise – let’s contextualises Malaysian politics at two simple levels. One is the level of realpolitik, which involves the politicians’ propagation of their ideologies of ethnicity and religion. The other is the alternative ideology that resists such ideologies.
As we have been constantly seen, read, researched and analysed, such religious ethnic politics is (still) a common rhetoric for the powers-that-be to (re)gain support especially among the Malays. This rhetoric involves constructing a fear of losing ‘Malay supremacy’ to the non-Malays. Such ‘protection’ of one group at the expense of the other has been tolerated under the rubric of a selective but yet blurred concept of ‘multiculturalism.’
Malaysians are constantly being told that they are different, in terms of social backgrounds, cultures, religions, and historical experiences; thus standing united as one is essential for the love of the nation. The best practices are tolerance for others, respecting differences, loving others like we would our own selves, and being receptive of the differences in cultures and religions.
But what is worrisome are the reports that appear in the media such as:
- a statement written by Dr Kua Kia Siang (8 February 2011) on the issue on “Ketuanan Melayu” or more specifically the “rehabilitation of the Ketuanan Melayu” in Malaysia;
- a comment made by the then Malaysian ambassador in Asian Wall Street Journal (on the same day) in which John Malott argued that the Najib administration is tolerating racialised practices and Malaysia is facing rising racial and ethnic tensions;
- a Malaysiakini report (9 February 2011) report that a group of Malay-based NGOs were burning a booklet about historical buildings and memories, which they deemed to have distorted the historical facts of the Malays in Balik Pulau, Penang;
- the ‘Interlok’ novel controversy; and
- the resurgent debate on comments made in 2009 by Siti Nor Bahyah on TV9 in relation to the improper practices (or celebration) of on Valentine’s Day for Muslims and the subsequent supportive sounds from Jakim and the Deputy PM (merdekareview, 13 February 2011).
These post a scenario that makes one wonder whether the oneness and the need for unity that the state is promoting has been implemented unequally, and worse, whether that implementation has been politically motivated for political leverage, survival, and dominance.
Another level of politicking surrounds the people’s everyday life politics. I am referring to the cultural groups that I have encountered. These groups of actors are more representative of the people’s daily struggle and their love and respect for society – multiculturalism from the people’s point of view.
In recent years, a group of young artists, social workers, academicians, people of concern have started several projects such as:
- Chow Kit Kita;
- the Anak-anak Kota theatre groups in Penang (see Anak-Anak Kota blog and Arts-ed website); and
- the Bangun project by the Lost Generation Space.
These projects engage communities of children and artists and provide training, exposure, and more importantly, space for them to express ideas and views about their surroundings. This sort of social engagement perhaps has political significance and impact in understanding the people and nation in a more ‘real’, direct, honest, and democratic sense. Values are allowed to be expressed without borders – ethnicity, age, social status, cultural background. Feedback and mining of ideas are facilitated using a bottom-up approach. Respect for differences is implemented without a selective process of hierarchy.
In sum, we are seeing ethnic politics at play for political interest. At the same time, there are also decent projects and activities by concerned individuals and groups which have a political significance and role more relevant to people’s lives than the struggle for power.
Thus, the Malaysian political scenario is running between these two levels (perhaps more) and we need to contextualise the level of politicking and to recognise the degree of its representation – to whom it is being represented, by whom it is being represented, and whether values and resources are being distributed equally, honestly, and genuinely to the people. It is time for us to seek an alternative space of politicking – and to recognise that space in respecting the order of things. Love the people as they are, not as who they should be.
Casanova is the pseudonym of a Malaysian political scientist.