The migrants and refugees who are scraping the dirt for a living here have become convenient scapegoats. Dominic Damian wonders why.
No one is born xenophobic. But we are induced and indoctrinated in a subtle, stealthy and unnoticeable manner over time.
It is not an overnight thing. No one sleeps innocent and wakes up a xenophobic villain. The slow infection of xenophobia accumulates from our environment.
In Malaysia, we experienced:
- The politics of institutionalised race and religion that accentuated the differences between variouus groupings.
- The appalling treatment from 1977 onwards of refugees beginning with the Vietnamese boat people: the way we tow their boats back to sea and the overcrowded refugee camps and depots with barbed wire. These are unfortunate and unforgettable experiences
- Deafening silence when leaders allow the the inhumane treatment of unwanted refugees (boat people)
- Ministers or political parties supporting hurtful agendas to the detriment of others
- How existing laws seem toothless and ineffective in the face of racial, religious and cultural transgressions by citizens against each other
- The appropriating of positions along divisive ethnic or religious lines
- Public educational policies affirming such divisions
The seedbeds were tilled and cultivated, and we have reaped the fruit of division.
Unsurprisingly, we have churned out an entire group of citizen victims. In our midst, some of those we count as family, friends and colleagues have become religious and racist bigots. Unfortunately, they include quite a few otherwise decent ordinary folk.
Professional credentials, academic intelligence or the piety of religious leanings do not provide immunity. Many are infected by xenophobia and display it with impunity.
I am astonished and shocked that some of the best among us are contaminated and have fallen prey to the unthinkable. Have we already become a judgemental nation, ever ready to condemn others?
For many, the painful genocide against millions of Jews, Kurds and other minorities appears have been consigned to mere footnotes in history. We pass exams but fail to conscientise the soul. Nazism showed its cruel face in the horrors of Buchenwald and Dachau. Its inhumane form resurfaced horrendously in countries like Bosnia and Rwanda.
Xenophobia, bigotry and racism have never been wiped out. Instead, they have evolved into something far more sinister and complex. In some places, they may be supported by some form of legislation or other – but can this be right? The pages of history still drip with the blood of millions killed over their ethnicity and creed.
Here in Malaysia, we were caught up in a storm of xenophobia in a teacup recently. If we are not careful, that which is dismissed as harmless could lead to something worse.
Adolf Hitler provides a compelling lesson of what we should never become. A diabolical soldier rising from the trenches of World War One, he nearly burned the world down in World War Two, which unleashed carnage and destruction all round. Yet some around the world today think nothing of resurrecting Hitler’s shadow in various shades and symbols. They unhesitatingly accept such evil in defiance of decency.
We are blessed with diverse spiritual traditions among us. Sadly, they often remain but beautiful dreams that sing futile songs to an empty heart and soul.
It is ironic that many of us submit ourselves within the sanctity of our respective places of worship, each seeking redemption and good. But away from the sacred spaces, our words and actions are often incompatible: we defile the very values that we seek for the enrichment of the soul.
This contradiction is a puzzle. Many of us are often willing captives, receiving small doses of venomous hate injected in the course of our lives. We fail to question the objectionable, nor do we search the path of compassion and kindness. Instead, we neuter the conscience.
The intense dislike, rejection and sometimes even hatred of the most vulnerable and marginalised surfaces without soul-searching within. Such feelings are unwarranted and inconceivable, yet they are present among the most respected and dignified among us.
Why is it that we confer love upon another or to a cause only when it is convenient? Why is the best not coming alive in moments of adversity? We seem to see all manner of threats in the shadows. And so we erect defensive walls to keep the glided cages of our lives secure.
Why is it that idealistic warmth often cannot breach the ice inside of our souls? The cold reality awakens us to the fact that, often, we are not who we claim to be or would like to be. The moment we discriminate against others is the moment when our faith is reduced to a powerless nothingness.
Our citizenship should never be an inhumane tool that deprives others of their inalienable rights, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If that happens, we lose our own humanity, our sense of solidarity, when it matters most.
Have we earned our citizenship as a consequence of our allegiance or was it due to some deed of honour? We may be advanced in our living conditions, but what if we are primitive in our hearts and souls, ie in our spirituality?
We are ‘imprisoned’ in our bondage to documents that confer specific rights such a citizenship. Perhaps such documents should have a clause that is invoked upon our reaching maturity, reflecting our understanding and acceptance of human rights. This is when we become true citizens of the world.
A minority community of refugees are slaughtered or persecuted in their home country. But some writer can label and criminalise a whole community for the excesses of a few. This is the standard tactical political ploy often employed. It avoids a rational, impartial intellectual debate and instead resorts to all kinds of claims without substantive data.
Why would anyone exchange the safety of land for a perilous journey in a rickety boat on rolling seas? But then, the victims, the refugees and migrants, are often seen as a security threat.
Who commits the most crimes in Malaysia? Who are the biggest criminals? Who plunders the most funds from our hard-earned taxes?
Sadly, we ascribe crimes based on ethnicity and even nationality. Those who are not able to push back are victimised. How did the disquiet over migrants and refugees suddenly crop up out of nowhere? Was there some ‘cybertrooper’ planted and directed to divert our attention? Could all this really be a coincidence?
The narrative of racist attacks and labelling is simply to turn these foreigners into outcasts. Millions are feeling vulnerable and insecure – neither here nor there. Yet some of us who have everything feel a warped sense of courage and attack these most vulnerable and weakest as they have no defence. The irony is we ourselves will scurry and hide when our own security is threatened by our very own elites in power.
An armour of prejudices festers among us, nurtured in our drive for self-preservation, prompting us to put up artificial boundaries and walls.
Where is the depth and greatness of our faiths? Where is the breath of our love? Who are we if we can’t fight to protect such wounded-ness?
We all come from different places; the earth is a home for everyone. Can we really in this day and age have a war cry of “every race for itself!”?
But now, the ones who are scraping the dirt for a living have become convenient scapegoats for all ailments infecting the nation. We so easily forget that each birth brings a human being – not by choice – into this world to different circumstances and conditions. The ones who are privileged to have conveniences ought to help the ones who are unfortunate. Spite in of our words does not help or heal anyone.
I don’t feel any anger or animosity towards those who harbour negative thoughts towards refugees and migrants. I only feel a deep sense of sadness and empathy as the perpetrators themselves are trapped in the horrible dungeons of darkness, their best potential shackled.
Without malice or disrespect, we should engage each other and explore why such toxic thoughts are fermenting within us.