Many Malaysians appear to be easily side-tracked by relatively trivial issues and fail to see the big picture: we are standing on the precipice of a serious economic and political crisis across all of Asia, observes Farish Noor.
There are times when I can only assume that Malaysians have so much free time on their hands that they don’t know what to do with it. Today, as I was marking my students’ book reviews, I chanced upon an item on Facebook that caught my attention: A minor kerfuffle had erupted thanks to a naive and well-meaning, though poorly executed, attempt at political correctness and inclusivity.
The JKMM Facebook page had announced a Happy Thaipusam, but to Buddhists instead of Hindus. Almost immediately scores of irate Malaysians wrote on the page, accusing the JKMM FB page administrators of being stupid and insensitive.
Now allow me to contribute my two cents’ worth here (I’m paid in Singaporean dollars now, so my two cents are worth five sen ok, don’t play-play … )
I find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe that anyone at the offices of the JKMM would deliberately set out to insult Hindus on the page of the JKMM. That would be so insanely counter-productive as to beggar belief. True there might be racists anywhere and everywhere (even in academia) but they seldom use official channels to insult others, what more in such a case where anyone responsible can be tracked down and eventually identified.
I can only assume that this was an unfortunate and embarrassing instance of well-meaning individuals treading on deep water, and perhaps the poor fellow got out of his/her depth in this instance.
Look, for heaven’s sake, it’s not as if the political temperature of the country was not hot enough at this point, can we not put things into context. The statement was, after all, wishing people Happy Thaipusam — though in this case, it was being wished upon the wrong confessional community. At worse, it was an embarrassing thing to do which could be easily rectified with a simple explanation and/or apology.
But this has made me ask myself another related question, about our sensitivities and where they may lie. Recall that in the late 1960s another well-meaning Malay-Muslim politician had himself photographed in a Mandarin costume and his wife in a cheongsam, that was then affixed on a Chinese New Year card and sent out to constituents. It was also a well-intentioned gesture, done presumably in the spirit of goodwill to fellow Malaysians. There was nothing that compelled the Malay politician to dress in Mandarin garb. Heck, there was nothing that compelled him to even wish his Chinese constituents a Happy Chinese New Year.
But as a result of this act, he was condemned by several quarters, including those who accused him of being a ‘race traitor’ etc etc. (You know the script by now.)
It just shows that sometimes people blunder though they mean well. Over the past 10 years, I’ve grown rather tired and jaded with this country, and fed up with Malaysians who don’t want to look at the real geo strategic and macro-economic picture, to see that we are standing on the precipice of a serious economic and political crisis across all of Asia.
Perhaps the reaction to the JKMM posting is symptomatic of how Malaysians are now on the edge, or have been pushed to the brink by the pyrotechnics we see in the political discourse of our country. But this is, after all, OUR nation — warts and all, and if some of us blunder, we need to rise above it and place things in context. At the very worse all that can be said about the JKMM posting was that it was misdirected. It was not racist. It was not inflammatory. It was not hate-laced with threats to anyone.
As I grow older and my eyesight fails me, my blunders grow in number, frequency and proportion too. (If you don’t believe me, go ask my long-suffering students.)
If this was a case of an official making a mistake because of how he was taught (or not taught) about cultural and religious differences in school; then let us deal with something concrete like the teaching of multiculturalism and religious pluralism in our curriculum instead.
But for heaven’s sake, my fellow Malaysians — (and I don’t believe I’m using phrases like this from teen-speak) — do chill out. We have enough demagogues and hate-mongers in our midst, let us deal with some real problems, one nuisance at a time.
Dr Farish A Noor, an Aliran member, is a Senior Fellow at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.