Even as we were being so hospitable to the Bosnians, we were disdaining the persecuted Rohingya, thousands of whom continue to live in deplorable conditions in our backyard, recalls Abdar Rahman Koya.
Not really long ago, when I was a little kid, I used to watch the Indian grass cutter at work in our lawn.
It seemed easy, I thought, and I decided it must be the perfect well-paying job, because every house with a patch of grass would need the service.
Of course, I soon realised that grass cutting is not the most lucrative career in the world.
Nowadays, having learnt about the cost of living the hard way, I sometimes think of that grass cutter. How much did he sacrifice to send his daughter to private college after she was denied a place in the public university?
And such thoughts translate into a hatred for the system, a system which allows so-called positive discrimination and race-based affirmative action.
Similarly, whenever I see someone talk about equality and humanity in some distant place, invoking verses of the Qur’an, the word hypocrisy looms large in my mind.
A case in point is Malaysia’s recent announcement that it would accept 3,000 refugees from war-torn Syria.
That number, of course, is just about 0.4 per cent of the 800,000 Syrian refugees accepted by Germany.
Suddenly there was a litany of praises for Malaysia’s gesture, and suddenly we hear Islamic exhortations about helping the migrants.
You see, there is something similar about the move to help Syrian refugees and some Muslims’ obsession with repeatedly going to Mecca, spending so much money on airfare and accommodation. And that is this: both go to great lengths, literally, to do “good”.
Instead of pointing out the devils in our midst, we travel thousands of miles to ritually stone the symbolic devil on a barren desert.
Instead of spending money to help families who could not afford a good education for their children, we set aside our money every year going on repetitive holidays in the name of religion.
So is the case in the announcement by Najib Razak in New York, on taking in Syrian refugees.
Instead of quietly and unostentatiously helping our dark-skinned brown neighbours, tens of thousands of whom were knocking on our shores with smelly clothes and empty stomachs (before we were shamed into reluctantly rescuing them from the seas), our prime minister grandly announced to the world, from a pulpit in New York, that we would accept a handful of refugees from Syria, promising them jobs, education and housing, things many in our own country, let alone neighbouring ones, would die for.
We are also unclear on the concept.
Instead of doing a Merkel and reaching out to people who desperately cry for help, we did a Mr Boffo and brought the Unclear on the Concept comic series to life, by treating refugees like a meat shop, sifting through them for professionals and semi-skilled, effectively telling those human beings without proper education or skills to stay in Isis-land (or Assad-land, depending on whom we consider the villain).
In short, we have no clue as to what we are doing, because we are always guided by our biases – religious, racial, skin colour even – not by a moral compass to help humanity.
Indeed, the latest offer by Malaysia to show its international responsibility only shows our hypocrisy about the refugee issue and cluelessness about the concept of humanity.
The elephant in the room is too large to ignore, and it comes in the form of this question: why we jumped to help thousands of Syrians when all this while we were practically showing the middle finger to calls to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention, the pledge to recognise people who flee war and persecution as refugees who must be helped.
Another point is our government’s assumption that the Syrian refugees would want to resettle in Malaysia. The reality is probably rather different.
The Syrians, despite sharing religious affinities with many Malaysians, may find their lifestyle culturally and environmentally closer to Europe, no matter how Arab some of us pretend to be.
The Syrians are not seeking a Muslim government to shelter them. Heck, a Muslim nation is probably the last place they want to settle in, considering how they have seen their lands being turned into hell by people who use God’s name to do whatever they please. On the contrary, like any human being, they just need to get on with their lives.
Consider, for example, the case with the Bosnian refugees some years back. We went to great lengths to help them. We brought hundreds of them here, placed many of them at the International Islamic University despite them speaking pidgin English and even built an entire village to house them.
Fast forward a decade, you find only a handful of Bosnians still here – most have moved to the West.
Meanwhile, even as we were being so hospitable to the Bosnians, we were disdaining the persecuted Rohingya, thousands of whom continue to live in deplorable conditions in our backyard.
Many of these Rohingyas were bright young children forced to beg on the streets and resort to crime because we refused to recognise the piece of paper they carried stating that they are refugees.
Our hospitality to Bosnians also came at a time when probably hundreds of migrant workers were languishing in squalid conditions at our immigration camps. Something exposed by the late Irene Fernandez, backed by documented evidence, only to find herself later battling for her own freedom.
It is not strange that a government which does not recognise refugees of their own kind, refugees who are culturally more adept to live in this country, are now going all out offering a lifeline to 3,000 refugees from a different land, who probably do not even wish to resettle here.
Because here is a government that has been vocal about the plight of the Palestinians, when what the latter are suffering is echoed by our own hotchpotch concept of licensed apartheid.
Such is our hypocrisy.
We travel half the world to showcase our humanity.
Every year, in some case twice and thrice a year, we splurge a couple of years’ worth of a labourer’s salary to join a sea of humanity circumambulating the House of God.
And then, we talk about justice and punch the Jalan Ampang air on a hot Friday afternoon.
And while all this is going on, some dark-skinned grass cutter’s daughter is hard at work studying for her school exam, not knowing that one day soon, she too will be refused a place at one of our tax payer-funded public universities.