Racism must no longer be allowed to dictate the direction an ethnically and a culturally-rich Malaysia takes, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
Racism – defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the belief that people’s qualities are influenced by their race and that members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races” – resides in many of us.
It thrives in a fertile ground where race and, in the Malaysian context, religion become a convenient tool in politics and the scramble for power.
For some, especially politicians, racism has been turned into a cottage industry as it can bring handsome returns, such as material comforts and political clout. Certain politicians are so adept at it that they have made racism an art.
Which explains in part why a particular race – or more accurately, ethnic community – can be made by certain unscrupulous politicians to feel proud that it is superior to other ethnic groups, while in other situations they can also be made to feel helpless as poor victims of the purported political machinations of other communities.
In either case, these politicians (and others of similar ilk) profit from making themselves champions, if not professed martyrs, of their own communities. The fact that discrimination and prejudice also transgress ethnic, gender, religious and political boundaries is lost on these “ethno-preneurs”, who make gains at the expense of the ordinary people.
It is therefore disconcerting, although not surprising, in a supposedly “new Malaysia” that former Barisan Nasional (BN) minister Mohamed Nazri Aziz could still want to make racist remarks recently on the hustings for the forthcoming Semenyih by-election.
Nazri’s gripe as well as the supposed discontent of some Malays on the ground is over the appointment of non-Malays to the positions of attorney general, chief justice and finance minister, whom he considers would not be partial to the collective interests of the Malay-Muslim community.
He didn’t bother to explain to those listening to his political talk that the chief prerequisites for these important positions should be competency and professionalism, not ethnicity, and also that the Federal Constitution does not bar any member of ethnic groups other than Malay to occupy these positions.
The Padang Rengas MP was reported to have gone to the extent of arguing, rather absurdly, that non-Muslims could not be trusted to do the job professionally and fairly because they do not swear on the Holy Qur’an before the King upon accepting their respective appointments.
Yes, in the previous administration we did see a lot of Malay ministers swearing on the Holy Book, but we also saw their bank accounts swelling after many years of holding onto ministerial power – while neglecting the wellbeing of the poor and marginalised, irrespective of ethnicity.
We also bore witness to the previous attorney-general, a Malay-Muslim at that, whose certain decisions left a lot to be desired, especially over the 1MDB scandal.
To be sure, there are many Nazris in our midst, especially in a political system where the survival of particularly ethnic-based political parties (and certain NGOs as well) is in many ways dependent on the insecurities of their respective constituencies. Hence, the construction of a siege mentality.
Put another way, leaders of these political parties themselves will become insecure the moment their constituents start to exude confidence and intellectual and political independence. It is in this context that the former’s racist tendencies may go into overdrive.
Dismantling racism that is embedded in the psyche of many Malaysians is a long haul. It requires more than just reprimanding and even apprehending the likes of Nazri.
Policies, laws and mechanisms must be put in place by the new administration that would go a long way towards reducing, if not putting a complete halt to, racist politics, discriminatory practices and institutional racism in both public and private sectors. It is here that one could rethink the abandoned International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination proposal.
For instance, public universities may want to look at the possibility of acclaimed non-Malay academics occupying positions of leadership on campus, just as we would like to see more competent Malays in the upper echelons of commerce and industry.
Schools should educate students about the horror of racism, while stressing the importance of social justice.
A slip-up in a recent racist scholarship advertisement by a private hospital in Kedah may not be a healthy reflection of the healthcare industry.
Equally important, politicians, especially those from ethnic-based parties including Pakatan Harapan (PH) component parties, should look in the mirror and assess whether they are part of the problem or the solution.
It is crucial that these politicians should not be the mirror image of their BN and Pas nemeses. Instead, they should provide exemplar leadership for others at all levels of society to emulate.
A forward-looking, robust and inclusive Malaysia should no longer welcome the tired politicisation of race and religion, which has dragged the country far too long behind other countries on the economic, political, educational, social and cultural fronts.
Racism must no longer be allowed to dictate the direction an ethnically and a culturally-rich Malaysia takes. It should be left behind as a mere spectre of an ugly past.