It is inexcusable for a leader to indulge in ethnic stereotyping, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Stereotyping oversimplifies opinions or conceptions and can gain traction because it short-circuits well-informed arguments.
Therein lies the danger of what Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor said recently about his critics of Indian extraction amid a row over the demolition of Hindu temples in Kedah, one of which is the Sri Raja Muniswarar temple in Kuala Kedah.
In this noisy quarrel, he accused certain MIC and DAP leaders of being “drunk on the toddy of popularity” to become “race champions”.
The MIC and Pas, which is represented by Sanusi, are part of the Perikatan Nasional pact that governs the state, but such a fracas makes them appear to be strange bedfellows.
To be sure, Sanusi’s slur harks back to the familiar racial drill about the major ethnic groups in the country, which goes something like this: Chinese are obsessed with making money, Indians like to drink and Malays are born lazy.
His assertion only reinforces an unfair stereotype regarding ethnic Indians, and does not add value to the issue at hand, ie temple demolitions in the state.
Issues concerning houses of worship require sober and prudent deliberations and cannot be resolved through ethnic stereotyping. Besides, Islam, like other faiths, calls for mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence between adherents of various religions.
Stereotyping only raises the political temperature and ethnic and religious anxiety among the various ethnic groups in Kedah and elsewhere in the country.
Sanusi should be mindful that stereotyping of this nature is also as bad as the erroneous contention that all Malays are corrupt just because a number of them, including a few with a high public profile, indulge in it.
It does not provide a good and calming example of leadership for Kedah folk, especially when the politics of race and religion is being exploited by unscrupulous politicians.
For a leader in the top position of a state government to resort to such abusive language is simply gross.
The situation does not get any less fuzzy when opponents accused Sanusi of being high on weed, which is just about descending towards his gutter level.
Sanusi’s slur may well invite suspicion that his public expression is a deliberate demonisation of a minority group by his political party that has the penchant for pursuing its Malay and Islamic agenda in the country.
The temple demolition would also reinforce the impression that Sanusi is trying to burnish his Islamic credentials among his co-religionists.
Whatever the case may be, such behaviour of a leader is divisive in ethnic and religious terms. He should instead be a bridge-builder in the interest of ethnic relations.
Sanusi is also in the middle of a storm over rare earth elements (REEs) found in Sik, Ulu Muda and Baling estimated to be worth up to RM62bn.
He mistakenly said initially, possibly in uncontrolled excitement, the REE was worth RM43tn, which provoked derision from his critics.
Incidentally, a mischievous person bent on employing ethnic stereotypes would argue that all Malays are weak in arithmetic, as exemplified by Sanusi’s calculating gaffe.
To be drunk on ethnic stereotypes in politics is perilous and inexcusable as it hardens prejudices, especially in a diverse society like ours.