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When even helping becomes a racial issue

Cross-ethnic assistance should be encouraged as it serves a useful function of building bridges in a diverse society.

We need leaders with compassion and wisdom - REEDING/FLICKR

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It appears that extending help to someone outside of your ethnic and religious community, no matter how desperate the person is, can be construed as an oddity these days in Malaysia.

Worse, it could give rise to a conspiracy theory of religious proselytisation by the giver of such aid.

The recent aid offered by Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim to a Malay mother of 10 children and a Malay food delivery person became a bone of contention for controversial Universiti Utara Malaysia academic Kamarul Zaman Yusoff.

While Sim contended that his help was meant to help ease the sufferings of the less fortunate in our midst irrespective of their ethnic, religious and political backgrounds, Kamarul suggested that there was an ulterior motive behind such a compassionate gesture, which was to allegedly promote Sim’s Christian faith.

Ros, the mother of 10, was evicted from her house because she could not pay the rent after being laid off amid the Covid pandemic.

Sim found a temporary rented home for her, aside from helping to buy some necessities for the family.

Mohamad, the food delivery man, was presented with a motorcycle by Sim to replace the bicycle the former borrowed to deliver food all this while in order to earn a side income.

The point here is that there are individuals who desperately need help. Thus, what DAP lawmaker Sim – or for that matter anyone else who has similar compassion and empathy – has done should be appreciated and encouraged, without having aspersions cast on them.

We can only hope that Kamarul doesn’t find crosses surreptitiously placed under his bed in the midst of all this.

While it can’t be denied that there exists religious proselytisation among certain groups in societies, to insist that there’s a dark hidden agenda when extending help to the needy, as Sim did, is to go over the top.

Such allegations can be considered severe in a wider social context where certain quarters have been pushing all these years the narrative that the DAP is anti-Malay and anti-Islam.

This ideological thrust is obviously unhealthy for relations between ethnic and religious groups. Besides, this goes against the notion of a caring society that was once envisaged and vigorously campaigned for by the powers that be.

If anything, cross-ethnic assistance should be encouraged as it serves a useful function of building bridges in a diverse society.

Perhaps what happened in Germany last year could be food for thought for us at this juncture. A church in Berlin opened its doors to Muslims to perform their Friday prayers during Ramadan because a mosque in the locality could not accommodate the congregation because of social distancing rules. The warm Christian gesture was well received by the Muslims with much appreciation. This reflects mutual understanding and human kindness.

Another implication of Kamarul’s questionable contention is that there is an underlying assumption that the faith of the Muslim beneficiaries is fragile, which is demeaning and patronising.

As a supposedly concerned person, Kamarul should instead have raised such questions as to why certain government or Islamic institutions or Muslim individuals did not come to the rescue of those needy persons as soon as possible.

It is in situations such as these that the Ministry of National Unity could play an important role in addressing bigotry, prejudices and frayed ethnic relations that might cause tension and misunderstanding among the diverse groups in our society. The ministry could, for instance, run workshops at public universities on how to promote mutual understanding and respect among diverse groups.

Such institutional help would benefit people who need it most. – The Malaysian Insight

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