On 2nd September, one of our regular readers posted the following comment which I thought I will publish it here and respond since it raised what I consider a "typical mind set" symptomatic of a few in Malaysia. I had just returned to the country and hence, this delayed response.
Why don't you open up your eyes and see that in Malaysia everything is based on race no matter how hard people like you are trying to deny- politics, education, social and the list goes on...don't try to be so naive or rather ignorant. And please don't play with your religion card (emm..makes me wonder if you belong to a particular race or you'd rather be known as Muslim/Islam under your race column)..Please enlighten me bro if you really want to project your deep sense of piousness to the deny the important of race, then why the Chinese Muslims are requesting for their own mosques (which everything in it including the sermons will be in Chinese?)I'm waiting bro...Jimizul
Firstly, I want to thank you for being the conduit to inspire me to write something of significance in these trying and evolving times of our country. At least writing this article may allow me to “cleanse” my heart further.
Let me tackle the easier items in your comments first.
1. I have never, at any time in my life, denied that generally, the socio-economic and political framework in Malaysia is race-based. Having said that, however, I disagree with you that everything in Malaysia is race-based. If you open your eyes, you will see that there are many relationships, be it friendship, marriages or pure neighbourliness are not race-based.
2. Obviously all of us on earth are classified into a social construct which we term as "race" or "ethnicity". There are usefulness and weaknesses in such a classification. I will explain this below.
3. You accuse me of "playing the religious card". Obviously you have not read my articles. I believe you may have mistaken my considered respect and passion for the Quran as being religious. It is the politicians and religious bigots and their unthinking hand-clappers that shamelessly use the religious card. In our country, we had seen some "religious" people mysteriously "protest" in support of the ISA under the cry that it protects Islam! There are even some who use religion as a cover to promote racist interests. You should be targeting your accusation and opposition to them, not me.
4. As to your statement that I want to project my deep sense of piousness, this is my response: I did not know that I came across as such to you. I have never seen myself as pious and it has never really been important to me to determine so. What is more important to me is to live this temporary life causing as little damage as possible. In any event, the concept of "piousness" itself is something that have to be dealt with in another article.
5. Chinese seeking Chinese mosque complete with sermons in Chinese. It is just amazing that you should raise this because the exact thought came to mind while I was in Beijing. I will cover it below.
Jimizul, I hope the following article which expresses my thoughts on the matters that you have raised will be useful.
Racial versus Racism and Religious versus religious bigotry
Actually Jimizul, your comment requires firstly a discussion between what is "racial or "ethnic" considerations against what is "racism". The two are completely different. Many unfortunately are confused between the two. Secondly, it also requires an understanding of the Quran's position on "race" and "racism". Thirdly, we have to understand the difference between being religious and being a religious bigot.
Racial versus Racism
Few ideas have been so fraught with controversy, or have provided as much occasion for discussion and debate, as that of race. Race is a highly contradictory notion. I am of the view that “race” is nothing more than a social construct to describe groups of people with certain similarities.
Article 160 of the Malaysian Constitution supports the idea that “race” is nothing more than a social construct. According to Article 160, a Malaysian citizen is defined as a “Malay” if he speaks the Malay language habitually, follows the Malay custom and is a Muslim. By this definition therefore, the “ethnic Chinese” is a “Malay” if he fulfills this criteria. Likewise, a Malaysian Javanese is a “Malay” in Malaysia while an Indonesian Javanese is not a “Malay” in Malaysia. This is what racial classification is all about – a social construct. If we take the definition of “Malay” in the Constitution technically, possibly many elite Malays may not qualify as constitutional Malays!
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, "race" or ethnicity are social constructs. They are terms created by human beings to refer to a group of people sharing similar characteristics which other groups do not have. Ethnicity or race therefore is a term used to describe people in terms of their common culture, language, social and dietary habits and such.
In this sense, therefore if you look at China or India, it is indeed multi-religious multi-racial and mutli-cultural. In China, while the Han Chinese is the largest ethnic group, it has 55 other minority ethnic groups. China has over 290 languages and for this reason, the Chinese government try to unite them by introducing Putonghua or Standard Mandarin as the common or national language.
Similarly, India has displayed varied hues of culture, religion, race, language, and so on. The Constitution of India has recognised 22 different languages that are prevalent in the country, out of which, Hindi is the official language and is spoken in most of the urban cities of India. Other than these 22 languages, there are hundreds of dialects that add to the multilingual nature of the country.
Malaysia too is multi-religious multi-racial and mutli-cultural society. However China and India are huge countries with much much bigger and more diverse population than ours. They have greater challenges than us at national integration and unity. I doubt if any of our politicians have the calibre to govern those countries seeing how they have governed our much smaller country with much lesser challenges. But that’s a different point!
Jimizul, I am sure the above examples should suffice to demonstrate that one cannot deny the existence of these “racial classifications”.
Surely one cannot deny that knowledge and identification of ethnic origins does have its relevance. For example, if you identify someone as an orang asli, you will try to study his ethnic background to understand him. If you are a responsible government, you will try to understand the orang asli's culture, ethnicity and religion when you want to plan any development programmes for his community. You cannot for example, remove the orang asli from their "racial or ethnic environment" and suddenly throw them into towns. This has happened in our country and it is cruel. With our knowledge of the racial makeup of the orang asli, we should prepare them for the different kind of challenges that living in developed towns will entail.
Another example is that of the Indians in the estates. When we removed the estates, we never prepared these Indians for living outside the estate. Again we have been cruel. The point is this: we use the knowledge of a particular social construct or ethnic origin or race for the purposes of improving that particular ethnic group or solving problems that appear to be peculiar to that particular ethnic or racial group. Such an approach may require a “racial approach” in which there is nothing wrong. There is nothing racist when we say that the orang asli community is still generally backward after 52 years of merdeka. It is racist if we accuse them of being inherently backward.
A study of ethnic characteristics may also be relevant to understand the community in the effort to formulate policies or action plans to improve that particular community. For example, in our country, we have so much superficial talk about the creation of “human capital” but I have yet to see any indepth study on “ethnic obstacles” to progressive thinking. If the thinking or the ability to think of the population is not addressed, how do you improve them? There could very well be parts of the culture of some ethnic communities that hinder their progress. These things ought to be addressed.
Another example where the classification of race becomes relevant. For example, we may conduct the study on the occurrence of diabetes among the different racial communities and may arrive at a conclusion that diabetes is high among certain communities. Such a study may reveal that lifestyles of certain ethnic groups actually increases the chances of getting diabetes. The data may be useful as a basis to formulate behavior alteration programs to arrest the diabetic problem.
We can go on giving examples where information about the ethnic origin of person is relevant and sometimes necessary. Such “racial approaches” may be legitimate.
However, if a social construct such as race or ethnic origin is used as the sole basis to sustain only itself to the exclusion of the rest of the world, then it becomes racism. The notion of “racial supremacy” is racist and an affront not only to the intelligence but to humanity. The apartheid policy for example which extols the supremacy of the “white Africans” and discriminates the “black” Africans and non-whites is racist and shameful to humanity. Merely because it was in existence for years did not stop Ghandi from opposing similar racist discriminations.
If a certain race claims that it is the only chosen race of God to the exclusion of the rest of the world, then that is racism. The zionists are racists.
If a certain race claims that all other races except its own race are lazy and stupid, then that is racism.
If your choice of expressing compassion, kindness, justice, opportunities and such turns solely on the basis of someone’s ethnic origin, you are not only a racist but in my view a manifestation of Iblis. I believe the Creator will deal with you in His merciful way.
The Ku Klux clan in America which "fights" for "America is only for whites" and the others can go back to their country of origin are racists. They do not want the presence of other non-white Americans whose forefathers have migrated to America. They have conveniently forgotten that their forefathers too were immigrants unlike the Red Indians. They are angry that the Americans of immigrant parents have worked hard and are economically well off. To me, these shameful right wing small group of Americans are mentally deranged people who use other people’s success and hard work as a scapegoat for their failures and laziness.
One of the worst manifestations of racist ideas took place in Germany under the command of Hitler where he promoted the idea of the “German race”. Hitler believed that in the world, only one race was fit to survive; the Aryan race. Aryans were tall, with beautiful facial features, white skinned, and blond hair, so the myth goes!
Without doubt, racists are mentally sick people who have a warped perspective of human nature. The larger majority of normal people are not racists. Racists seem to have, among others, the following traits:
a) They always look for scapegoats for their deficiencies or failures in life.
b) They have a deep sense of inferiority complex and they try to overcome this with aggressive behaviour or a false sense of superiority complex;
c) If these racists have larger numbers, they will deride or make fun of others from different ethnic origins with the objective of bolstering thier own lack of self confidence or to attempt to attack the others sense of self confidence.
d) Even anyone from their own racial grouping who disagrees with their racist outlook will be immediately accused as being a traitor to their race;
e) They have very little respect for the sanctity of life;
I find it completely difficult to comprehend that people who truly believe in God or consider themselves religious can be racists.
If you say you are a buddhist, you must know that Siddhartha Gautama was an Indian Prince. If you are a Chinese Buddhist and you are prepared to receive enlightenment from a Prince of another ethnic/racial origin than yours, why would you find it difficult to share dharma with the rest?
If you say you are a Christian, you must know that all are the children of the Lord.
If you say that you are a Muslim, you must know that all the Prophets that are mentioned by name in the Quran are neither Malay, Chinese, Kadazan or Indian. The Muslim must know the following verse from the Quran which is supposed to be their daily guide:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)". [Quran: 49:13]
The Quran does not say that a particular race or nation is the most honoured. It is the one that is most righteous that is most honoured.
If you are a Hindu, you must believe in karma or rebirth and know that good begets good and evil begets evil irrespective of racial or ethnic construct.
If you are an atheist, then surely you must know that values are either good or bad, that either you are a good person or a bad person irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.
Why are we letting social constructs like “race or ethnicity” demean our humanity?
Jimizul, even if you are the only one standing in a crowd of billion racists, you must not deny humanity. This is because, ultimately, you and you alone will be answerable to the creator – none of the billions will advocate on your behalf.
Next: Jimizul, Religious and Religious bigotry – surely there is a difference? - God willing.