The New Year always holds tremendous promise and, therefore, I am taking an optimistic look at two related trends that I expect this year.
I expect greater racial and religious rhetoric in 2019. What’s there to be optimistic about this? Well, it is not as if this is news to you and me. We have seen this trend growing in the last few years, so we know what to expect and we have a better understanding about how to deal with it.
Umno, which is licking its wounds after an unexpected defeat, is likely to play up issues such as “Ketuanan Melayu” and the erosion of Malay rights. PAS is sure to continue its rant that Islam is under threat and that the DAP is actually running the country.
We can expect certain NGOs, whose very existence depends on frightening the Malays into thinking that the non-Malays are taking over the country, to continue their agitation.
In addition, Pakatan Harapan coalition partners with a strong Malay base – PKR, PPBM and Amanah – will try to show they are also protectors of Malay rights and champions of Islam in their effort to neutralise the strategies and actions of PAS and Umno.
But it’s not just politicians who can be racist. We can find racists among ordinary Malaysians too. Take yesterday’s report about a young man named Divyang Hong. He wanted to rent a room and contacted 10 prospective landlords in Bukit Mertajam, all of whom advertised for “Chinese male tenants”. All of them turned him down because he was not a “pure” Chinese, although his father is Chinese and he speaks perfect Mandarin. His mother is Indian.
There are racist employers too; employers who insist on only hiring people of their race.
But, the majority of Malaysians, I believe, are not racist even if they do prefer to mix with people of their own race, which is quite natural. If you are a Chinese, tell me, how many Malays in your neighbourhood or working place have told you to return to your country of origin or who have sought to quarrel with you over some racial or religious issue? If you are a Malay, tell me, how many Chinese or Indian neighbours or workmates have picked a fight with you over race or religion?
I feel good because I see some Beautiful Malaysians, particularly young people, coming together in amity. Let me give a recent example, about an old Chinese woman trying to cross Jalan Tun Razak one day last month. . According to a Bernama article, each time the woman tried to cross, she had to step back as the cars were zooming by. Several people filling petrol at a petrol station nearby. and who observed her futile efforts, surmised that she probably did not use the overhead pedestrian bridge because she was too old and might have knee problems.
Five people, not just one, at the petrol station, surged forward and as three of them stopped traffic, two others held the old woman’s arms and walked her across the road to safety. These Beautiful Malaysians were made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians – all acting spontaneously to help a fellow Malaysian. I felt good when I read that.
On Dec 26, I read about a group of nine Malay medical graduate friends of one Shatheswaran Rajadesingi becoming the best men at his wedding.
One of the nine, Muhammad Firdaus Mohd Fauzi told FMT Ohsem about how wonderful the Malay friends felt at being invited to accompany the groom and be the best men. For the occasion, they all dressed in jippa and vesti, the traditional Indian attire.
I have attended weddings where the Malay and Chinese women friends of the bride have come dressed in sarees and the men in jippa and vesti. I have also seen Chinese and Indian women in Malay traditional attire at their Malay friends’ weddings.
Now, that is Malaysia on the ground. The real Malaysia.
Then, there was the news about the Petaling Jaya Sri Sithi Vinayagar Temple holding an interfaith cultural celebration last month, with representatives of about 22 religious organisations attending.
Earlier, in June, Muslims at the Masjid Al-Faizin mosque in Kuala Lumpur invited people of all faiths to share in the spirit of Ramadan at a buka puasa function. It was the first time people of other faiths had gathered at this mosque. The Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Aziz at Seksyen 3 in Petaling Jaya also held an interfaith buka puasa.
I was pleased to read last week that two Chinese corporate leaders – Berjaya Group founder Vincent Tan and Top Glove Corporation Bhd founder Lim Wee Chai – had gone to Turkey with 25 volunteers to distribute aid to refugees who had fled the civil war in Syria.
I wonder how many of those groups and individuals who talk so much about protecting Islam have actually given aid to the millions of Muslims suffering due to the wars in Syria or Yemen or Afghanistan.
My optimism for 2019 is also based on the rising number of Malaysians who are speaking up against injustice, racists and religious fanatics. I expect these voices – these Beautiful Malaysians – to counteract the Ugly Malaysians who cannot see beyond their nose or refuse to see the beauty in diversity. So, even as the voices working to separate Malaysians continue spitting venom, the voices that are working to unite us will increase and become even louder.
We know some of these Beautiful Malaysians. One of them is the Permaisuri of Johor, Raja Zarith Sofiah Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah, who has consistently spoken up for interfaith harmony. There is outspoken lawyer Siti Kassim who is not afraid to berate the Ugly Malaysian and anyone in authority who supports the Ugly Malaysian. There are others, too, such as Ambiga Sreenevasan and Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa. I’m sure you can name many more such people.
There are also NGOs – such as Sisters in Islam, the National Association of Patriots and Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia – which continue to stand up for justice and harmony.
That’s why I feel good as we enter 2019. Happy New Year everyone.
A Kathirasen is executive editor at FMT.
The views of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.