As a Canadian with strong ties to the Malaysian community, I am appalled to see hate speech and anti-refugee sentiments unfolding in Malaysia today.
It is shocking already to see hate speech happen anywhere in the world, including here in Canada whenever it happens. But to see it in a country like Malaysia that is known for its history of incomparable generosity and support for refugees, it is absolutely shocking.
It must be rightfully acknowledged that the situation in question began with posts from a few troubled Rohingya refugee youths who allegedly demanded for citizenship rights on social media, around the same time when the Malaysian government refused a boat full of Rohingya refugees that asked for asylum.
What followed later, was an uncontrolled outpouring of hate speech by Malaysians online, with statements such as “send them back to where they came from”, “if a paramilitary wing is set up to gun them down with machine guns, count me in… ethnic cleansing is fun”, and, “now, we know why the Myanmar government murdered them”.
It is needless to say that the actions of a few troubled Rohingya youth is not at all representative of the nearly hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in Malaysia.
In the very words of these refugees, I have read: “We can never be ungrateful to Malaysia. I can only thank Malaysia for allowing us to stay here. Please don’t hate us”; “My name is Abu Bakkar Siddik… I did not come to Malaysia to seek citizenship, but to save myself… We Rohingya are always grateful to the Malaysian people and the government who saved our lives…”.
Hate speech is the beginning of formalised discrimination, marginalisation, and eventually organised attitudes and policies of segregation and apartheid.
The very roots of every mass atrocity in history can be found in hate speech and uncontrolled mass propagation of hatred of the minority against the majority.
We saw it in pre-World War II western Germany, in Rwanda in the early 1990s, and in Bosnia in the late 1990s. We all know what followed in each of those periods of history.
A statement such as “if a paramilitary wing is set up to gun them down with machine guns, count me in, ethnic cleansing is fun” is very comparable to statements that were made by Hutus against Tutsis, and Serbs against Bosniaks.
What is equally concerning is that Malaysian government officials, instead of giving their first attention to doing something that curbs hate speech, started making hardline statements about “illegal immigrants”, and that Malaysia does not recognise refugees who “have no status, right and basis to present any demands to the government”.
This is utterly shocking, and in my opinion, very un-Malaysian to have such an attitude towards a vulnerable minority population.
The Malaysian attitudes that I know of are that of generosity and kindness. When I volunteered at refugee camps in Haiti back in 2010, I saw Malaysian field hospitals and humanitarian organisations that demonstrated a sense of unparalleled generosity as a core Malaysian value.
When I meet and volunteer with Sister Sabariah, the Malaysian Canadian of the Order of Montreal, and see her work selflessly to help the needy – that convinces me without a doubt that true Malaysian values call for kindness and inclusion of all people.
From the Malaysian friends I have here in Canada, and all that I have known about them so far, it becomes unbelievable to see how hate speech has found a place in the Malaysian society today.
Malaysians must put an end to what is happening in their social media – it is their collective responsibility.
In the very words of a Malaysian who has written to FMT, she says: “Malaysians need to move beyond their discomfort and defence to a more constructive discussion…”.
The Malaysian government needs to catch and reprimand the perpetrators of hate speech, and to show sympathy to refugee populations as opposed to starting a new campaign of arresting them.
Malaysia must build on its history of kindness and generosity, and not let itself slide down through an uncontrolled mass expression of hatred on social media, followed by harsh government rhetoric and arrest campaigns that target the very victims of this hatred.
Raees Ahmed is an FMT reader
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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