Sunday, August 30, 2009


Source: Racial Unity
As Malaysia celebrates its 52nd independence day, it is time again to ask ourselves how far have we travelled on the road towards racial harmony.

I reproduce below, courtesy of Tan Sri Ani Arope, an excerpt of a speech he gave to a group of Fulbright scholars in March this year. Tan Sri is the country's first recipient of the Fulbright scholarship. Here he shares his frank views on the racial divide, and suggests how we can enhance inter-racial, cultural and religious acceptance in Malaysia. I am sure he will welcome your comments on the issue.

Tan Sri Ani Arope delivering his keynote address.

Racial prejudice and religious bigotry have always been with us. We find it hard to talk about these topics in a cross cultural environment for fear of our emotions. Some of us would deny these things existed and would rather go into self-denial than grapple with this insidious moral and social disease in our midst. The problem unless we admit it, can balloon out of proportions. It has all the hallmarks of a major mental epidemic. We as a group who have been exposed to global cultures and have experienced first hand of these evils should help contain them from rearing up their ugly heads in our society.

It is convenient to put the blame for this prejudice and bigotry as part of the legacy of the former colonial masters. However, the reality is that much of this prejudice and bigotry is of our own making and enforced by interested parties driven by the fear-based environment. These parties need to perpetuate the prejudice and bigotry to exist, because these whether real, perceived or invented are the reasons that justify the existence of these extreme chauvinistic groups.

As a member of the endangered species, what is of concern to me is to see a more stark polarization of races in our schools and institutions of higher learning. This polarization opens the door to prejudice and bigotry amongst the various races. One group would have a sense of superiority from believing that they are members of some elitist group that is superior to others.

Unfortunately the adults at home and the mass media give support to re-enforce this sort of thinking. It is common amongst certain groups of society to believe that they are the chosen ones over the others. They refuse to recognize the worth and contributions of others.

There are enough examples of an artificial importance being placed on everyday happenings reported in the mass media. With a journalistic twist and inflection it could make it appear racial. When young riders are involved with a fight with another rider, all of the same race, it does not make news. But if one rider is beaten up and happens to be of another race, the media dresses the story up in a way that will sell fear and in so doing perpetuate racism and racial hatred. We are being re-enforced through the media, that the respective colors of the skin are more important than the crime itself.

Religious bigotry may well have been the most common form of bigotry for much of the world’s history. In parts of the world people are being persecuted to no end not just because they are of another ethnic group but of another religion as well. We read about these happenings daily in the papers.

Religious bigotry manifests itself as a holier-than-thou attitude towards others. Religious bigots have in their heads the idea that those belonging to their religious group will be saved and the rest will go to hell. They firmly believe that they and they only have a special connection with the Almighty that others lack. This in turn leads them to think that they only have His special favors and others do not.

In my jagged career path, I had occasions to visit countries where people of different religions live together and in so far as ethnicity goes, there are no physical differences between them. They speak the same language. They share a common origin and one would not be able to tell the difference from a member of one religious group from another on the street outside the mode of dress. The only difference is religion, and due to religious bigotry, they are willing to kill each other.

In the more sophisticated societies there are more subtle means of persecution than physical violence resulting from religious bigotry --- character assassinations, harassment of members of religious minorities and the people associated with them. Other members of religious minorities find themselves in the position of an outsider.

Now let us take the racial prejudices and religious bigotry on to the global scale. To these we add to the mix the concept of political correctness which has been in vogue in the last decade. We then have a new category called the ‘Axis of Evil’ which political correctness has been established to eliminate. In reality political correctness needs the ‘Axis of Evil’ so that the ‘Hate Crime’ Industry can continue to exist. Attempts to artificially combat hate, racism and terrorism have created ‘Hate Industries’ in themselves which focus on an attempt to control others. Those who are highlighting the inequality of discrimination are being called religious extremists, or worst still, terrorists.

In a multi-racial, multi-religious nation like ours, where the practice of the religion and culture of one’s choice is protected by the Constitution, there is no reason for any kind of race prejudice and religious bigotry. All of us wish to achieve the same ends, the enlightenment of the soul and well-being of mankind. These ends can be achieved, all the so much easier if there is mutual understanding, trust, respect and to practice what is universally accepted – kindness to others.

With a multi-cultural, racial and religious mix we have all the ingredients of potential social hotspots in the country. We recognize that social conflicts are inevitable, but there are strategies if we care to sit down and work them out for their resolution or at least minimize or divert them before they become unmanageable. It is important that we recognize potential hotspots as we are dealing with human lives, their jobs and their children.

There are enough hotspot indicators which we should take cognizance of. Every day we open the dailies, our computers or turn on the TV, we get reports of street demonstrations, strong public statements airing disagreements. We see increasing lack of respect for Heads of Institutions. There is open disagreement regardless of issues.

For too long we have backed away from displaying the dark side of our social problems, preferring to sweep them under the carpet. What can we do as a group to offer for avoiding and or resolving conflicts which affect our daily lives and the future of the young generation? Institutions of Higher Learning could be roped in, if they have not yet been harnessed, to help gather and analyze data and information on socio-economic matters so that honest discussions and recommendations could be made for a sound apolitical management decisions on the concerns of the people.

At the same time, acceptance and recognition of our diversity through the use of the mass media are conducive to dialogue among the various races, cultures and beliefs, promoting respect and understanding for each other. Our cultural diversity is an asset. It has intrinsic value for development as well as social cohesion and peace. Harnessing our diversity could be the driving force for development not only in respect of economic growth but also of leading a more fulfilling intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual life.

Have a re-look at the linguistic dimension for our national development. Should we not encourage our young to be multi-lingual which would give them an edge for an appropriate and harmonious use of language in our society? Furthermore, language is of strategic importance for us. Educators amongst you will agree that acquiring languages offer unique modes of thinking and expression which can be an asset to a multi-racial society such as ours.

In conclusion, whatever conflicts should not be swept under the carpet but met head on and discussed honestly about our concerns. We may disagree but we must understand that healthy disagreements would help build better decisions. We must be prepared to discuss our value systems and our priorities. We should not feel embarrassed to talk of the short-comings amongst us or the marginalized sections of our society who are not able to participate in the mainstream of society.

My students - multiracialism enriches the learning experience.

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