– Tony Pua
The Malaysian Insider
April 26, 2014
Dear President Barack Obama,
Welcome to my country, my home, my beautiful Malaysia.
We Malaysians are extremely proud that an American president, the first in 48 years, decided to visit our humble country.
Although you are an American, Malaysians together with the rest of the world celebrated with you when you won the historic presidential election in 2008.
To quote your predecessor, President George Bush, your “journey represents a triumph of the American story”.
I was personally moved and inspired by your victory acceptance speech in Chicago, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer… at this defining moment, change has come to America.”
Hence you would surely remember and appreciate the struggles of African Americans in the history of the United States for freedom, justice and equality.
Article 1, Section 2 of 1787 first constitution of the United States had defined African-Americans as “three-fifths of a person”.
In the landmark US Supreme Court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), it was decided that African-Americans, whether slave or free, could not be American citizens.
Even after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery by the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1865), the white supremacists had subverted the objective of these changes by using various strategies to disfranchise their black citizens.
The subversion of the US Constitution was even endorsed directly and indirectly by the presidents and the Congress of the era to enforce segregation and discrimination.
It is only through the continued political efforts of the African-American civil rights movements in the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in the Civil Rights Act (1964), which outlawed discrimination, based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, in workplaces and by facilities that served the general public.
Four decades later, the world witnessed the inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States.
We were inspired, and we celebrated because in Malaysia, we face very similar challenges, challenges which we are still struggling to overcome.
Minority races in the country are discriminated politically, socially and economically.
No Malaysian can ever imagine the possibility of a non-Malay ever becoming the prime minister of the country.
Race and religious issues are exploited extensively and openly to entrench the powers of the ruling elite.
Civil liberties are curbed via a web of Draconian laws, with the complicity and collusion of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
The late Karpal Singh, the former chairman of my party, was found guilty of sedition, for simply expressing our Federal Constitution.
The government even wanted him jailed for the “offense”, even though he was pretty much paralysed from the waist down.
The leader of the opposition, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been politically and unjustly persecuted and previously jailed since 1998.
Even I myself am under the threat of being disqualified as a member of Parliament and risk being jailed for up to 2 years if I were to be found guilty of “illegal assembly” for taking part in a peaceful candlelight vigil.
What’s more, religious freedom in the country is becoming increasingly suppressed, with religious extremism rearing its ugly head.
Malaysia is the only country in the world where the term “Allah” is deemed exclusive to Muslims, a position which our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has openly endorsed.
Malay-language Bibles have been seized. The Church is currently prosecuted in the Courts while religious leaders are being outrageously investigated for sedition.
Mr President, needless to say, I am certain your diplomatic corps would have also brief you on the extensive corrupt practices as well as abuses of power by our government to enrich the influential elite and their cronies.
53% of Malaysians voted for a change of government in the last general election held a year ago.
Unfortunately, due to extensive gerrymandering, media manipulation as well as corrupt electoral practices, the aspirations of change by the ordinary Malaysians could not be achieved.
Hence it is our hope that your visit will not just be about “trade-relations”, the diplomatic euphemism for “profit maximization”, and “regional security”.
Malaysians hope that your visit to Malaysia can be a beacon of light in these difficult times.
We hope that you will be able to share your personal journey and the fight by great American leaders against institutionalized racism and discrimination to make it possible for you to become elected as the president of United States, the leader of the free world.
Malaysians too, dream of the day discrimination, marginalization and segregation by race, religion, colour and sex will be a thing of the past, and all Malaysians will be given equal opportunities and just treatment.
Mr President, with all due respect, we do not need you to visit our country to tell us that our country is a standout example of moderation, because it is not.
Or for you to praise our government that it is a model plural society living in peace and harmony, because it is a façade.
We need you, Mr President, to speak of the universal virtues of humankind, of the principles your forefathers upheld and sacrificed for.
We want you to speak of the importance of basic human rights, equality, freedom and fundamental democratic principles.
We want to know that the president of United States still believe in the protection and promotion of civil liberties throughout the world – those very liberties which allowed you to be in your position today.
We hope, Mr President, you will carry on the legacy of one of the world’s best loved civil rights activist, Dr Martin Luther King, who believed in non-violent civil disobedience.
You have rightly honoured his achievements in your speech celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr King’s famous speech in November last year. You told us:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“…We rightly and best remember Dr King’s soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions, how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.
“…and because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed. Because they marched, America became more free and more fair…”
We Malaysians hope that you, Mr President will share your dreams with Malaysians and the rest of the world, just as Dr King did so with Americans, in that “soaring oratory”, where he said:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
Mr President, Malaysians have a dream too, and we hope, from the bottom of our hearts, you will share our dreams.
Thank you, Mr President. We hope you will enjoy our acclaimed Malaysian hospitality. – April 26, 2014.
* Tony Pua is a member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara and DAP’s National Publicity Secretary.