Rising racism, 53 years on

By David KL Quek

This year, I became a senior citizen. I can now withdraw my EPF savings and I qualify for some discounts for travel and surprisingly even for some buffet meals at some eateries.

But as I ponder upon ‘retirement’, it is sad to see the Malaysia that I know and live in, grows increasingly uncertain, diffident and bogged down in self-made crises, one after another.

Our previously phenomenal economic growth has now trickled down in a dizzying spiral of middle-income trap – not helped by the 2008 global financial crisis.

Our foreign direct investments have dwindled as our competitiveness, our productivity, perhaps our systemic corruption and wastage, have now been exposed and called into question.

Even our inborn entrepreneurs are investing overseas because of the uncertain future and shifting policies, which have made us face the truth of our competitiveness and value as a nation.

Instead of maturing gracefully, we appear to have become trapped in a petulant phase of angry adolescence breaking out senselessly to attack convenient bogeymen -race and religion appear to have become the easy targets, which breed even more political and economic uncertainty.

As a fourth generation Malaysian, I was born two and a half years before our fateful Merdeka. I am still wondering whether we are truly ‘liberated’ as befits the meaning of ‘Merdeka’, so gloriously proclaimed by our Bapa Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, in 1957.

That Merdeka was to have ushered in the birth of what some would have called ‘an unlikely nation’, one that appeared cobbled together in a slapdash manner, juxtaposing a disparate if hodgepodge peoples – predominantly Malays, Chinese and Indians- and akin to mixing oil in water. Yet again, does any one in such serendipitous circumstance have that conscious sense of history and historicity of these singular moments?

To be fair, even then, no one dared to dream that the idea of Malaya and later Malaysia could succeed. But truth be told, we did do very well for so many years, becoming one of the rising ‘Asian tigers’. It’s just these recent years that we have foundered and perhaps lost a little faith in ourselves.

So many other post-colonial new nations had self-destructed in interethnic, religious or tribalistic clashes and conflagrations. We nearly did in May of 1969.

But good sense and firm actions created a novel social re-engineering feat (the NEP) in its wake, to bring about some semblance of order, reasonable interethnic tolerance and suppressed racial tensions.

For the next four decades, we have lived a reasonably harmonious if distinct existence, although seething fault-lines appear now and again to threaten the veneer of our touted ‘Truly Asian’ unity among our unique pastiche of colourful normalcy.

Forty years hence, ratcheted-up rhetoric is beginning to sunder this extraordinary relationship. Polarised insistence on continued affirmative action in stylised if arbitrary terms, remains a bone of contention, which powerfully fans the embers of resurgent ethnic fears and pride.

Sadly, as we celebrate this auspicious anniversary, we seemed mired in increasingly rabid and insulting racism, which greatly threatens our flimsy unity and contrasting diversity.

Extremist leaders continue to spew so much hurtful invectives that these would have shamed the most neo-Nazi right-wingers, the world over. Most modern societies would have punished such hate-mongers if not for their senseless racial baiting but then for their ad hominem attacks on just about anyone who dares to challenge their warped if narrow worldview.

Perhaps the media can play their roles better by downplaying these media hounds, whose purposes are so sickening and depraved.

Racist rhetoric

It appears that more and more politicians are flogging the twisted if populist concept of ethnic supremacy and extraordinary rights (of ethnic ketuanan) once again, as if to bolster their public images as racial champions. The loudest and the most strident appear to be those who are now commanding the greatest publicity and arguably some perverse following.

Our authorities appear timorous in not wanting to directly confront these vociferous bullies, for fear of some unintended backlash. But in so doing, the government loses even more credibility. The government of the people must serve as a fearless just arbiter of a firm and respected Leviathan, and not be held ransom by some mindless minority.

There cannot be distorted applications of the rule of law, where any one can flaunt and challenge the wisdom of the law, at wanton will. There seems to be no more respect for anyone else except for the self-righteous bully pulpit arrogance of voluble tyrants disgorging more and more hatred and painfully shrill racist ideologies to the hilt.

Freedom of speech implies rational discourse and debate, not threatening and insulting rantings. It certainly does not absolve anyone of despicable spewing and inciting of ethnic or religious intimidation or hatred.

But who really is to blame for the recent rise in racist rhetoric?

It appears that some components of the government are still pushing the propaganda machine to perpetuate the concept of racial supremacy and denigrating all other ethnic groups.

The Biro Tata Negara (BTN, National Civics Bureau) instead of instilling national civic consciousness, appears to relish in inculcating and indoctrinating any civil servant or would be scholarship holder, in a time-warped belief system that only the Malays are true patriots and truly deserving of their Malaysianness.

This is still happening 50-odd years following Merdeka, and one wonders why non-bumiputeras don’t sometimes feel any greater sense of belonging to this nation of ours.

Surprisingly such BTN programmes appear to have been a ‘recent’ phenomenon. My sister and brother-in-law who are senior government servants in the Ministries of Education and Higher Education respectively claimed never to have been subject to such gross demeaning indoctrination or abuse – perhaps, they too have been too polite, too programmed, to acknowledge. It did not take place when I was a clinical lecturer for seven years at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in the 1980s and early 1990s.

But as MMA president, I have received some angry verbal complaints (many are traumatised, frightened and do not want to be quoted for fear of reprisals) that even non-bumiputera junior medical specialists and house officers, who aspire to join the service or to be confirmed, are currently subject to physical and mental abuse. Mind you, these are not students of impressionable age, but grown men and women in their twenties and thirties.

Some have been made to squat and huddle together in front of other bumiputera peers, rudely woken at early mornings, shouted at, called pendatang, usurpers of scholarships and positions, depriving the true bumiputeras of their places and rights, told in uncertain terms that they are here only at the behest and kindly generosity of the bumiputeras, and that they can always ‘go home’ or balik kampung which means China or India.

Groups have been bullied into subordinating to and acknowledging the official ‘dogma’, or risk having the entire group not ‘passing the course’. Do these utterances ring a bell?

Less than a year and a half ago, one young returning teacher broke down from such radical abuse and hazing, that her family decided to pull her out, repaying the loan in full – enough is enough! So can we not see how this will perpetuate the cycle of blatant racial baiting and hatred when these ‘officers’ return to their respective services, after such provocative BTN courses?

Mustn’t such propaganda stop? Is the government truly sincere in wishing to stem such state-endorsed racism? Is this government truly espousing the 1Malaysia concept for whatever it is worth?

Last year, Minister in the PM’s Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz acknowledged that the BTN must be overhauled. He had revealed that courses by the BTN were racially divisive and used to promote certain government leaders. While Nazri was bold enough to expose this, he was nearly alone in defending the need to overhaul the BTN courses.

Most of the ruling elite, including the deputy premier had sided with those who refused to acknowledge Nazri’s contention that the BTN was a mockery of the 1Malaysia concept. Of course, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad joined in and insisted there was no need to revamp the BTN courses, which led Nazri to call the former PM a “bloody racist”, even conferring on Dr M the title “the father of all racists”.

So are we surprised that Perkasa, school teachers and principals, public officers, resort to such ‘ingrained’ behaviour, notwithstanding the so-called ‘provocation ‘ from their charges, their students, who must surely be so ‘insensitive’ as to other’s religious practices?

Pursue the perpetrators

Yet, when called upon to investigate such racist behaviours, the authorities appear to be dragging their feet, and instead concentrate with such efficiency to question and charge a rapper (NameWee) who merely was bold and foolhardy enough to serve as a conduit to expose these wrongdoings.

Can the police and authorities not see the biasness of their actions, by pursuing the messenger and not the perpetrator of possible crimes?

Can the authorities not understand why thinking Malaysians and non-bumiputeas are beginning to feel persecuted and discriminated against, more and more, despite utterances to the contrary by our political leaders?

Can the authorities not understand why more and more disgruntled non-bumiputeas are making a beeline to emigrate whenever and wherever they can – hardship, uprooting displacement and starting over, notwithstanding? This has got nothing to do with patriotism, when one is constantly told that he or she is unequal as a citizen, and that they are unwanted.

Can every Malaysian non-bumiputera truly feel that he or she has a fair and reasonable share of this piece of earth called Malaysia? Do our authorities truly appreciate talent, merit or worth of any non-bumiputera at all, or is this mere lip service? Can they not see the hollowness and insincerity of their pronouncements – when we can hardly see the ‘walk’ from the ‘talk’?

Such crescendos of racist ravings seriously undermine the carefully constructed dream of a true Malaysian nation, shattering the much-bandied ‘unity’ slogan already so tattered among our terribly troubled diversity.

Hurtful cries to demonise and belittle other races as unequal, pendatang and lesser than themselves cannot but help demoralise every peace-loving non-bumiputera Malaysian who aspires for a better tomorrow, a better Malaysia.

We fully recognise the special position of the bumiputeras, but as non-bumiputeras we also increasingly demand our rightful place in this nation of ours. Lest it is forgotten, our position is also enshrined in the constitution. This is not arrogance, but a statement of fact as a human right of any citizen.

We do have a long way to go. We have many mindsets to change, to engage, to dialogue with in sincerity and humility, so that race and religion cannot be made a bogeyman for every travail or challenge that the country is facing.

We have our work cut out for us, but as rational Malaysians, we must all try even harder to persuade the government to be one for all Malaysians and not for mere sloganeering alone or for any one racial group.

We must flush out all closet racists. We must instead cultivate greater rational discourse and dialogue without preconditions of threats and top-down dictates. We need to work on closer cross-ethnic cooperation, tolerance and acceptance so that together we are truly more than the sum of our rich individual strength and heritage.

We must nurture greater cohesiveness by lowering the tempo and temperature of racial baiting and shrill cries and rhetoric of ethnic pride and irrational fear-mongering. We must work towards greater confidence of sharing and building and not engage in divisive dismantling bigotry based on artificial barriers of so-called ethnic or religious sensitivities.

This government must be seen to act without fear or favour, by espousing fair and just policies, by directly confronting and stemming the tide of racism and racial-baiting. Divisive ravings drive uncertainty and suppress confidence. We need to reverse such negative rhetoric if we wish to improve the climate for economic buoyancy in this country.

By staying the course of inept inattention, we stand to lose our global competitiveness even more, as we Malaysians lose confidence in ourselves and our grip on the future.

We must do this right and soon, or risk losing everything! 53 years hence, and Merdeka then would have been in vain.

“We came into the world like brother and brother, And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.” – William Shakespeare, in the closing couplet of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ [V.i.425-26]

DR DAVID KL QUEK was the editor-in-chief of the MMA News (bulletin of the Malaysian Medical Association) for 11 years and is currently president of the MMA.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 11:25 am

    In the end, the problem of racism is not individuals or the people. The BN govt created this. More accurately the Mahathirist govt mutated us, took slight human flaws and exagerate it by genetically modifying the social DNA so the flaw into this huge obcenity right into the middle of our society.

    I will bet anyone if the govt get out of the business of race, we will take care of the problem not of our own EVEN if we are already mutated. What we are today is unnatural. It is not us and we are better than what our cynically leaders think we are.

  2. #2 by johnnypok on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 12:01 pm

    We must admit that Chinese also fight among themselves over money and position. They also use all kinds of dirty tactics to kill each other, especially over money and business monopoly.

    If the present government continues to be unfair and corrupt, sooner or later civil-unrest will erupt.

    BN is a good concept. Unfortunately, money has destroyed the minds of those in power, to the extend that they no longer fear their individual Gods. Money become their Gods.

    We are moving towards a rather precarious situation, and if the PM continues to show his weakness, God knows what will happen even before the year ends.

  3. #3 by Tikus Belanda on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 12:03 pm

    This song was something about the country that we used to condemn for her racial atrocities. Now can change the lyrics to meant what we are going through here :

    Well Jo’anna she runs a country
    She runs in Durban and the Transvaal
    She makes a few of her people happy, oh
    She don’t care about the rest at all
    She’s got a system they call apartheid
    It keeps a brother in a subjection
    But maybe pressure can make Jo’anna see
    How everybody could a live as one

    Gimme hope, Jo’anna
    Hope, Jo’anna
    Gimme hope, Jo’anna
    ‘Fore the morning come
    Gimme hope, Jo’anna
    Hope, Jo’anna
    Hope before the morning come

    I hear she make all the golden money
    To buy new weapons, any shape of guns
    While every mother in black Soweto fears
    The killing of another son
    Sneakin’ across all the neighbours’ borders
    Now and again having little fun
    She doesn’t care if the fun and games she play
    Is dang’rous to ev’ryone


    She’s got supporters in high up places
    Who turn their heads to the city sun
    Jo’anna give them the fancy money
    Oh to tempt anyone who’d come
    She even knows how to swing opinion
    In every magazine and the journals
    For every bad move that this Jo’anna makes
    They got a good explanation


    Even the preacher who works for Jesus
    The Archbishop who’s a peaceful man
    Together say that the freedom fighters
    Will overcome the very strong
    I wanna know if you’re blind Jo’anna
    If you wanna hear the sound of drums
    Can’t you see that the tide is turning
    Oh don’t make me wait till the morning come


  4. #4 by dawsheng on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 12:26 pm

    Why are we worry about a bunch of minority who hold power as government and abuse its institutions, control the mainstream media and having a few village idiots “wayang” here and there? You should be very worry if BN won a resounding victory in the next general election.

  5. #5 by dagen on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 12:45 pm

    Hey hey hey.

    Who took cintanegara’s rambutan?

    Pls return it immediately.

    Umnoputras are fussing over that missing rambutan so pls if anyone here has taken it pls return it quickly.

  6. #6 by k1980 on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 1:05 pm

    //Who took cintanegara’s rambutan?//

    What’s the point of returning it? Like chengho’s rambutans, they can’t be stitched back.

  7. #7 by yhsiew on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 1:09 pm

    ///Rising racism, 53 years on///

    That is not at all surprising since we are ruled by a racist party which propagates race supremacy and ethnocentrism.

  8. #8 by sheriff singh on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 1:19 pm

    It started when we gave handicaps.
    The people got used to the handicaps.
    They want the handicaps to remain forever.
    They want to be permanently handicaps.

    Then they want to be the boss.
    Then they want to be forever the boss.
    They must be permanently the boss.
    No matter what they must be the boss.

    When you have things like these in place
    It can be difficult to be happy.
    There are too many obstacles in place
    Can these issues be addressed head on.
    Can everyone be put at ease and live in harmony?

  9. #9 by k1980 on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 1:38 pm

    Lessons from History (wikipedia)

    The Fall of the Ottoman Empire (1299- 1923) can be attributed to the failure of its economic structure, with the size of the Empire creating difficulties integrating its diverse regions economically. Also, the Empire’s communication technology was not developed enough to reach all territories. In many ways, the circumstances surrounding the Ottoman Empire’s fall closely paralleled those surrounding the Decline of the Roman Empire, particularly in the ongoing tensions between the Empire’s different ethnic groups, and the various governments’ inability to deal with these tensions.

    At the height of its power, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the empire spanned three continents controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OttomanEmpireIn1683.png

    Today it is reduced to the single state of Turkey.

  10. #10 by k1980 on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 1:51 pm

    • RACISM (noun)
    The noun RACISM has 2 senses:

    1. the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races
    2. discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race

    World English Dictionary
    racism or racialism — n
    1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
    2. abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief

    Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

    racism definition

    The belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them. In the United States, racism, particularly by whites against blacks, has created profound racial tension and conflict in virtually all aspects of American society. Until the breakthroughs achieved by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, white domination over blacks was institutionalized and supported in all branches and levels of government, by denying blacks their civil rights and opportunities to participate in political, economic, and social communities.

  11. #11 by edsoo on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 4:02 pm

    Mr Quek Thank you for your article, which i enjoyed reading.

    I am reminded of the words of Kahlil Gibran, my favourite poet, in “The Prophet”: “And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge, And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love”.

    Since you quoted Shakespeare, i will add: “We all know that something is rotten in the state of Malaysia”.

    Unfortunately, many express their dismay, anger, and frustration without proper “knowledge” and reasoned thinking – such expression is “blind”. (if you read the ranting that goes on in most blogs you would know what i mean.)

    Then there are those, who will talk but do nothing (no “work”) – and their knowledge is in vain.

    And the few who actually do something like saudara Lim Kit Siang (with due respect and prior apologies saudara Lim Kit Siang) – sometimes, don’t do it with love, compassion and empathy. Even if our views are “right” – let us remember that there is another human being on the receiving end. Meritocracy must also be tempered with compassion.

    In my own small way, i am participating in this debate. Please see http://www.negaraku5707.com.my for a project i did in 2007 with the Five Arts centre and TEC Asia.

    Also this year i started a restaurant Four Seas with the menufesto “Within the Four Seas, All Men are Brothers”.

    And for Malaysia Day, i am organising Malaysiaku Celebrating Malaysia Day at Bangkung Row (search “Malaysiaku” on FB).

    Mr Quek, Do come and join us on this Malaysiaku celebration, i would like to meet you, and see how we can work together to better this beautiful country.

    Happy retirement.

  12. #12 by haneasme on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 6:50 pm


    Ini baru betul. the writer wrote b using his head ada logik. Never touch people sensitive feeling, these i consider artikel yang bernas.

    Para komentator pula for the first time are gentlement. No insult was thrown. Keep it up

  13. #13 by negarawan on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 11:02 pm

    “But as MMA president, I have received some angry verbal complaints (many are traumatised, frightened and do not want to be quoted for fear of reprisals) that even non-bumiputera junior medical specialists and house officers, who aspire to join the service or to be confirmed, are currently subject to physical and mental abuse. Mind you, these are not students of impressionable age, but grown men and women in their twenties and thirties.

    Some have been made to squat and huddle together in front of other bumiputera peers, rudely woken at early mornings, shouted at, called pendatang, usurpers of scholarships and positions, depriving the true bumiputeras of their places and rights, told in uncertain terms that they are here only at the behest and kindly generosity of the bumiputeras, and that they can always ‘go home’ or balik kampung which means China or India.”

    David, first of all, thank you for your well written article which reflects the sad and shocking state of our country today. Nobody wants to see their children go through this type of experience. This is Najib’s 1Malaysia, a policy which is only very sweet in words, but the very opposite in reality.

  14. #14 by tuahpekkong on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 11:28 pm

    UMNO politicians, their cronies and accomplices are the greatest beneficiaries of the NEP, much to the detriment of the poor, especially the poor kampung Malays and the pribumis living in the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak. Having enjoyed these self accorded rights for such a long period of time, they become very territorial and would not tolerate the slightest criticizm. They would resort to every means in order to perpetuate their hold onto power and their continued misuse of power. I doubt another 53 years are sufficient to change their mindsets.

  15. #15 by k1980 on Saturday, 4 September 2010 - 1:35 pm


    tuahpekkong, you should had told jibby that when he visited your temple in Sibu

  16. #16 by undergrad2 on Sunday, 5 September 2010 - 8:25 am

    If you ask whether racism has left us, the answer would be a resounding “no”.

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