Fill Our Motherland with the Colours of Unity

By Kee Thuan Chye

“On this date, we are embarking on a move to recolour the nation’s historical canvas with colours of unity. This is our motherland. From this day on, no one can tell the Chinese to go back to China or the Indians to go back to India.”

This is the best, the most positive, people-unifying statement to come out in decades. And it did not come from a leader of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

It came from 20 civil society groups, led by Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM) headed by Badrul Hisham Shaharin and student group Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM) headed by Safwan Anang, as they marked May 13, the tragic day in 1969 when racial riots broke out and drove the races apart, with a call for an end to racism.

A teacher told me that when she read the statement reported in a newspaper, she burst into tears. It was particularly emotional for her because she had personally experienced being told to go back to China.

This was about 30 years ago when she had newly arrived in Kuala Lumpur from a small town up north, and was riding in a taxi. As she tried to explain to the taxi driver where she wanted to go in halting Malay, the man was repulsed by her lack of fluency in the national language. He bluntly told her to go back to China.

The remark shocked and humiliated her, but she was too afraid to say anything. Since then, she has lived with the wound without hope of healing. The decades that followed made it worse – as politicians of the ruling party played the race card to divide and rule, as the media reported more incidents of Chinese being told to go back to China and Indians to go back to India. As if they were not citizens of the country. As if they were merely tenants in the home they helped to build.

Even today, although the 13th general election is over, the silly season is still going strong as pro-BN figures, including a former judge and the Perak Mufti, make statements that are overtly racist and divisive.

Speaking at a forum last week, former Court of Appeal judge Mohd Noor Abdullah accused the Chinese of betraying the Malays because they largely rejected BN. He said they were plotting to seize political power.

He said, threateningly, “When the Malays are betrayed, there is a backlash and the Chinese must bear the consequences of such a backlash.” He called for the Malays and Bumiputeras to have a two-thirds presence in key sectors like education, the civil service and business. “Arrange it in such a way that from today, every business will have a 67 per cent share ready to be taken up by Malays,” he urged.

He also called for the terms “Chinese” and “Indian” to be abolished and replaced with “non-Malays” and “non-Bumiputeras”. Disdainfully, he regarded the Orang Asli as “our cousins” and the Sabah and Sarawak Bumiputeras as “our relatives” while the others “are just our neighbours because they came to menumpang (squat) here”.

This is divisive and akin to calling the Chinese and Indians pendatang (immigrants), another derogatory reference they have had to suffer. It echoes the insult former Penang Umno leader Ahmad Ismail inflicted on these communities after BN’s electoral debacle in 2008. Now, in the wake of BN’s worse performance this time, Mohd Noor appears to be an Ahmad Ismail clone. The only difference is that he’s not a politician, but it’s still not acceptable.

Politician or no, his vindictive tone contrasts starkly with that of SAMM, SMM and like-minded organisations. But more than that, Mohd Noor is patently wrong in concluding that Chinese rejection of BN amounts to a betrayal of the Malays.

You can only betray a party to whom you owe loyalty. And in a democracy, you don’t owe loyalty to any party unless you are a member of that party. And even then, you are still a citizen in your own right so you can vote against your own party if you think it has not been doing a good job. You are entitled to vote for a rival party that you think can deliver good governance.

More important, BN does not own the country or the government. It is merely the government of the day. You owe your allegiance to your country, not to BN. So all that talk of betrayal is utterly misleading.

It also shows up Mohd Noor’s blindness to the fact that many of the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat’s successful candidates representing PAS and PKR were indeed Malays and the Chinese voted for them in huge numbers. Furthermore, what did he see in the many photographs of Chinese carrying PAS flags during the election campaigning – that they were impostors pretending to be Chinese?

Mohd Noor’s shallow thinking finds an equal in that of Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria, who accused a certain community (which clearly implied the Chinese) of using Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to try and “colonise the Malays”. He even alleged that this community wanted to hapuskan (destroy) the Federal Constitution, apparently suggesting that they planned to do away with the special position of the Malays guaranteed in Article 153.

More explicit was Nazri Aziz, who has just been appointed Minister of Tourism and Culture in the newly announced Cabinet. He actually named the Chinese and said they supported Pakatan because they believed that if it won, it would abolish the special privileges enjoyed by the Malays and Bumiputeras.

But it would never have happened, he asserted, regardless of who formed the government, including Pakatan. Therefore, the Chinese had been cheated into thinking that it would.

This of course is nonsensical. No Chinese would dare to tamper with Article 153, and neither would Anwar or Pakatan agree to it. Anwar has said so repeatedly, and the Chinese know that. And certainly the Chinese are not so stupid as to be fooled into thinking that the improbable could happen, Nazri’s insult notwithstanding.

What then do we do with these negative, scare-mongering and hate-sowing statements? We know it is part and parcel of Umno and BN’s modus operandi to dish them out without regard for the consequences, and we also know that Prime Minister Najib Razak will not put a stop to them because it serves his purpose well, but can this kind of race-baiting go on indefinitely?

This is the same thought on the teacher’s mind. “For how many more generations must we face this?” she asks.

“I feel sad that this country does not accept me, but I feel sadder for my children who will still have to face the same. And I have been a teacher who has given my best to all my students, regardless of whoever they were and whatever race they belonged to.

“You won’t understand how I feel if you haven’t been told by someone what that taxi driver told me. I have lived with it for so long. It is so deep in me that when I read that statement, I broke into tears. For once, someone is telling me that I belong here.

“It has taken so many years for someone to be brave to say that. None of our leaders have said it in my entire life. I have had to wait 60 years to hear this. And I don’t know if my children will have to wait another 60 years to be truly accepted.”

Clearly, racism must end. And anyone who agrees with that must surely support the initiative that SAMM, SMM and the other organisations have set in motion.

It is noteworthy that the members of SAMM and SMM are comprised of the young. For in the young lies the hope for the future – and perhaps even the present. We have lately seen their energy and dynamism and, above all, their unity of spirit during the ‘Black 505’ rallies held in Selangor, Penang and other cities to protest against the legitimacy of the new government.

They were of all races, and they came together as Malaysians, confounding the negative drivel of the pro-BN racists. This sense of oneness and common purpose is what needs to be harnessed to bring about a new Malaysia that is colour-blind. And when the time comes, hopefully sooner than later, it should just be let loose. It should just be allowed to fill our motherland with the beautiful colours of unity.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!

  1. #1 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Friday, 17 May 2013 - 8:39 am

    I think I made this comment some yrs ago here. WTF. No matter. Let me repeat it again.

    If you were to confine a malay, a chinese and an indian in a small room for some time. What would they do?

    Tell you what. They will talk about teh tarik, football and saman kereta. And they almost certainly will speak in bahasa (unless the malay guy decided to speak in english in which case every one would follow).

    The point is we have co-existed for so long on this same piece of land that we now have enough common interests to be together.

    Umno should really take note.

  2. #2 by sotong on Friday, 17 May 2013 - 11:57 am

    If you want to be a racist, you will be a racist.

    Instead of dealing with racism, the so called ‘ leaders’ are encouraging and promoting racism….there is no quick fix.

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