Déjà vu

Kapil Sethi
The Malay Mail Online
September 19, 2013

SEPT 19 — Enforcement officers attempt to demolish parts of a Hindu shrine. The row over the use of the word Allah intensifies. Sermons proclaim that the social contract is non-negotiable. More travellers die in express buses. A headmistress in Shah Alam asks her Chinese pupils to go back to China. The prime minister hopes that Utusan Malaysia continues to prosper. It comes to light that some schools are installing CCTVs in toilets.

Rewind to approximately three years ago. A temple is to be relocated. People bring a cow’s head and desecrate it. A High Court judgement allows Christians to use the word Allah and a firestorm erupts. The NEM is revealed, roundly criticised for diluting the social contract and promptly shelved. More travellers die in express buses. A headmistress in Johor asks her Chinese pupils to go back to China. Utusan Malaysia continues its rhetoric. There are calls in Terengganu for 1 Malaysia toilets to be used by both sexes.

While it looks like that in addition to road safety and privacy, in the area of race and religious relations there is no change, in reality it points to a deterioration rather than stasis. Instead of broad social cohesion punctuated by a few incidents of chauvinism, the situation seems to be turning on its head.

Instead of a gradual levelling of the playing field and an emphasis on merit and needs over communal privilege given the steady economic rise of Malaysia, what is being witnessed is growing stridency in asserting the permanence of majority privileges fuelling rising discontent among the minority.

But is this deterioration in race and religious relations in Malaysia mirrored elsewhere? Are the economy and public policy impacted by this, even the wider political system?

After the last elections, the electorate is evenly divided in terms of their support for the two major coalitions, but there are significant deviations in terms of race, age, income and geography. There is a definite hardening of attitudes between the races, with stereotypical representations of a majority community under attack on one side and a victimised minority on the other being given prominence. Issues of justice, education and electoral fairness are also coloured by the same lens.

The political elites, especially in Umno awaiting elections, are retreating into a racial cocoon, with the very concept of BN seemingly reduced to a sideshow with the pathetic showing of MCA and MIC at the hustings. The reported return of PAS to leadership by the ulama is the opposite side of the same coin. However hard as DAP tries, its history leads it to be painted as a Chinese party.

The economic scenario is not exempt either. All economic indicators point to a worsening of Malaysia’s macroeconomic position, national and household debt ballooning largely due to domestic factors and stocks and currency declining largely due to external headwinds. In this scenario, instead of working towards more prudent spending, reducing corruption or promoting growth oriented investment, racial issues are hogging the headlines. Some groups want preferential rentals on the basis of race from mall owners or racial quotas in the award of Petronas contracts, while others want casinos closed and the redevelopment of heritage markets like Jalan Alor on racial lines.

Race and religion clearly are defining the current discourse to the point of becoming a reference of sorts for almost every debate of national importance. The key to real transformation in every area of Malaysian endeavour may lie in improving race relations on the basis of equality rather than superiority.

Privately every race can believe in its supremacy, but if the aim is to become a developed nation by 2020 where the poorest are assisted, the brightest are encouraged and innovators are feted, in public life, equal respect is a must.

Unfortunately the current national leadership seems intent on taking the country in exactly the opposite direction. The long-term consequences on the economy, society and indeed the idea of nationhood premised on unity in diversity could be catastrophic.

Of course this obsession with what goes on in toilets is a matter for another analysis altogether.

  1. #1 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 9:19 am

    If you can trust Najib at all, then you can trust anybody…… brigands, buffalos, brutes and Barbie dolls.

    Fishmongers say the fish rot begins at its head.

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 9:50 am

    Y r there ppl who keep thinking or anticipating dat UmnoB top dogs can change fr Aku Melayu 2 Aku Malaysian?
    Give up lah! It’s in their DNA 2 create racial tension and 2 exploit Malay-based cash aid 2 enrich themselves
    Déjà vu

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 10:22 am

    The fact of matter is Najib is indulging in building personal political capital at the expense of our national interest. Its not even the point. The point really is that HE IS SIMPLY DAMAGINGLY WRONG..

    Firstly the urgency of reform is never more given the expected slowing growth or maybe even worst. He is using up valuable resources, whether its removing subsidies, taxes or debt capacity for his personal and UMNO’s self-absorbed goals. Resources that should go towards building real capacity and building reserves for the future. Without those capacity in the future, the very people he says he is helping will find themselves even worst off when fortunes change or reverse.

    But even more damaging is that his recent statements about economics shows how he is failing at all to even understand. What we have is a reprieve from our problems because the big economies of US, Europe and China is unable to deal with their difficult reforms. Eventually they would have to face the consequences of their failures and if we do not deal with ours, WE pay the price with them..Instead he and UMNO is indulging in arguing against problems and for delaying the hard choices.

    It will be Deja Vu – back to the early 1970s where they warned about these kinds of behaviour from the start..

  4. #4 by yhsiew on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 10:26 am

    ///Race and religion clearly are defining the current discourse to the point of becoming a reference of sorts for almost every debate of national importance.///

    The race/religion card game is the key to staying on in power besides enriching self and cronies, thus killing two birds with one stone!

  5. #5 by sheriff singh on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 10:43 am

    ‘ … Race and religion … ‘.

    I think the writer is just afraid to say it but generally, what he really meant is ‘Malays and non-Malays’ and ‘Muslims and non-Muslims’.

    I really don’t think that non-Malays and non-Muslims have problems with each other, generally speaking.

  6. #6 by Di Shi Jiu on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 11:02 am

    Kapil Sethi,

    Exploiting race and religion for political gain is a no-brainer – the tactic works very effectively in cementing in the leadership of a political organisation.

    The tactic allows the leadership to enjoy all it’s ill-gotten gains whilst the rank-and-file can be easily fobbed off by telling them that all their problems are due to the other races and/or the non-believers.

    The race-religion trick has been used all over the world and right throughout time, eg many current African countries, many of the current “Stan” states, Nazi Germany, the Manchus, the ancient Romans, the theocratic states of ancient Sth American civilisations, etc.

    UMNO/BN is simply re-using a time-tested strategy and putting it’s own finishing touches to it.

    For as long as Malaysia is divided along the lines of race and religion, UMNO/BN will be in power.

    We, the rakyat, bumis and non-bumis, Muslims and non-Muslims, are the ones who suffer while the small, tightly knitted UMNO/BN elite grow fat from our blood, our sweat and our tears.

  7. #7 by boh-liao on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 11:32 am

    Some of them big fat filthy greedy rich UmnoB kaki even blatantly STOLE d fish abt 2 b put into d mouths of HARDCORE poor Malays
    $$ meant 4 HARDCORE poor Malays was shamelessly stolen/robbed by rich UmnoB kaki
    N they continue 2 hv more $$ channeled 2 NEP 4 them 2 steal, jiak ka liau

  8. #8 by boh-liao on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 5:22 pm

    Just ask d candidates paraded by UmnoB – which 1 is not CORRUPT, pls raise your hand

  9. #9 by tuahpekkong on Friday, 20 September 2013 - 10:22 pm

    How can we have harmonious race relations when the Chinese and Indians are constantly being reminded of the places their ancestors came from; were asked what more the Chinese wanted by the totally irresponsible Utusan Malaysia; not given a fair chance to study at public Universities etc. UMNO has certainly swerved drastically to the right and turned more radical after the recent GE.

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