Archive for July, 2006


Monday, July 17th, 2006

On the 22nd of April 2006, Malaysian national television RTM ran a forum entitled: Sepet and Gubra: corruptors of Malay culture’. In it, two members of the panel had this to say:

Film producer: “This land belongs to the Malays.”

Journalist: “How can a good Muslim girl who prays and reads the Koran fall in love with a Chinese infidel?”

Now, I love this country. I believe my place is here. And though it has been frustrating at times, I have been bewildered by the tremendous wealth of potential harboured here since I came back a decade ago. That much of this potential remains untapped is something to regret – but that I can count myself among a growing community working towards the betterment if it affords me tremendous hope, and most of all, pride.

But I feel no pride for this country at the moment.

In a world bestride by mindless violence invoked in the name of God and Faith, and where bigoted demagogues prey on the ignorant and the weak, we don’t need to have more chauvinism paraded across our eyes and that of our children. Yet, there it was, racial bigotry dressed up as reasoned dialogue beamed directly into living rooms across our multi-racial domain. On prime time.

By itself, this is nothing though. One of the pre-conditions of truly enlightened societies is that even lunatics get a hearing. So I guess such incendiary nonsense ought to be tolerated as a bow to free speech. Be that as it may, the media silence in the aftermath of the RTM forum bothers me – that despite the highly belligerent nature of these statements, and with the exception of a few forward-looking media commentators, little was made of this outrage. Does that mean that the various doyens of our realm agreed with this bigoted nonsense? Or simply that they are too busy to comment? Or worse, perhaps they are too afraid to stand up and be counted? Or were they somehow prevented from responding?

It was thus eerie silence reigned while racist hawks danced gleefully to a backbeat of Mein Kampf. And it would have passed quickly too, if not for the fact that Amir Mohammad’s new documentary film ‘The Last Communist’ was banned shortly after the RTM program was aired. Now, I will leave Amir to provide you with a blow-by-blow account of that dismal event (read it here) – suffices it to say that the people who called for its ban had not even seen the film; and that our names was invoked in the course of justifying the ban…

“The public has protested” – was the reason given by the man.

What? Excuse me? The public?

But I guess if the man said so, it must be so huh? Thus you and I are supposed to have protested the screening of the film even though neither you nor I have seen it. Does it make you feel soiled that such idiocy should be exacted in your name? Well, it does me.

Truth is, the move to ban the film was instigated by one of our largest Malay language newspapers – Berita Harian. This is the same newspaper that last year led a media campaign castigating ‘Sepet’ for the film’s sympathetic portrayal of an inter-racial romance. On top of this, the paper’s assistant entertainment editor Akmal Abdullah makes it a point to regard any non-Malay films made by ‘foreign’ and ‘immigrant’ races as conspiracies to ‘destroy Malay culture’. Looked at this way, the banning of ‘The Last Communist’ could be as much due to the authorities’ phobia of communism as the result of having an ethnic Chinese as subject.

Yet again, this is nothing new. Bigotry based on misguided calls to maintain ‘racial purity’ characterised Nazi Germany and continues to be a menace all over the world today. But – call me naïve – I had thought that fear for innocent girls suffering deflowerment at the hands of the evil Doctor Fu Manchu had long since become unfashionable. I certainly hadn’t expected a major newspaper in a proudly multi-cultural country to trumpet racist nonsense as though it is a badge of honour, especially one whose country’s calling card to the world is ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’.

As if this was not enough, news then came that the Article 11 Interfaith Forum that was to take place in Penang on the 14th of May (discussing our rights under the Federal Constitution) was disrupted by a 150-strong mob and had to be abandoned. The forum comprises of 13 NGOs of various descriptions and seeks to do nothing more than provide dialogue between adherents of different faiths in Malaysia. Yet the said Constitutional discussion was not allowed to happen because someone somewhere regarded such dialogues as ‘insulting to the Prophet’.

Is this what Malaysia has become? Was I dreaming it or did the government recently appealed for more of our overseas students to come home in order to help build Malaysia? Build a Malaysia for bigots, perhaps? I don’t think so.

At this point, you might shrug, mutter a few profanities, and then let it pass. But you shouldn’t. You should write about it in your blog instead, or to your newspaper, or your MP, or call your radio station. Whatever. Make a sound. Protest the ban. Protest the discruption to Article 11 Interfaith Forum. Protest against the fact that a hugely influential newspaper in our country has a racist editor. See, if enough people do that, then perhaps this shameful episode can yet yield something good, and the Malaysia we’d love to love may yet be.

Guess I am disturbed by all this.

You should be too.