Last week, we were shocked when a simple arrest of a smart phone thief (as in the phone smart, not the thief) led to a racial incident involving the Chinese and the Malays. Yeesh, you think people would wanna recuperate on Sunday to get ready for Monday, but noooo. Long story short, a guy tried to st-
😯 Sorry, sorry 😯
We don’t want to keep flogging an old horse more than you’d wanna read about it, but what we were trying to get at is the rise of extremism in the country. The Lowyat incident isn’t an example of this, but rather it was the arguable result of many groups and individuals out there spouting racist and religious views in the open that some of us might wonder if the authorities are actually supporting these people, whether directly or indirectly.
But first, what’s an “extremist”?
Extremism is generally defined as beliefs or actions that are not held by the majority of society and are usually racial, political, or religious in nature. While Malaysia claims to be a moderate country, here are five arguments which lead us to think otherwise…
1. Media allowed to be openly racist
It’s one thing when we talk about anonymous publications containing extremist views, but it’s a different story when that publication is a nationally-circulated newspaper that’s owned by UMNO. At a recent journalism forum, Utusan’s senior online editor stated that compared to other publications controlled by political parties, Utusan is transparent in acknowledging UMNO’s ownership:
“If you look at Utusan, we acknowledge that it is owned by Umno. Fifty percent of its shares is owned by Umno. … So, in terms of transparency, in terms of political ownership, we are more transparent in acknowledging that we are part of Umno.” – Gamal Nasir Mohd Ali, as quoted in The Malaysian Insider.
He also refers to Utusan as a “torch for independence”:
“I’ve been in Utusan for the past 30 years – I’ve not seen any direct interference by political parties, by Umno, in Utusan,” – Gamal Nasir Mohd Ali, as quoted in The Malay Mail Online.
That being said though, we wonder how headlines such as “Apa Lagi Cina Mahu” or reigniting the racial tension from the Lowyat incident with editorials asking for action to be taken against those who beat up the LowYat phone thief to avoid anxiety among Malay grassroots a week after the incident
“Lebih-lebih lagi seorang pemimpin politik Melayu di bahagian yang menulis komen dalam kumpulan sembang WhatsApp ditahan sedangkan para pemimpin pembangkang yang membuat kenyataan liar dan provokatif, terlepas? Mengapa kumpulan yang membelasah suspek di dalam Plaza Low Yat, tidak didakwa lagi? Inilah antara yang meresahkan akar umbi Melayu. Seorang pemimpin NGO berpesan, janganlah kerana mahu memperlihatkan ketegasan polis, Melayu dijadikan kambing hitam.” – Awang Selamat, as quoted in Utusan Malaysia.
“Furthermore, a Malay political leader who wrote comments in a WhatsApp chat group was arrested while Opposition leaders who made wild and provocative statements got away? Why hasn’t the group who beat up the suspect at Plaza Low Yat been charged? These [are some of the things] that aggravate Malay grassroots. An NGO leader reminded, don’t, for the sake of showing the assertiveness of the police, make Malays the black sheep.” – as translated by CILISOS.
2. Gomen agencies allowed to be quietly racist
Some weeks back, the Biro Tatanegara (BTN), an agency under the Prime Minister’s department came into the limelight when slides supposedly meant for “internal academic discussions” were uploaded onto their website, found, and spread online. While you might think an agency with a name like “Biro Tatanegara” might be a bunch of boring eggheads discussing the negara’s tatas, the BTN has for some time been criticized for being a “hotbed of racism and brainwashing“ after some of their closed-door events were leaked – including a 2010 incident where a senior BTN official used the words “Si Mata Sepet” and “Si Botol” to refer to Chinese and Indians.
So what were those slides about? They blamed independent book publishers and bands for promoting anti-establishment views to influence youths to vote against BN, and that “Racism can be used to unite a race for a good purpose“. For more BTN shennanigans, here are some (unverifed) accounts of what they do behind closed doors.
BTW, did we mention that these guys are under the Prime Minister’s department?
3. Leaders being friendly with extremists
The Era of the Selfie has created new rules when it comes to photos, purely because are some photos that are best left untaken and unshared in the public space – such as with dead relatives, people on life support, and overly-friendly photos with your ex-girl/boyfriend (Google them!).
These rules are even more stringent when you’re the leader of a country, since photos taken with the wrong people will raise questions – no matter how innocent the reason. So when you see the leader of our fine country shaking hands with the chairman of PERKASA, an NGO that has called for bible-burning, disrupting a vigil for a Cambodian worker who was abused to death, and for having a wikipedia page that lists more of their controversies than actual description;
Or shopping with the chairman of PPIM, group that claims swindling Malays is part of Chinese trading culture or complaining about the placement of a Hindu deity near a Halal logo on bottled water;
Or with Mohd Ali Baharom aka Ali Tinju – the dude giving the racial speech at Lowyat drama, causing the scuffle that led to the IGP advising PM Najib to FFK the Nothing2Hide dialogue, and doing butt exercises in front of Ambiga’s house in 2012.
To be fair, it’s almost impossible to not be photographed with certain people when you’re a politician… it’s just part of the job. Unless of course, you’re the Sultan of Johor. Watch this video of him giving GST hero Ahmad Maslan the cold shoulder FOUR TIMES during a handshake session.
Even President Obama got himself in hot water for taking an innocent selfie with a baseball player that was later used as promotional material for Samsung. So yea, perhaps all of these were just one-offs cause PM Najib didn’t know who he was being photographed with.
4. Country leaders saying extremist things
While photos can be misleading due to context, verbal statements are a lot harder to defend against – especially if there’s a recording. Known in latin (not really) as Footus-in-Mouthus, some of our ministers have either purposefully or inadvertently made statements that have drawn criticism from certain quarters. One recent example of this is Agriculture and Agro-based Industries minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Facebook post for Malays to boycott Chinese businesses to force them to reduce their prices.
“… Majoriti pengguna adalah melayu..cina adalah minoriti…kalau melayu boikot perniagaan mrk, mrktentu tiada pilihan utk turunkan harga…” – Part of Ismail Sabri’s post, screencap below
“The majority of consumers are Malay.. Chinese are the minority… If Malays boycott their businesses, they’ll definitely have no choice [but to] lower prices” – English Translation by CILISOS
There’s also Defence Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi’s written reply in Parliament that non-Malays avoid signing up for the military due to “low patriotism and a fear of discipline“:
“The ministry finds that the participation of non-Malays especially among the Chinese and Indians are still lacking. … The reasons (for the low participation of non-Malays) could be because of a fear towards a tight discipline. It could be because of a low spirit of patriotism. It could be because certain ethnic groups had a negative perception of the armed forces and did not encourage participation.” – Zahid Hamidi’s written reply, as quoted in The Malaysian Insider.
This reasoning has been challenged by several non-Malay ex-servicemen, which you can read here.
On the other end of the political spectrum, we also have DAP’s ban on foreign workers cooking at hawker stalls to “preserve the state’s food heritage”:
“Unlike other cities, tourists come to Penang for food, and the state government is not going to risk our tourism industry by allowing indifferent foreign workers to jeopardise the branding of delicious Penang street food.” – Lim Guan Eng, as quoted in The Star.
This is seen by some parties as discriminatory and hypocritical considering DAP’s outspoken objection to PAS’s call for a ban on all forms of entertainment to curb social ills and open criticism of PM Najib’s inability to curb racist statements from ministers.
5. A lot of these incidences do not get seditioned
Uhm… well, most of the examples we’ve listed so far will probably fall under this category so we’ll highlight this dude instead:
C’mon, did you expect an article like this to NOT include everyone’s least favorite cup of Tee?
Although Chinese himself, Ridhuan Tee is a Muslim revert known for calling non-Muslims “the uncircumcised,” coining the term “Ultra-kiasu,” generally believed to refer to the Chinese, and for inciting racial and religious hatred in his column in Sinar Harian. Here’s one example:
While many Malaysians have wondered why Ridhuan hasn’t been charged with sedition yet (he was investigated once. Once.), the authorities are pretty silent on the matter. In fact, if we could summarize how often the authorities speak up or take action against extremists in a picture, it’d look something like this:
Okayfine, if you don’t take our word for it, how about from a retired judge with 38 years serving in our legal system? Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Mohd Ismail, one of the 25 prominent Malay moderates who signed an open letter to PM Najib expressed concern that Putrajaya was not doing enough to check extremist views, adding that the situation has worsened in recent times due to “funny statements” from politicians and leaders.
Adding some gula and garam, Putrajaya also admitted that it had allocated funds to PERKASA, although the amount was no different than those received by any other NGO. This came after an admission from PERKASA during an argument with FELDA’s chairman. Oopsies.
However, it’s not that the authorities haven’t been doing anything at all… we’ve been pretty good at nabbing people people involved with the Islamic State (aka ISIS) especially since our counterterrorism director warned of imminent attacks on Malaysian soil, and even more recently, the police took action against pro-UMNO blogger Papagomo and Army veteran Ali Tinju for spreading false information and hate speech that led to the Lowyat skirmishes. In a slight turn of events, IGP Khalid, who was previously given quite a bit of hate for his policing on Twitter has cleared the air over the Lowyat incident by stating it was just a “clear case of theft“ and is now in some hot soup over accusations that he lied about the theft and that he solicited a RM20,000 bribe to settle the Papagomo case. He has launched a probe…. on himself.
Are there no moderates in Malaysia anymore??
Ach. This is a really hard question to answer. Let’s look at it from the perspective of the arrests of extremists. While we don’t agree with the Sedition Act being around in the first place, we can’t help but feel encouraged by it being used the on the other side and, evidently, some others do as well:
But that being said, things such as the Sedition Act and the blocking of websites (most recently Sarawak Report) can be argued as preventing freedom of speech, although it seems to be an unpopular opinion based on this poll we ran after #Lowyat happened.
And this is where argument lies – put laws in place to prevent people from speaking out or sharing ideas and you might end up with these laws (arguably) being misused – such as the arrest of 113 Malaysians in March for speaking out against the gomen while people like Ridhuan Tee are still making offensive statements. So maybe we should allow people to freely state their views cause afterall, we’re pretty sure that the extremists are the minority and either be drowned out by more reasonable voices or become empty cans rattling loudly. If they DO turn out to be the majority, well… there’s always emigration 😛
The good news here is that the moderates are beginning to speak up – asking for open, peaceful discussions to share views and hopefully reach a point of understanding or (better yet) agreement. We have to remember that extremism is two-sided. The louder we become in beating the extremists at their own game by returning racial or religious insults or asking for the law to silence them puts us in danger of becoming extremists ourselves.
But what are moderates to do?? You can’t expect to have peaceful discourse against a racist who’s charging at you with a parang, right?!
Well, we reckon criminal laws will work pretty well for that – like assault with a deadly weapon and maybe even damage to public property? There’s a reason why the UK has long gotten rid of its Sedition Law. In fact, rather than bring ANY laws into play, why don’t us ‘moderates’ take the moderate approach of open discussion, to try to bring these extremists back into moderation rather than push them away.
How about a “Bro… kenapa la benci orang CINA?”
Even if it fails….At least you can say you tried.