The Rhetoric of Race

Young lawyer Parveen Kaur Harnam must have been prompted the recent Kongres Maruah Melayu (Malay Dignity Congress) to pen this piece. Check it out.

Parveen Kaur Harnam
By Parveen Kaur Harnam | OPINION | MALAYSIA |

Recently there was a meeting of sorts: a congress, where some of us were regarded as foreigners – the subject of vitriol – although born and bred on this very soil. When I read that there was a food-poisoning “epidemic” after the event, an age-old adage came to mind “You reap what you sow”. Perhaps that is malignant of me, but it’s disturbing to think that something like this could garner support, from university students, no less.

The lies being told at that congress, masked as a “vision” for the people who attended it makes my skin crawl. What is a lie? According to the Cambridge English dictionary to lie is “to say or write something that is not true in order to deceive someone”. Have the attendees been deceived? It appears so, but they will never admit it.

I remember a time when politicians, even those who referred to religion, like Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who never used race as a weapon, never once mentioned the oft-mentioned, but non-existent “social contract” (the term has questionable roots, now commonly attributed to Abdullah Ahmad, a former member of parliament, whose derivation of Rousseau’s Social Contract Theory honestly leaves much to be desired– it is not from a credible source nor official document – most people are referring to Wikipedia when they believe it is legitimate). If anyone were diligent enough to open the Malaysian Federal Constitution, or rather just google “Federal Constitution”, it would become clear that there is no provision, not a single mention of a social contract.

Are we not citizens? When did we become strangers in our own land? It seems as though this has been going on forever. A political tool is what we have become. To sow dissonance, to gather support – take your pick. Any day of the season, what suits “their” agenda.

Who is “they”? “They” are politicians who fail to subscribe to the principles of our society: equality, diversity and interdependence. They instead use certain sectors of society for political motives, as easy targets. The question is: why? Why do this when it causes uproar, when it causes discontent, when it puts a strain in the fibre of our society? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

The answer, I think, is quite simple: it is because doing so is easier than coming up with concrete solutions to the many issues in Malaysia, the paramount of which is education and poverty (where we are in dire need to update the Housing Income Survey (HIS) to account for the statistically invisible like Orang Asli settlements, disabled persons, foreign workers and refugees – this is to reflect the true status quo and subsequently be able to come up with solutions).

Without having to deal with this kind of nitty-gritty, without having to consider the promises made, this kind of politics plays at ingrained biases, stokes xenophobia to win support – and it works, right? So, why bother solving problems in the nation? No need to worry that the World Bank says “Malaysia’s civil service has stagnated”, that the Selangor water crisis has been a pandemic for as long as I can remember, why worry that the leader of our nation went for the United Nations General Assembly and had not much to show for? We, after all, failed to ratify the ICERD or the Rome Statute (To what end? For what reason, we may never know – ignorance is bliss). No need to fret over the fact that our protectionist policies might be drag on trade, and we definitely do not need to be concerned about the US-China trade war: this does not affect our trade-reliant country at all (I am being facetious, of course).

This is the news that has been dominating our headlines. In other frontiers, a young girl uttered the words “How dare you?”, instigating a maelstrom of reactions, dominating the international conversation this past week and her sharp question incessantly repeated on online media and in print.

In uttering those three words, Greta exposed the lies of climate crisis, the deception of political actions (or rather inactions). The same question could in fact be posed for a range of different issues, and the same unfolding of deception would be apparent. Even Greta is not safe from backlash, so many have tried to simplify the complexity of her message, liquefying it and reducing it to fodder for trolls, without ever bothering to read the IPCC Climate Report. Shooting the messenger has become a fashion all over the world.

These are real issues, climate change is real, economic downturn is real, poverty is real. Certain members of society who have a different skin colour needing to be ostracized – is not real.

When will the rhetoric of race be put in the back burner or rather buried altogether? When will we focus on growing our nation, on implementing change? Shall we all just dream to leave the country, is that the way to go?

Clearly not. No matter how Malaysia treats me, I would choose it over a foreign land any day. As a young child, I was in the UK and suffered the worst form of racism. Most days in school was an exercise in torture, the many comments of “my people” living in trees, of us lacking civilisation.

This is not what Malaysia is. In fact, there are a number of things that are more advanced in Malaysia than even the UK. One of them being our growth, we are growing every year whereas the UK is stagnant, the same as it was eternities ago: no change, mouldy Victorian housing, a lack of openness to technology, movies that reach the cinema long after everyone around the world has watched it and now Boris Johnson. But, I digress.

With the year more or else coming to a close, I can’t help but wonder: what has Malaysia achieved in 2019? There seems to be only one saving grace, that our GDP is growing. This is what I will think about when there is more race-based garble thrown at us next week.

Parveen Kaur Harnam is a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer. The article must have been prompted the Kongres Maruah Melayu (Malay Dignity Congress) on 6 Oct 2019 in Shah Alam, Malaysia

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



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