Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Racism and Politics

The nice thing about not being at work is that I feel less inclined to read blogs and newspapers. That way I don't get pissed off or depressed by what I read. The bad thing is, blog posting goes down the toilet because nothing happens when I'm off work. There's only so many "I fed the cat and played WoW today" type posts that I could write before I get bored.

Before I begin my rant, I would like to share some nice things first. Marina Mahathir wrote another nice article last week. She's very cool that way.

Also, the Star is carrying some stories about the upcoming election. I urge people to read those stories. There are quite "human", not of your usual political rhetoric stuff. I especially urge those who are not from here to read more into those stories. In them, you will find hints that although Sarawak is part of Malaysia, East and West are so, so different, both socially and culturally.

Which brings me to the topic.

I found out that Amir Muhammad's Lelaki Komunis Terakhir got banned because according the minister who was responsible for it, the "public" protested. Personally I think if he had changed the title and removed the word "Komunis", Amir would have gone through a lot less trouble. After all, according to the Censorship Board, there was nothing wrong with the content.

But, there is something else under the surface there. Apparently, some local newspapers didn't like the film because the subject matter and the lead character is an ethnic Chinese.

There it is again people. Racism. I read this and this and got even more sad. Sad because I've seen things like this before though. But strangely enough, not in Kuching.

I lived in Semenanjung for 5 years while I studied there and one of the most shocking things I've experienced is how some people can be so bloody overtly racist and be totally nonchalant and cavalier about it.

I'm not saying that there are no racists here in Sarawak. Of course they are. In fact, some local politicians built their careers on it, much like most politicians in Semenanjung, sad to say. But here in Sarawak, I can hang out with whatever part of my large and multi-ethnic circle of friends anywhere and not worry about being disliked because of my race.

Not so in Semenanjung. I remembered some students in UTM who could not fathom the concept of a non-muslim Bumiputera and asked me out loud why I'm not Muslim and why Ibans and other Dayaks (especially my Sibu based Melanau collegemates, who happen to be Muslim) are not Malay and refuse to consider themselves part of the Malay people.

Ok, maybe that's more ignorance than racism.

For the record, I'm not going to generalise by saying that people in Semenanjung are more racist. That's silly and of course that is untrue.

I am going to say however, part of the reasons why racial lines are thicker there is because it's kept that way by politics. I blame a lot of this racial polarity on the politics.

Weeks ago, I read some things in The Star (or was that NST?) about a survey they did and most people agree to this unfortunate fact about racial politics. Even the politicians who try to defend it admit that playing up racial sentiments is useful to fish for support.

That's the funny thing about this country. On one hand the government, as a single entity, wants the people to be united and live in harmony. On the other hand, some politicians who make up that government secretly don't want this to happen because that will erode their support. To appear as heroes and champions, some politicians need to promote a siege mentality amongst their own people.

Unfortunately, this filters down to the grassroots level. You know, where regular people live. And that kind of mentality doesn't help at all.

So how is Semenanjung politics and Sarawak politics different?

For one thing, not one race claims supremacy, at least not out in the open. Yes, there is Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera here too. Since that is federal law, it covers all the states.

But unlike in Semenanjung, Bumiputera politicians don't go out of their way to alienate the Chinese and Indian by talking shit and to constantly remind them that they are kaum pendatang and that they should be grateful that they are allowed to live here.

That again, filters down to the grassroots level. You know, where regular people live. Hence, people here tend to be more relaxed and accomodating and less overly hypersensitive about race.

I mean, look at the coming state elections. How many of the issues are racial?

Racism exists here too, as it does everywhere. But here, it isn't so in your face blatant. In fact, be a racist in the public eye and be prepared to be chastised by people around you. Ain't no kris waving circus travelling to my town, no sirree.

That is THE biggest difference, in my humble opinion.

The rest of the country (especially those kris waving politicians) could do well do learn from the way things work here. Sorry if that sounds condescending, but it's true.

Overt racism is also the reason that I, and I'm pretty sure most other Sarawakians, don't want UMNO or any other Semenanjung based racial political parties here. Whether they mean to do so or not, parties like MIC, MCA and UMNO perpetuate racism as a means to achieve their objectives.

We don't need to import that kind of culture here.

PS. This post in strictly my opinion and was never meant to be well researched or well balanced or fair in any way. If anyone disagrees with my opinion, they are welcomed to disagree as long as they don't try to force their opinion on me.

PS. PS. My God how embarassing is this. So many grammatical mistakes in this post! I've corrected most of them but I'm pretty sure I missed some.

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