Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Malaysia’s behaviour lessons for non-Muslims during Ramadan

(Cross-posted at Brown Pundits)

A couple of race- and religion-related controversies in Malaysia this week.

8TV decided to axe a series of public service announcements after claims that they were racist against Chinese-Malaysians. The ad campaign was aimed at teaching non-Muslims how to behave respectfully during Ramadan, and portrays a young Chinese woman speaking in a loud and crass fashion at the market and eating in public. See for yourself:

(8TV is having a lot of these clips deleted from Youtube; try here if you can't see it.)

I wouldn't call this racist, but it is laughably pathetic nonetheless, particularly the bit when a shocked Malay man shields his daughter's eyes from seeing the woman's armpits (blurred for good measure). There are plenty of influential Malay voices in the media, government and religious spheres who love to play the victim card ad infinitum - cultivating the perception that the non-Malay, non-Muslim minorities are somehow trampling all over Malay rights and religious sensitivities.

Also this week on the topic of respectful behaviour:

The Football Association of Malaysia has apologised to Chelsea after the London club complained of anti-Semitic abuse in their tour match against a Malaysian XI recently, directed at Israeli winger Yossi Benayoun. Yet it is an apology that seems disingenuous in the face of the Malaysian State's attitudes towards Israel.

I've watched highlights of this game, and while I couldn't hear anything racial, Benayoun is audibly booed every time he touches the ball, something the other Chelsea players are not subjected to. Benayoun himself is a likeable footballer who is completely uncontroversial aside from being Israeli.)
“The FA of Malaysia would like to strongly register that we do not condone any form of racism in football,” the statement read. “If such an incident did happen we would like to apologise to the player concerned and also to Chelsea FC. From our initial observations, if such an incident took place, it would have involved a small section of spectators at the match. This surely does not reflect the feelings of the majority of fans in this football-loving country.”

Of course, Malaysians should probably reflect on a history of anti-Semitism in the country. Last time Chelsea toured Malaysia in 2008 there was talk that then coach Avram Grant and defender Tal Ben Haim would not be granted visas to enter the country. Former PM Mahathir Mohamad once claimed that the Jews ruled the world by proxy. And it was only a couple of weeks ago that government-backed newspaper Utusan Malaysia made the ludicrous claim that the recent rallies for democracy in KL may have been the work of Jews.

Since the two countries have very little to do with each other in practical terms, and most Malaysians will never actually meet a Jew, this feeling originates solely from the fact that Malays are Muslim and therefore lots of them just assume that disliking Jews is part of their religious duty.


  1. Yet it is an apology that seems disingenuous in the face of the Malaysian State's attitudes towards Israel.

    With respect, ES, Israel's behavior hasn't exactly done much to endear itself to most of the world.

    (now, of course, you could definitely say the same about the U.S, but that's for another topic)

    But yes, I too find it strange that Malays of all people, in a country with virtually no Jews, would focus so much venom on Jews and Israel. I mean, it's a far different cry from being an anti-Semite living in New York or L.A.

    The only thing I'd like to ask is whether or not the ethnic Chinese do anything to arouse the anger of Malays? Their arrogant parade following the 1969 election comes to mind. The fact that they, as a minority, also disproportionately dominate the economy also probably doesn't endear them to the Malays.

    Now of course, you could say that they just outwork and outhustle the Malays, but regardless of the reason, it's never a good situation when the minority wields more economic power than the majority.

    I'm asking because I'm honestly curious. As you've probably guessed, race greatly interests me, and I sometimes like to take an occasional break from the Western race scene and observe race relations in other parts of the world.

    While this post gives the impression that Malays are just race baiting and playing the victim card, do they have legitimate grievances on account of the behavior of the ethnic Chinese?

  2. @ BAG:
    In hindsight that passage should probably have read "attitudes towards Jews". I am not a huge fan of many of Israel's actions, but abusing an Israeli footballer because of it seems ridiculous. It's quite different to the way apartheid-era South Africa's sporting teams were widely shunned, as they were representing South Africa. Benayoun is representing a London football club and just happens to be Israeli.

    Regarding what the ethnic Chinese do...
    Primarily they have more wealth, and some regard them as not respecting Malay ways. That second point is open to interpretation of course, since to an extent that reflects the Malay victim mentality. Recently a Christian church (which ethnically would be mostly Chinese and Indian) in a Malay area, staged a nativity play during Ramadan. They were accused of being disrespectful to Muslims/Malays. My question is why should Malays give a shit?

    Undoubtedly there's a bit of Chinese racism towards Malays. In Indonesia, for example, the ethnic Chinese commonly view native Indonesians as being lazy and unwilling to work hard. In Malaysia, that perception exists and has actually been perpetuated by Malay government policy, which hands all kinds of benefits to Malays.

    All the old-timers tell me that Malaysian race relations have gotten worse in the last few decades. Affirmative action has had a bit to do with that, but AA is part of a wider trend towards the politicising of Malay/Muslim identity. There is less socialising between the ethnic groups now, because the leaders prefer to highlight the things that separate them rather than unite them.
    If the Opposition somehow takes power, I think this trend may begin to reverse; it is UMNO and its ruling coalition who perpetuate the Malay victimhood card because it keeps them in power.

  3. @ BAG:
    I'm glad you are interested in race relations. I get an inkling that you might not have much experience living in a melting pot of people.

    I'd like to know where you formed your rather strong opinion as reflected in this statement, "Their arrogant parade following the 1969 election comes to mind."

    "Now of course, you could say that they just outwork and outhustle the Malays, but regardless of the reason, it's never a good situation when the minority wields more economic power than the majority." This sounds very apartheid. I assure you, Malaysia is nothing like that. And it's true, everything a hardworking Malaysian Chinese has is the result of just that, hard work. No social security,no discounts on home purchases, no special treatment at school. And should they be ill treated for it?

    Not to mention, the independence of Malaysia was obtained by the joint effort and cooperation of the 3 major races in the country. Malaysia has a very unique and colourful story. You should read up.

  4. "Malays play victims cards, Chinese might have right to view Malays as lazy because of the handouts."

    Hey, hey....if a Malay had said anything on the same level and tone about Chinese, you would probably be hysterical and call the Malays as innate racists One of the problems with internet is that I have to read bigotry against Malays from people like you, whose bias and bigotry against Malay and bigoted view for Islam, shaped much of your brain cells.

  5. @ Anonymous:

    The irony in your comment is that by falling back on the "bigotry against Malays" thing, you can avoid actually taking in any of what is being said.

    Btw I didn't say Malays were lazy; I pointed out that handouts add further fuel to the common Chinese racist perception of them as being lazy.

    I'm just keeping it real. In a country with racial tensions, if you are the group in power, you need to be prepared to hear some home truths. Malays in Malaysia are much like white people in white countries; many of them live in their own little bubble and have no idea why the minority groups are so dissatisfied.

    I blame politicians. For decades, Malay political leadership has primarily been about appealing to the Malay sense of entitlement, so it's no wonder that a lot of Malays think that way.