Race is a political death trap


  • Business
  • Saturday, 03 Jan 2009

Malaysia has chosen to position itself as “Malaysia – Truly Asia.” Throughout the globe, we spend millions trying to convince the rest of the world that Malaysia is truly Asia.

Truly Asia must mean that we have the Malays, Chinese and Indians as well as the people of Middle East, living together and their diversity is unified as truly a model of an Asian country.

Even the political scenario today is not based on race. Instead a two-party system has emerged – the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. So why do we Malaysians feel that there is so much racial and religious bickering?

What we need is a common enemy, then we will all be united. Since 1511, we have been ruled by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and then the English. After World War II in 1945, a lot of nations became independent of their colonial masters.

For 12 years, the British wavered challenging Malaysians to be united. We responded well by forming the Alliance party, which stood for elections on a neutral platform and not as racial parties. It was then that we got independence in 1957.

Thereafter, we had a common enemy in the form of communists. The leaders managed to overcome the threat of communism by appealing to the heart and minds of all Malaysians.

In the 60s, confrontation also became a common enemy, unifying the nation against external forces. So, as a nation, we were fortunately moulded by the anti-colonialist, the anti-communist and anti-confrontation attitudes required to overcome our problems.

Sports was also a great unifier because our football and Thomas Cup badminton teams were among the best in Asia and world respectively. Every time we won the Thomas Cup right up to 1992, Malaysians cheered as a one nation. Nobody bothered about the racial background of the players.

Our football greatness in the 50s up to the 70s was another national unifier. While we all remember R. Arumugam, Santokh Singh and Soh Chin Aun, the hero for us was actually Mokhtar Dahari or “Super Mokh”, as he was known then. Just look at these four players – they were truly Asia, and we even qualified for the Olympics as a model Asian country. Prior to that, the country had adulated Ghani Minhat and Sharuddin Abdullah.

This process continues today where we do not question racial status of Nicol David, the world’s women squash champion, Lee Chong Wei, the recent Olympic silver medalist or Shalin Zulkifli in her world breaking feats in bowling.

The world seems to be enraptured in the fact that Barack Obama will be the first black American President. Is it the convenient and simplistic analogy that Americans have always loved performers?

In the 1930s, when Hitler was saying that the Germans were the master race, it was up to the Americans to demolish this concept. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s hometown, Jesse Owens, the black man from America stood up for the rest of the world.

Thereafter, Americans adulated all the black man that won them hundreds of gold medals at every Olympics thereafter. From OJ Simpson to Mohammad Ali to Michael Jordan, Americans always loved a performer. Infact, Elvis Presley was loved by everybody because as a white man he was also able to sing and perform like a black man.

A hundred years ago, when a hundred white men chased the black man, it was known as Ku Klux Klan, a racially divisive group. Today, when a 100 white men run behind a black man, it is called the US Masters, where every American is hoping that Tiger Woods will win.

Malaysia, since the days of the Malacca Sultanate in the 1400s, has been dependent on world trade where the merchants of the world will get together and that was why Malacca became a “welcome stop-over” point for world trade.

Need for a common purpose

We are a nation that has accepted globalisation and became the 17th largest trading nation, famous for attracting foreign direct investment and becoming the largest producer of commodities or the common goods.

Rubber, cocoa and palm oil did not originate in Malaysia but we became the largest producers, showing that we can excel in agriculture. We did not invent refrigerators, television sets or electrical goods but we soon became the largest producers of these goods, inviting foreign companies to be based in Malaysia.

Today, we have the best infrastructure, which are ideal for a lot of foreign companies setting up their base here.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century, Malaysia seems to be going backward and being bogged down by religious and racial strife. Once I thought we would become a country like Switzerland where every citizen speaks French, Italian, German and English.

Today, we are in the best position in terms of the shape of the world economy power to Asia where China, India and the Middle East would be the super powers of the 21st century. We have a very good chance of being the adopted nation of these super-powers if we continue to display that Malaysia is “Truly Asia”.

Afterall, for China, the largest population of Chinese outside China is in Malaysia. For India, the largest population of Indians outside India is also in Malaysia. Also, for the people of the Middle East, a truly second home should be Malaysia as a model Islamic country.

We should exploit these strengths and show the world that we are a unified nation where multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-racial people are the model for the world. We don’t need a common enemy to melt us together. We need a common purpose to unify us to better ourselves in a globalised world.

My early education at the Royal Military College (RMC) was with a multiracial group of boys and we have been friends for 40 years without regard to race or religion.

I am happy to say that Westports is also today a multiracial company. Although we have 70% bumiputras, there is no remblance of racialism.

Getting the best to lead

From RMC, my non-racial values were edified when I received a scholarship to visit the United States in 1966. When I was in the south of the United States, I was horrified by the attitude of whites to the blacks. If you had given me a chance, I would have joined a rally to condemn the white men. The following week, I went to New York where I saw the arrogance and belligerence of the black man. I would have also joined a rally to condemn these black men. Perhaps, I was exposed to the tyranny of the minority. I have learned after that we are dealing with a demented few whose tyrannical ways get highlighted.

Malaysia is a beautiful country with a great future if only our diversity becomes our unity and we get the best people to lead us.

Japanese vehicle manufacturers today are happily employing many Americans as top executives. The increasing number of American executives at Japanese companies also signifies the importance of the US market to their bottom lines. It is no secret that Toyota, Honda, and Nissan generate more than half their earnings in North America.

For all these reasons, it must be abundantly clear that the next election is between BN and Pakatan Rakyat. It is not about Umno, MCA, MIC, PAS or DAP. Malaysians are today better educated with more than two million having studied overseas.

Obama was elected not on a racial platform to solve the problems of the black men. Obama was elected to solve the nation’s economy, education, health and create employment opportunities. Each of our political party must remain aware that individually they cannot win to gain. Umno has lost to PAS for 20 years in Kelantan and it took DAP 50 years to make inroads into Penang. Both BN and Pakatan Rakyat have to realise that racial and religious attitudes will not be the winners.

In the United States, there are the Republicans and the Democrats. In the United Kingdom, it is the Conservatives and Labour while the Aussies have Labour and Liberal.

If we are moving towards a developed-nation status, it is because we can discuss racial and religious attitudes. As such, harping on racial sentiments is a death trap for the political parties, for both the ruling government and the emerging opposition parties.

Malaysians are more mature, more intelligent, better educated and more tolerant. It will be fortunate if the political parties wake up to this phenomenon because Malaysians are concerned about employment, income, health and education and not race, religion, sex or age.

● Gnanalingam is executive chairman of Westports

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