Lies that keep inequality alive

Some people are relying on false arguments to whip up objection to an international convention on racial discrimination. 

I WAS looking forward to enjoying some chapati and muruku, but instead I received a WhatsApp from an old school friend with a disturbing forwarded message.

This mate of mine asked me if this message, which was about the consequences of Malaysia ratifying the Inter­na­tional Convention on the Elimina­tion of All Forms of Racial Discrimi­nation (ICERD), was accurate.

I normally don’t read forwarded messages, but this one was disturbing because it was so inaccurate that I feel I must respond. Especially if it is making its rounds.

Let me deal with the issues raised by the writer of this message. I won’t mention his name because heaven only knows if it is indeed his name.

Point one: Joining the ICERD will mean that the sultans won’t be rulers anymore and that Islam won’t be the official religion of the country.

This is false. The sultans are sultans not because of racial discrimination but because of ‘familial discrimination’.

Officially I am Malay, but I can’t be a sultan because I am not from any royal family. And the Conven­tion says nothing about the official religion of the country. So I don’t know what the writer is on about regarding Islam.

Point two: With the ICERD, horrors, anyone can be prime minister, even, shudder, non-Malays.

Well, actually the Constitution says that already. The PM is the person who has the confidence of Parliament. That’s all. No mention of race, ethnicity or gender. Gosh, has this dude read the Constitu-tion?

Point three: No more 10% discounts for housing for Malays.

Actually there should not be 10% discounts in the first place. The Constitution only allows for affirmative action that is specifically spelt out in the Constitution itself.

There are provisions for quotas in business permits, education and civil service jobs, but nothing about discounted houses.

The final point is really about the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, which is provided for in the Consti­tution. There’s a whole list that the writer goes through including education institutions, certain military units and of course the famous Article 153 of the Constitution.

Actually, Article 1 of the ICERD says that affirmative action to advance certain groups (due to existing inequalities) is not considered racial discrimination.

Article 2 then goes on to say that governments shall take these measures if they are needed. In other words, affirmative action is actually a requirement.

The only thing is that it is only acceptable as long as it is necessary. This being the case, as long as the Malays are backward and need help compared to everybody else, then I suppose it is necessary.

What it also means is that affirmative action must have an objective and once that objective is achieved, then it ought to stop.

Our Constitution is actually in line with that principle. Article 153, which provides for the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, states that the King, under advice from the government, may set quotas (for business, education and civil service) for as long as it is reasonable to do so.

If parity is achieved, then surely it is reasonable to stop. This is in line with the ICERD.

Unless of course the writer of the message forwarded to me wants the Malays (and natives of Sabah and Sarawak) to be forever given special help, regardless of their standing and position in society.

If that is the case, then why not be honest about it and say that the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak are of a different class of citizenry and everybody else is second class.

That would at least be honest – racist and bigoted, sure, but at least honest.

  • Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Azmi Sharom , Brave New World