Wake up, the world has changed! So, there’s no need to pretend or pose as defenders and champions of your race or religion.
Boycotts along racial, religious and nationalistic lines are not just unviable, but hypocritical in the modern-day economy, given that we use products from all over the world. It doesn’t matter if you are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist, because ultimately, the products we use are likely to involve someone from another faith along the assembly line or supply chain.
The compliance, involving religious and health requirements, would probably be met, since any rational businessman would want to live up to the demands of their customers. That’s how businesses work.
From clothing to food, or technology to transport, almost every single item we use or consume can be traced back to producers, manufacturers and suppliers of various races, religions and nationalities.
It would be naïve for anyone to think otherwise.
So, the Muslims who initiate a boycott against non-Muslim companies obviously aren’t thinking hard enough and are oblivious to reality, or just ignoring the facts.
The minority Muslims involved in this campaign are likely doing this more for political reasons, and it’s apparent the targets are the Chinese and Indians – the euphemism for non-Muslims. Maybe I don’t know better, but somehow, I don’t think they ever mean the Americans, Japanese, Koreans or Thais.
That’s very unfortunate because their actions only hurt our fellow Malaysians, and we all know that in plural Malaysia, the staff of these companies include Muslims, especially in manufacturing. Often, most of the staff are Muslim.
Just count the number of Muslims who work in our hotels and restaurants, or even those in Genting Highlands.
Even in road accidents, or road rage incidents, Malaysians can’t pick their victims because this is a multi-racial and multi-religious country.
All it takes is a little spark of ethnic indifference, and with tempers fraying, such incidents are recorded and quickly make their social media rounds. And like clockwork, the accusatory finger of racial marginalisation is waved, with another purported example made of a race under siege.
But every day, we have Malaysians helping each other, in all forms, yet we take this good grace for granted. Instead, we let racial bigots hijack the agenda and allow them to amplify isolated cases.
We use and buy a product based on its quality, price and availability – that’s our consumer behaviour. So, it would be strange to expect us to buy a product simply because they are produced by someone from our race or religion.
Supermarkets and grocery stores said to belong to Muslims have appeared on a list in various towns – as has been actively circulated on social media – implying Malays should buy from these outlets.
That’s well and fine, but ultimately, the products sold in these supermarkets or grocers can’t entirely be manufactured by Muslims, so, the purpose of the move is a head-scratcher.
Of course, the products will be halal compliant, but they could be made by non-Muslim companies, yet would most likely involve Muslim staff, too.
Let’s take the argument further. Many of us, Muslim or otherwise, feel strongly about the treatment of Palestinians.
As someone who has visited Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, I have listened first-hand to the grievances of Christian Arabs living there. I saw the injustices Palestinians are subjected to in their daily lives.
My fellow travellers have also learnt to differentiate between secular Jews, atheists Jews, and Zionists, and are aware that we can’t lump everyone under the “Jew” category because many Israelites sympathise with Palestinians.
But can any of us honestly think it’s possible to boycott products created or manufactured by Israelis, or Jews?
Let’s start with Waze, a software developed by an Israeli company. I am sure it is widely used by many Muslims around the world, including Muslim politicians with the loudest rhetoric.
Then, there’s Intel Pentium and Celeron computer processor chips in personal computers (desktops, laptops and notebooks), which are either developed or manufactured in Israel. Likewise, the Windows XT operating system. All current Microsoft operating systems are heavily reliant on its Israel R&D centre.
Most anti-virus software and personal firewalls originate from Israel, and the algorithm (code) that’s used today for sending e-mails, was reportedly made by an Israeli who worked at the Ben-Gurion University in Be’er-Sheva in 1980. Many in-built and add-on applications on Facebook are Israeli developed.
The list is endless, ranging from medical equipment to life-saving drugs, and they are used by many of us.
Airlines operated by the Arab states, such as Qatar and Emirates, are surely among the best in the world now, and it will be silly for non-Muslim travellers to overlook these options because of religious prejudices.
And what about the choice of our transportation? Most of the cars we use are products of non-Muslims, and even if they include a national car, like Proton, most of the components and applications are the handiwork of non-Muslims.
Likewise, China-made mobile devices also rely on Western technology, and if their business with these tech companies ceases, the impact is great, as exemplified by the recent Huawei debacle. Without the Google search engine, YouTube and Gmail, and other applications, modern-day telecommunication loses its lustre.
It says a lot when American companies want to continue selling telecom equipment to Huawei, because the Chinese company is an important customer for many US tech firms, including Qualcomm, Intel and Micron.
It has been reported that from the US$70bil (RM293bil) in parts it bought last year, US$11bil (RM46bil) went to US suppliers. None of them have been convinced by their government that the Chinese tech giant is a national risk, a charge Huawei has repeatedly denied with no real evidence forthcoming.
Even the burqa and other religious items are now made in China and readily available for online shopping, and that’s a fact!
The bottom line is that the economy has changed dramatically with its layers of inter-connectivity, which could only increase in the digital age.
Malaysians will be labelled myopic and narrow-minded if the narrative of some politicians continues to be on race and religion.
And when global leaders address trade, artificial intelligence, digital enhancement and climate change, many of our politicians are instead still harping on divisive and unproductive issues, which is just lame and pathetic.
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.