Fight the fetish

EVEN if you have never studied history, with an ounce of common sense you would be able to extrapolate that once upon a time, tribalism was a necessary evil for survival. After all, it is normal to be suspicious of those you do not know or of cultures you do not understand. Ignorance and unfamiliarity breeds fear.

But as society evolved – with greater interaction between tribes, strides in the levels of knowledge and greater awareness of facts of life – thinking human beings began realising one important fact: all groups of societies around the world have contributed in some way or other to the betterment of life today. It wasn’t exclusively due to one ethnic or religious group.

God was and is fair. Anyone who has read the Quran will know that it explicitly debunks the myth of superiority of any ethnic group

(Surah Al Hujuraat, verse 13): “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”.

The message is very clear – each ethnic group has experiences and knowledge to share with each other. Furthermore, the existence of different ethnic groups, culture and languages itself is a manifestation of the creativity of Allah.

It is therefore sad and counterproductive for progress that for decades our country has been politically proceeding on race-based politics. It may have been thought to be relevant during the pre-Merdeka era, but we cannot continue with it if we are serious about building a Malaysian nation.

We have to seriously address the ethnic relationships in the country and chart a comprehensive plan towards creating a truly Malaysian mindset. While the informed knows that ethnicity is an artificial social construct, to the masses, it is a highly emotional matter as it rests primarily on belief. Hence, it requires planned strategies and a well-thought out, long-term plan by the government.

Even though we have a new government, whether it’s a “new Malaysia” is yet to be seen in this regard.

All these “Malaysia Boleh” slogans and ad hoc political speeches on unity are not enough. To me, they distract from the more important and substantial task of forming a nation with a common national identity and probably a dream.

What is even worse, the mindset of some of the Malays, the majority citizens, has been systematically ingrained with the “race fetish” for pure political expedience by irresponsible politicians. This is dangerous, as is evident today, because it shifts self-responsibility to progress onto perceived threats by others who are allegedly hampering their progress.

It makes the entire community forget that the threat to the progress of any community is primarily the community itself. It also, unfortunately, deprives the community of the mindset to learn from other cultures, ethnic groups and so on, making them insular.

I suppose this is what these politicians want – to make the Malays forever dependent on them and fearful of their future.

It is encouraging that with the breakdown of the monopoly of politicians over knowledge and information (thanks to technological advances), many Malays are now beginning to see through the folly of race-based perceptions.

History testifies that the Malay community with an Islamic conscience never had a racist mindset. The Malays are naturally an accommodative and compassionate group of people. It is the irresponsible politicians who are systematically creating a negative mindset through complex and devious ways.

Having said this, the other ethnic groups in Malaysia too ought to wean themselves off the racial lens as well. They too must understand the fears, real or imagined, that the Malay community may have.

We have to learn to understand the huge difference between affirmative actions and discriminatory oppressive behaviours. We have to move forward as human beings and Malaysians if we want to live peacefully.

You see, however educated you are, your mind can still dupe you if you do not employ proper thinking skills and understand the complexity of why we think the way we do. This is why, in our society, seemingly educated people and political leaders have led humanity down the regressive and destructive paths of increasing income gaps and disunity. The growth of racist mindsets is a result of such people – educated though they may seem.

Some people are taught to think that their own ethnicity is superior and deserving of special treatment, simply due to accident of birth.

The truth is: there are plenty of very clever and very imbecilic people in every ethnic group. The cleverer ones are clever not because of their ethnicity but because of themselves. The lazy, the scumbags and the destructive are also so because of themselves and not due to their ethnicity.

We should never be ashamed to acknowledge and learn from the great wisdoms of other cultures. We should never try to manipulate or rewrite history to pursue political objectives as this will only bring shame to the community in the long run. We are, after all, part of the human race, and hence, we are part of human history as it unfolds, and has unfolded, in the world.

Malaysia is a melting pot of great civilisations and diverse languages. We will realise that we have a collective great history if we move beyond the artificial social construct of ethnicity.

We should also stop accepting the political narratives of ethnicity and move towards understanding the sociological and anthropological explanations. Political narratives often serve only political interests and never the larger interests of humanity or the nation.

When we as human beings have a rich history panning continents, cultures and religion, why do we want to live in a limited cocoon and call only our limited ethnic history our own?

Politics , Jahaberdeen Mohd Yunoos