WRITER June HL Wong, in her So Aunty, So What column on Jan 25 ("The rise and rise of our belle") seems to imply that Michelle Yeoh’s home country had no hand in her brilliant success on the world stage because, according to Wong, the current set up in Malaysia “makes it impossible for talents in Malaysia to become accomplished artistes”.
According to Aunty, this is “because Finas (the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia) ... has been guided by the National Culture Policy formulated in 1971 which was based on the principle that the national culture must be based on Malay culture with Islam as an important component, and that only ‘suitable elements’ from the other cultures may be accepted”.
Without context, I see this as a thinly-veiled attack on Islam that casts it in a very negative light – what comes across to me in her writing is that Malay-Muslim culture is prohibitive, and this is the root cause of Malaysia's talent drain.
Aunty does not mention that the National Culture Policy was formulated alongside the National Economic Policy and the Rukun Negara; these were all policies aimed at diffusing racial tensions and driving nation-building following racial riots in May 1969.
On May 13 that year, Malays and Chinese – to put it bluntly – killed each other due to distrust and hate sown by poverty and racist politics. The instability caused by economic disparities and a lack of racial integration would have led to further bloodshed if the situation had not been handled quickly and well by the then predominantly Malay-Muslim government.
Aunty goes on to say that other non-Malay artistes from Malaysia had to leave for China, Hong Kong or Taiwan to find “mega success” without including the fact that these countries have a far more established entertainment industry and also far bigger markets compared with Malaysia.
Yuna and Shila Amzah found fame and fortune overseas too, yet, according to Aunty’s reasoning, as Malays, they would have been megastars at home without needing to leave the country.
She also does not mention that they all, Yeoh included, had their formative years nurtured in a Muslim country.
Aunty says that Yeoh’s fluency in English “clearly contributed” to her success in the West but doesn’t mention that the actress is a product of the Malaysian education system. Wasn’t Yeoh just brilliant because she was inspired to speak like a Malaysian in Everything Everywhere All At Once, the movie that garnered her a Golden Globe award?
Anyone watching her work would be super proud. Her dedication over years in the filmmaking industry has taken her to the pinnacle of achievement, and it is all down to her own talent, sheer hard work and grit.
In one of her acceptance speeches (she has made many!), Yeoh proudly announced that she came from Malaysia at a time when no one in the West knew where Malaysia was and many were shocked that she could speak English.
She went on to say that, growing up, she was inspired by watching movies and dramas, both local and foreign – the latter of which were brought into the country by the very same Finas that, according to Aunty, is the reason Yeoh had to leave the country to find success.
Aunty and others in the media are playing with fire.
Following the recent general elections, inflammatory articles and terms have come up time and again in the mainstream Malaysian press. While attacks on Islam by non-Muslim agencies from non-Muslim countries are de riguer, it certainly raises a lot of eyebrows when non-Muslim media agencies in a Muslim country use words like “religious extremists” and “Taliban” to describe their fellow Muslim countrymen.
(A couple of examples – “United we stand” in On the Beat by Wong Chun Wai, Sunday Star, Jan 1: “Even if PAS comes to power and imposes a Taliban-style regime, gambling, drinking and even prostitution will still exist.” And “Mandate to help the marginalised”, in Frankly Speaking, an editorial by The Edge, Jan 25.)
It is disheartening to see Muslims in Malaysia having to defend their religion and beliefs in their own country.
However, suffice to say that following football’s World Cup in Qatar, everyone should take a leaf out of the Qataris’ book: When the whole world tried its damndest to slander, nit-pick, lie about them and bad mouth the country, the Qataris stood steadfast and doubled down on their hospitality and warmth.
This is peace the Islamic way.
DR NOMEE ASHIKIN MOHAMMED RADZI