OCT 19 — I was in Singapore recently to shoot a documentary on one of the Malay world’s greatest music icons, Zubir Said, who composed songs during the golden era of Malay cinema in the 1950s and ‘60s.
P. Ramlee considered him a mentor and he even composed the Singapore national anthem. Zubir also submitted three songs for consideration for our national anthem but none was chosen.
But that isn’t the story here. The story that I am about to tell here really is about something that happened in Singapore while I was there for the said documentary.
I had bumped into a Singaporean friend on the streets of this first world city-state and the first thing he said to me was: “There’s a story you can write about for your column!”
It was the Amy Cheong issue that was hot in the Singapore media. And spending many a lonely night in a cold hotel room watching Channel News Asia, I was very familiar with the story.
A National Trade Union Council employee (Cheong) had posted a racist remark on her Facebook page that insulted the Malays (something to do with noisy and extravagant weddings!).
All hell broke loose and the first-world citizens of Singapore from all races raged against her. Not only that, the NTUC even sacked her.
Then the politicians joined the fray, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong leading the way in condemning Cheong’s behaviour and saying that racial harmony must be maintained.
It played out for a few days and some Singaporeans even started calling for Cheong to be charged by the authorities for what she had said.
Then the politicians stepped in again, saying that she had learned her lesson and everyone should move on. And it seems that things have indeed moved on over there.
Now that my shoot is over and I’m back home in my own country, I start reflecting.
It seems to me that Singapore, like Malaysia, has her fair share of underlying racial problems. So do so many other countries.
Yet, unlike Malaysia, overall, the people of Singapore are quite united in their stand against racism, or so it seems, or maybe I’m just naïve.
The first thing that has to go in Malaysia in my humble opinion is the racial-based politics that has existed in the country from the very first second of its birth.
It seems that the Malaysian people’s mentality is too entrenched in the "survival of their race" that it seems almost tribal, and also seems like it can’t be changed.
It’s easy to say that we aren’t racist, but the race factor keeps rearing its ugly head over and again.
Take, for example, a recent forum organised by the Chevening Alumni of Malaysia which was attended by Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and the DAP’s Tony Pua (who seem to enjoy squaring off with each other on social media).
Both seemed to agree that people should see themselves as Malaysian first even though having multiple identities is fine as that shows individuality.
The two also talked about how ethnicity and race keep on becoming a prominent factor when it comes to policymaking and that it could be a reflection of how Malaysian society is.
In my opinion, I really think that talk is cheap. It already makes me sick to the stomach that the ruling government coalition is made up of racial-based component parties.
The opposition isn’t that much different really. The DAP will always be known as a Chinese party even if they do have the odd Malay member here and there. And they know their target audience no matter how much they talk about meritocracy.
And then there is PAS, which will always be a Malay party just because of the fact that all Malays are Muslims. And seeing them co-operating with the other Pakatan Rakyat parties is just so awkward.
PKR could well be the only true multi-racial party in the country. But then again, they alone aren’t strong enough without the coalition they have with the two previously mentioned parties.
At the end of the day, I strongly believe that Malaysians are really not racists. Sorry Khairy, but I have to disagree when you say that the current dominance of race-based parties “could also be how society looks at themselves.”
I can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not racist, my family members aren’t racists, and my friends aren’t racists. And we’re all members of Malaysian society. So if we aren’t racists, who are the real racists?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.