Friday, 17 February 2012

How frail the Malaysian unity!

How frail our unity is

WHY NOT? By WONG SAI WAN saiwan@thestar.com.my

Malaysians always boast about how we can live with each other but yet that multi-racial fabric is easily torn.

REPORTERS for English newspapers in Malaysia are taught from their very first day not to write their reports on racial lines but to promote national unity and, more importantly, not to incite racial hatred.

The most common example of this is reporting on court cases.

This is why court reporters go out of the way to find out the occupations of the protagonists in the trial.

More often than not, one would read in a paper like ours that “a factory worker was charged with stabbing a clerk at a shopping complex”, without reference to the ethnicity of the people involved.

The thinking of our newspaper gurus in the early days was that although we were made up of various communities, it was best we saw each other as Malaysians, and to mention someone’s ethnic background was considered bad form.

Of course, there was an underlying reason for it.

Editors those days were also conscious of promoting unity and maintaining good race relations.

Imagine the sort of problems that could arise if the story above read: “A Malay factory worker was charged with stabbing a Chinese clerk at a shopping complex.”

Such writing, it was argued, would do nothing for the development of the country or race relations.

In fact, there were some who argued that such a writing style would only inflame hatred, especially if the report was about violence.

It would not be wrong to say such thinking became even more pronounced after the racial riots of May 13, 1969.

I was taught this no-race mantra when I joined this newspaper in 1984. In fact, my editor told me, the mere mention of the name would be a dead giveaway of the person’s race (his words, not mine).



“Wong Sai Wan cannot be an Indian person” was his favourite reminder to me each time he caught me writing an article where I mentioned someone by his ethnicity.

However, things have changed over the past three decades.

Although most English language newspapers in this country still do not report crime and court articles according to ethnicity, most of us now allow mention of language or ethnicity if it gives perspective to an article, especially features.

After 40 years, we would have all thought that we would be mature enough to handle any form of differences without referring to it in terms of race or religion.

Along with the millions of other Malaysians, I often shake my head in disbelief when opportunist politicians try to use the race card to shore up their flagging popularity.

I was so proud to see young Malaysians reject the position taken by these older politicians from both sides of the divide and instead to treat any issue based on merit and not on the colour of one’s skin.

Since 2008, I have been slowly converted to the position that Malaysia has become mature enough to handle conflicts and criminal violence even if the perpetrators were identified by race or religion.

Yes, our society has created code words to describe each other and most of the time these descriptions are taken in good humour.

These code words evolve with time. For example, during my younger days, all Malays were referred to as Ah Mat, Chinese as Ah Chong and Indians as Muthu.

Nowadays, the nicknames have changed to Mat Rempit, Ah Beng and Macha.

These monikers are slightly crude, but not derogatory – at least that’s what I think and see from the reaction within our modern society.

However, then came the infamous I-City KFC incident.  It was a simple case of a restaurant worker losing his cool and punching a customer who obviously also lost his cool.

However, the incident, unlike similar fights that had happened numerous times in other restaurants, was captured on video and uploaded on YouTube.

It went viral after it was shared on Facebook. The clip was uploaded without moderation to give it some sort of perspective.

The person who taped it with a handphone described it as a fight at KFC.

What happened over the next few hours of the uploading of the video on cyberspace was truly disgusting. Malaysians put a racial slant on the incident.

Most of those who took the side of the customer, Danny Ng, were non-Malays, while the restaurant staff were mainly defended by Malays.

On Facebook, supporters on either side started to verbally attack each other – with some making up various stories of how the incident started, and the supposed quarrel between Ng and the staff.

The words used by the two groups to attack each other were derogatory and racist. The so-called unity we boast about was shattered.

Ng has since denied that the incident was racial in nature and clarified that neither he nor the KFC staff used any racial slurs.

However, those on the social media ignored this and continued to make all sorts of comments.

Facebook and YouTube are the most popular forms of social media. Opinions are shaped on these two websites.

Comments there become a strong reflection of the state of our own society.

Sadly, in this case, we failed big time. Malaysians have come across as immature, racist and unforgiving.

Malaysians need to show the world that we can handle ourselves, accept each other and celebrate our differences.

Fortunately, the “quarrel” occurred over cyberspace, and maybe it was a good place to let off steam without taking it into the real world.

This incident has shown that our unity is very fragile and our race relations far from adequate.

Our leaders must realise this and not rely on bigotry to gain popularity with only a certain segment of society.

> Executive Editor Wong Sai Wan loves his fried chicken but also hates poor service.

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Let’s all be Malaysians first !

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