Recently, a hullabaloo broke out about a hard drink labelled Timah.
This is the latest in a string of “sensitivities” that have erupted like volcanoes in a multiracial country that was relatively free of racial faultlines until the longest ruling party began losing popular support despite all the gerrymandering.
It is no coincidence that such “sensitivities” accelerated after the 2008 general election, when the Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority. Are they a way of retaliating against those who had not shown ‘gratitude’ at the polls?
Among previous notable cases of “sensitivities” were crosses in mission schools and outside a certain church which had to be removed. These same mission schools had provided a decent education to many Muslim children, some of whom became leaders of the country. They had turned out none the worse despite looking at the crosses day in and day out, nor did they lose their own faith.
Another unique example of “sensitivities” took place at a primary school where non-Muslim children were herded into washrooms to have their meals during Ramadan. It had suddenly become “sensitive” for Muslim children to even see pupils of other faiths having food, as though pangs of hunger would overcome them and they might “curi-curi” take a bite of something and thus nullify their fast. It was justified as being necessary to ‘respect’ the Muslim students who were fasting!
During the 1950s and 60s, school canteens in the then English-medium schools had halal and non-halal food stalls side by side, and the non-halal food used to have pork dishes. Pupils – Muslims and those of other faiths – would sit side-by side and eat their respective halal and non-halal food with no one crying “sensitivity”. During the fasting month, Muslim children would still be in the canteens, sitting and chatting with their friends of other faiths who were eating. It was racial unity at its best.
Racial bigotry, with the blessings of the government for political purposes, destroyed it and brought a new word into the vocabulary – “sensitivities”.
No child is born with such “sensitivities” pre-installed in his or her mind. So how do such matters get programmed into children’s minds, making them sensitive to this and that and reacting like robots to some external stimuli?
Leave two young children of different ethnicities, colours, religions and social status together and they will play and hug each other. They are not confused about who they are or what they are.
But if any adult comes around and tells the well-dressed child from high society not to play with the shirtless kid with torn, dirty pants because the latter is “dirty”, the child may not dislike the “dirty” child at first. But repeat that a few times, and the high-society child develops a “sensitivity” to the other and becomes “confused”.
With grown-ups who have been conditioned to believe their religious leaders, some of whom don’t seem to be fit for the purpose (of teaching religion), without question, it takes only one such bigoted leader to strike the match and lo and behold, hell breaks loose. Even some of the educated don’t question these bigoted leaders when it involves so-called ‘laws of God’.
“Sensitivities” are thus a creation of the mind. They are not a condition that people are born with, but an act they play out like actors playing out their roles during filming or while on stage. The acting is done for a purpose, and in the case of ‘religious sensitivities’ as in Malaysia, it is for a political purpose, ie bullying a section of the population to kowtow to the supposed moral superiority of the bully.
The Timah “sensitivities” are just a creation of some religious and racial bigots who do not wish to see harmony among the multiracial population.
A member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Egypt, the famous cleric Khaled Al Gendy, says it is not drinking liquor that is haram but getting drunk. Many other liquors are marketed under Islamic-sounding names, even in Islamic countries, without triggering religious “sensitivities”.
In 1996 Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council issued a fatwa (a religious edict) that smoking was haram as it causes many health problems. Has it stopped Muslims from smoking? I still see a lot of Malay schoolchildren smoking outside school gates.
Why do some racists and bigots not like to see peoples of different faiths living peacefully together with an understanding of each other’s religions, customs and pantang-larang (taboos)? How is the government going to achieve its laudable “keluarga Malaysia” (Malaysian family) goal when it does not want to stop racial bigotry as the first critical step?
Some years back, the Bar Council’s human rights sub-committee organised a forum to discuss the formation of an Interfaith Commission of Malaysia. Meetings were peacefully held in Petaling Jaya and Malacca. But in Penang on 14 May 2006, while it was being held inside a hotel, a group of rowdies disrupted the event, forcing it to be cut short under the watchful eyes of the police, who stood by and let the rowdies have their way. That is rule of law?
It is no point talking of national unity and the “Malaysian family” and spending so much money on creating perceptions of unity while allowing bigots a free hand to continue their anti-unity activities.
The national unity minister must rise to the occasion and take racism and bigotry by the horns. Otherwise, it can go on organising “unity events” till the cows come home while the racists and bigots carry on their anti-unity activities with impunity to further fray the bonds of unity.
The minister can do this effectively by making it a point to drop in at the religious and cultural functions of the minority faiths, even if they are held at their prayer houses.
If Arab Muslims can go into churches and sing hymns with their Christian country people and not become Christians but remain steadfast Muslims, why can’t Malaysians do the same? The politicians who speak of the “Malaysian family” should be bold enough to do this.
To quote Thomas Sowell, some people are “enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance”. For the Malaysian family to be realised meaningfully, this “sense of moral superiority” needs to be changed to a sense of humility that does not consider any particular race or religion superior to all others.
We need to stop this nonsense of “sensitivities”, among other things.