If various facets of Malaysian life are continuously being coloured by ethnic considerations, then we will invariably witness uneasy incidents like what happened at a fast food outlet recently, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
It’s a sad and frightening commentary of contemporary Malaysian life that what essentially looks like a customer relations problem has all the ingredients to potentially degenerate into ethnic unease, if not tension.
The recent incident at the i-City KFC outlet in Shah Alam, so the story went, involved a customer whose patience wore thin after waiting so long for the coveted fried chicken. His verbal reaction provoked a holler of “pig” and eventually an alleged assault from a worker who toils in the hot kitchen. The corporate Kentucky colonel would have turned in his grave.
In this digital age, such an incident has a high likelihood of being made known to a larger group of people beyond the confines of the KFC outlet concerned. Indeed, a video of the 28-second fracas that was uploaded by a witness on YouTube predictably went viral, with some viewers swiftly and conveniently labelling it as an ethnic issue — just because the customer happened to be ethnic Chinese while the KFC employees ethnic Malay.
Of course, we’re not putting the blame on the headless chickens at the fast-food centre for the ethnic sentiment that had raised its ugly head. Like the cows and the pigs of recent times, these fowls had somehow become unwitting accomplices to the questionable actions of certain individuals and groups whose worldview is often tainted by ethnic lens.
As it is, Malaysians have always been reminded of their respective ethnic backgrounds when they apply for, say, houses, mobile phone connections, satellite TV subscriptions, golf club memberships or a place for their kids in the kindergarten. This is apart from the constant appeal to this primordial sentiment by the country’s ethnic-based political parties.
Which is why the intervention of right-wing Malay group Perkasa in this food matter invites suspicion and speculation, given its penchant for controversies such as the recent insensitive use of white angpows in the party it held to celebrate Gong Xi Fa Cai. And the perception by many that KFC is largely a “Malay” business establishment only enhances the ethnic sentiment concerned.
And so one wonders whether it was purely in the interest of justice and a fair solution that Perkasa demanded that the employees of the KFC concerned be given space particularly in the media to tell their side of the story.
Under normal circumstance, this is a perfectly logical thing to do, i.e. to have both sides presenting their own accounts of the incident in the earnest endeavour to seek justice and a solution, and so it should be. The warning recently issued by the police to the general public not to interfere in this problem “between the customer and the company” is a step in the right direction.
For what is at stake is really professionalism and common decency. If it is true that the action of the KFC worker had violated the corporate code of conduct, then it doesn’t matter what the ethnic extraction of the worker is. (Or for that matter, the ethnic background of the customer concerned.) Surely it is unthinkable (or is it?) that such a worker should be “protected” by all means simply because he or she is one of “us”.
Indeed, such ethnic considerations can play havoc to the standards of professionalism in the country, if it hasn’t already — let alone its impact on ethnic relations and national unity. Let’s take this scenario: should “we” excuse a surgeon for having cut off accidentally a testicle of a patient just because the former is one of “us” — although it is patently clear that he has committed grave professional negligence, and possibly emasculated the patient at the same time, who in turn is screaming blue murder? Do we want to take this road?
We have already bitten off more than we can chew in recent years when it comes to ethnic and religious problems. Not too long ago there was the brouhaha over bread. The view from a tainted glass is that an established bread brand that is owned by an ethnic Malay tycoon is being challenged by a newcomer owned by an ethnic Chinese businessman. To slice a long story short, there was a racist call for the boycott of the so-called “Malay” bread and eventually to throw in support for the new “Chinese” brand. This is certainly a new low in Malaysia’s ethnic relations.
If an issue of professionalism and other facets of Malaysian life are continuously being adulterated with ethnic considerations, then we will always witness the chickens coming home to roost.