Beating disrespect in diverse Malaysia

The young should be taught to understand and appreciate the diversity of our society, warts and all, as well as the importance of being united

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The reported beating of two bodyguards by their employer for merely observing fasting as required by their Islamic faith in the holy month of Ramadan is clearly an extreme form of disrespect and discrimination.

Such an unconscionable action is appalling and deserves condemnation. It is hoped that such an incident is an isolated one.

Blatant disregard for religious and ethnic sensitivities committed against members of any ethnic and religious community should not and cannot be tolerated and normalised, particularly in a diverse society such as ours.

Such physical harm can spark unnecessary social anxiety, especially at a critical juncture when mutual respect and understanding among the various ethnic communities are not at a satisfactory level. This is more so in a Malaysia that is often visited by the toxic politics of race and religion.

As if this wasn’t enough, it is most unfortunate that two insidious incidents occurred in the wake of the beating, which may well heighten the restlessness that has struck the Muslim community as a whole.

Two separate video clips went viral one after another on social media, inviting people, presumably Muslims, to gamble to help fund their celebration of the forthcoming Hari Raya Aidilfitri festival, if they get lucky.

It appears that these videos were produced and calculated to entice those who have been made vulnerable by the sluggish economy caused by the Covid pandemic to play a game of chance. These videos have predictably earned the wrath of some Muslims as they were deemed provocative and insulting.

It is the kind of social context that could give rise to certain social forces calling for stronger measures to supposedly safeguard the image of Islam in the country as the physical beating of the faithful, as well as the gambling videos, are regarded as a serious affront to Islam and its followers.

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That is why the police have rightly warned against certain quarters who are bent on taking the law into their own hands, particularly regarding the emotive issue of beating. Frayed nerves must be calmed because a violent response may not solve the problem.

If unchecked, these elements could also play into the hands of those inclined to capitalise on such a situation for political mileage, possibly worsening the situation.

To be sure, disrespect and discrimination do not necessarily manifest themselves in a violent form. They can also emerge subtly but be equally insulting and alienating to the receiving communities in our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Indeed, non-violent forms of such negative attitudes can be insidious and leave a psychological scar to the affected party for a long time.

The recent allegation by historian Ranjit Singh Malhi about school history textbooks comes to mind. He claimed they are too Malay-Islamic centric to the extent that it overshadows the immense contributions of the Chinese and Indians towards nation-building.

This complaint should be addressed by the relevant authorities because underemphasis of such contributions, if true, cannot be taken lightly as it would obviously cause factual inaccuracies and hurt the communities concerned.

Another example is the recent imposition of ethnic and gender discrimination on extracurricular activities in a secondary school in Batu Pahat, Johor.

The impact of such a ruling on the schoolchildren can, in the long run, be injurious to their self-respect and confidence as well as deprive them of an opportunity to interact with each other. In fact, interaction among the schoolchildren should go beyond the playing field. Togetherness should occur in studies, casual conversations and meals as well as games.

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It is important for the authorities to ensure that children who excel in their studies are justly rewarded in terms of scholarships and placements at higher institutions of learning so that they have a sense of belonging.

The young should be taught to understand and appreciate the diversity of our society, warts and all, as well as the importance of being united as a nation. Hopefully, they will grow into adulthood without having to beat up or mistreat someone out of sheer ignorance, arrogance, intolerance or bigotry. – The Malaysian Insight

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