Selling a senseless boycott idea

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Photograph: Benedict Lopez

It is more important for Malaysians of diverse backgrounds to be united in promoting high-quality goods and services produced by various groups, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

Malaysians concerned about the nation’s peace, progress and prosperity would find relief in Putrajaya’s decision to reject the boycott of non-Muslim products and services, as pushed by certain Malay groups.

Although it has morphed into something euphemistically called a “campaign to promote Muslim products”, the way it is being endorsed on social media still smacks of a boycott. Worse, there have been posts that reek of racism.

This apparent backpedalling came about after a backlash from ministers and others, who deem the boycott racist and divisive.

In response, Pas secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan insisted that the campaign is inclusive and competitive – a normal move in the realm of business.

But how inclusive is it really when the marketing campaign targets only Malay-Muslims – and not the whole of Malaysian society?

You don’t need to be a marketing guru to appreciate the fact that a good strategy would warrant manufacturers and sellers appealing to the attention and interests of a wide spectrum of consumers, irrespective of ethnicity and religion. This can be done by aggressively promoting supposedly high-quality goods with commensurate prices.

A marketing strategy – if we can call it so – that prioritises ethnicity and religion is a sad testimony to how divisive our society has become – one that is informed by the toxic politics of race and religion pursued by certain unscrupulous people with a narrow agenda.

To be clear, the boycott was reportedly a response by certain quarters within the Malay community to what they perceived as non-Muslims’ strong objection to the introduction of khat and Jawi in the Year Four curriculum for vernacular schools. In other words, non-Muslims had to pay the price for supposedly being recalcitrant.

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Furthermore, some of these campaigners, purportedly championing the interests of Malay-Muslims, have demanded that the Malaysian Islamic Development Department’s (Jakim’s) halal logo, which is in Jawi, be used only on Muslim-produced goods, with halal products by non-Muslim manufacturers to carry the logo in their respective native languages. This is to draw a line between “Muslim goods” and “non-Muslim goods”, despite both being certified halal.

It begs the question: shouldn’t all goods given the nod by Jakim be halal enough for all Malaysians?

It is ironic that these people, who are seemingly concerned about the limited use of Jawi in our society, came up with a proposal that has the effect of making the script more parochial instead of universal.

The myopic view held by these campaigners prevents them from acknowledging the fact that our world is increasingly globalised, where the interconnectedness of goods and people occurs beyond national, let alone ethnic, borders.

What this means is, the production and sale of goods and services may require the intervention, as well as participation, of people of diverse ethnic, religious, cultural and political backgrounds. The products are the outcome of the work and imagination put in by these very people.

Hence, a boycott of this nature could hurt, say, Muslim employees at a Chinese manufacturing firm. And, Malay shops would still sell halal-labelled goods that are the result of multi-ethnic efforts.

It is more important for Malaysians of diverse backgrounds to be united in promoting high-quality goods and services produced by various groups, and these include many “Muslim products”. This would go a long way towards making Malaysian goods competitive not only locally, but also elsewhere in the world – and our society less polarised as well.

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If these campaigners were to go the whole hog (excuse the pun) with their boycott of non-Muslim products, they would really need to rethink their mode of operation.

They may have to abandon, for instance, the use of modern communications technology in their attempt to reach out to as wide an audience as possible, because their handphones and laptops may very well have some parts assembled, if not the devices entirely made, in godless China, as is the case with many electronic items these days.

It would be useful for these campaigners to remind themselves not to flaunt their narrow-mindedness, if not sheer daftness, through such a boycott.

Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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