Thursday, June 09, 2005

Marina Maharthir on Malaysia

Her father might be an anti-Semitic, recalcitrant megalomaniac, but Marina Mahathir makes plenty of good points about the need to shake up religious conservatism in Malaysia, and indeed other parts of the Muslim world:

I recall that in the last elections, most of us chose a government that promised us more tolerance, more openness and more freedom. We gave a clear mandate to them to do all that they promised because we wanted to be able to express ourselves more, have more opportunities in life, which necessitates more openness and choices.

But we are not getting it. Or at least some of us are getting choked even more while the rest of us are simply ignored. The lovely multiethnic, multicultural Malaysia that is our pride and joy is simply crumbling because, and I have heard some people openly say it, there are people who would like to make it mono-ethnic, monocultural and mono-religious. That’s not the Malaysia I grew up in, not the Malaysia I want my children to live in. Not the Malaysia I love.
Read the rest in Malaysia's The Star.



Mohammad Mahathir (actually, it's Mahathir Mohammad - see update) during his Elvis period. (Actually, it's neither Mohammad Mahathir nor Mahathir Mohammad. It's columnist Karim Raslan. For those desperately craving a photo of MM, here tis:
Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
Thanks to Steve at the Pub for clearing that one up for me.)


UPDATE, 9/6 11:20pm: The very insightful, and very Malaysian, Aiza (who has had an interesting debate with the also very insightful and almost as Malaysian John in the comments section) has pointed out that the former Malaysian president's name is Maharthir Mohammad, not the other way around:

Just thought I would point out that her father's name is Mahathir Mohammad, not Mohammad Mahathir as you labelled the Elvis picture. Muslims do not have family names the way that Caucasians or Chinese people do. Instead, they take, as their last name, the first name of their father.

Than'u very much.

6 comments:

John Lee said...

her memories of Malaysia are a little different to mine. when I was there in the mid-90's it was far from a multicultural paradise, though I don't doubt things have got
worse over the past decade for Malays of a liberal bent. the bald fact is that Malaysia remains ghettoised along ethnic lines, not physically but socially. the nation has been held together for four decades by the promise of growth and
modernisation, but slogans like Malaysia Boleh and Wawasan 2020 will no longer gel for the country's minorities (Chinese, Indian) if it looks like they're heading for an orthodox Islamic state.

Aiza said...

John Lee's 'bald fact' that Malaysia is ghettoised along ethnic lines neglects to take several important factors into consideration.

First, people tend to be attracted to others like them. There exists a very human tendency to seek out and spend more time with others within a community who speak the same mother tongue, eat the same foods, hold the same religious beliefs, dress the same way, adhere to the same codes of social conduct, etc. This happens at all levels all over the world, and is more a symptom of the very natural desire to feel accepted and normal, rather than of an ethnic ghettoisation. Mr. Lee's claims, while not completely false, couch the reality in extremely exaggerated and alarmist terms. Yet, if Mr. Lee prefers to refer to such a phenomenon in such sinister terms as ghettoisation, then even highschool cliques, groups of friends, or Star Trek fan clubs, etc, may be referred to as such.

Personally, I find that only those who prefer assimilationist rhetoric fail to understand and accept this phenomenon as something completely natural and unthreatening. The truth is, this tendency to seek out commonality does not automatically exclude multiculturalism.

Second, this 'ghettoisation' is not the reality for all Malaysians. It comes as no surprise that there is a stronger tendency for hostility and ethnic intolerance from the inhabitants of lower socio-economic rungs. The most ready explanation lies in these groups' poor access to education, whether formal or social. As such, Mr. Lee's ghettoisation may be more rife among some parts of Malaysian society than others. It irks me, however, that he makes his blanket statement without any willingness to understand the subtleties of Malaysian society.

Third, Mr. Lee neglects to acknowledge that for all the ethnic ghettoisation allegedly taking place in Malaysia, it is still one of the few countries in the world where tolerance and acceptance of other cultures goes beyond mere lip-service. For example, being multicultural in Malaysia is not simply confined to the controlled consumption of other cultures in terms of, say, going down to Chinatown every fortnight to eat a bowl of noodles and steamed dumplings while your friends pat you on the back about how multicultural you are. In Malaysia, every major ethnicity has stout political representation. The ruling coalition consists of UMNO (representing Malay issues), the MCA (Chinese), and MIC (Indians). Can, say, Australia claim similar ethnic balance in the constitution of its government? Even the simple fact that the religious and traditional festivals of every major ethnicity in Malaysia is a public holiday sets Malaysia far ahead in terms of genuine multiculturalism. In Australia, for example, the muslim Hari Raya Puasa, the Indian Deepavali, and Chinese New Year barely register a tremor in the scheme of daily Aussie life. In Malaysia, people visit each others' homes to eat, celebrate and deliver wishes of prosperity, regardless of which ethnic festival is taking place.

I could go on and on about Mr. Lee's apparent errors in understanding Malaysian society and multiculturalism, but perhaps I have made my point.

John Lee said...

I didn't mean to be offensive and my statements were oversimplified (I shouldn't have used a term like 'ghettoisation'). I do however know something about Malaysian society. Two generations of my family grew up in Malaysia, we go back frequently and I lived there from 1995-6.

I can only judge from the small part of Malaysian society that I observed, but we did live in a fairly typical middle-class suburban area (Subang Jaya). our family friends were all Chinese, mixed only with other Chinese (excepting the Tamil family in the local church) and spoke of the other ethnic groups as if they were separate communities. Hari Raya and Deepavali were not culturally inclusive holidays but just dates on the calendar for other people to celebrate. However this didn't seem to compromise strong feelings of national pride and of cultural identification with 'Malaysia' (what else can they identify with? certainly not China)

Still I don't think you'll find many Chinese or Indian Malaysians who consider the MIC/MCA as providing 'stout political representation' for their ethnic constituencies. to the extent that Chinese people take an interest in politics they tend to favour the DAP, from my experience.

I don't mean to knock Malaysia, I treat it like a second home, but there are real issues that the government keeps sweeping under the carpet. Many of our familiy friends have over the past few years moved here (to Aus) despite the fact it means leaving friends, family and an entire lifestyle. They move because they don't see a future in Malaysia for Chinese people, specifically in terms of getting into a good university course and receiving equal treatment in the job market. the general attitude is that 'we love Malaysia, but...'

A nation that constitutionally enshrines privilege for one ethnic group is going to have to work harder to build a functionally, rather than nominally, multicultural society. ustralia certainly has much progress to make as a truly multicultural society but it doesn't have to deal with this basic structural problem.

for an alternative take to the Star or New Straits Times, see www.malaysiakini.com

Steve at the pub said...

This picture is the Malaysian Writer Karim Raslan.

It is most definitely NOT Dr. Mahathir.

http://www.ytlcommunity.com/karimraslan/index.asp

John Lee said...

yeah, Dr M's not that good looking

steve at the pub said...

Quite right, Dr. Madhatter is a viscious looking old coot.

However the dead giveaway is the dimple on Karim's chin. The good Doctor doesn't have one.