Malaysians are bigots by nature

Raja Petra Kamarudin

It appears there are two groups of people who read Malaysia Today: one group that would like Malaysia Today to practice what it claims to represent — absolute freedom of expression — and another that just cannot understand why Malaysia Today would allow and tolerate religion- and race-bashing postings.

I have replied to this in private e-mails and conversations I have had with various people. Maybe it is time that I publicly state my stand on the matter to once and for all put this matter to rest.

Malaysians must learn how to utilise freedom of expression in a constructive manner. And the only way to learn would be through experience. And the knocks and bumps are part and parcel of experience. A toddler cannot learn how to walk without falling down and sometimes getting hurt in the process. We have to just make sure the hurt is minor and that there would be no broken bones and cracked skulls. In time, the toddler learns how to walk and what to do and what not to do. That is life.

Certainly there are quite a number of immature and emotional postings in Malaysia Today. But there are also some very sensible and reasonable postings that are well-researched and factual and serve as a good source of information. But do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Do we censor the good just to prevent the bad from getting through?

Some feel I should filter all postings and delete those that are destructive in nature and only allow the constructive postings to remain. But what yardstick do I use in this filtering process? One man’s meat is another man’s poison. What is acceptable to me might not be acceptable to another person. Do I use my own standards to censor postings? What if my standards are higher or lower than someone else’s? I might then end up deleting postings that are considered tame and acceptable, or instead allow postings that others feel are too inflammatory and insulting.

We have to accept two realities of the Malaysian characteristic. One is that Malaysians are bigots by nature. And secondly, Malaysians are just too sensitive and cannot accept criticism. These two characteristics are opposed to each other. While we look down on and criticise those different from us, we cannot accept those we think are inferior to us from criticising us. And this is a major problem.

Sadly, this new Malaysian ‘culture’ emerged only after 1970. Somehow, government policies created to address the problems associated with the race riots of May 1969 just widened the race gap further rather than reduce it. But are not all Malaysian government policies like this? The policies conjured by those who think they know best aggravate rather than solve the problem. The recent diesel shortage crisis is but one example. The quota system implemented to curb profiteering merely created a bigger problem. Finally, they scrapped the whole idea and instead increased the fuel price thus creating yet another problem.

The deportation of foreign workers is again another ‘good’ policy gone awry. In its zeal to arrest the illegal immigrant problem, the government created a labour shortage which had great ramifications to the construction and service industries. The more problems the government tries to solve, the more problems it creates. This is a classic case of out of the frying pan, into the fire. Most times the government ends up robbing Peter to pay Paul (and in this case Peter is poor while Paul is rich; a sort of reverse Robin Hood situation).

Should Malaysia Today too be just like the Malaysian government? Do we stifle freedom of expression in the interest of racial and religious harmony? More importantly, would harmony be achieved just because Malaysia Today does not allow anyone to post messages that may rub Malaysians the wrong way? Just because we do not talk about it does not mean it is not there. We can bury our head in the sand. But just because our head is now hidden in the sand does not mean danger does not lurk nearby. It would be better to face danger and be fully aware of what is going on around us so that we do not get caught off guard.

My two ‘best friends’ in the 1960s were Yim Seng and Rajadurai. We would lepak at the roadside stalls even before the word ‘lepak’ was invented and the jokes we exchanged would be off-colour (sexy) and what today most would regard as ‘racially sensitive’. Let me recycle one of those old jokes of the 1960s narrated by Yim Seng which had Rajadurai and me in stitches.

“If you see one Chinese, he is a businessman,” said Yim Seng. “If you see two Chinese, they will be triad members. If you see three Chinese, they would be gamblers.”

Yim Seng went on.

“If you see one Indian, he would be drunk. If you see two Indians, they would fight. If you see three Indians, they would be union members.”

And as for the Malays, this is what Yim Seng had to say.

“If you see one Malay, he would be a politician. If you see two Malays, they would be politicians. If you see three Malays, they would be politicians.”

We would laugh our guts out and exchange more jokes of this nature. We did not feel insulted or became sensitive. It was a joke and we took it all in that spirit. Today, we can get arrested for such jokes.

Certainly such jokes were very racial. But we did not mind. We did not think it was insulting to anyone’s race. Why is it, today, jokes of that nature would trigger off riots on the streets? Why has our tolerance level slipped so low that we prefer keeping such thoughts to ourselves? It is not that jokes such as those are not being told nowadays. It is just that Malays would only joke that way amongst an all-Malay crowd and not in a mixed crowd. And the same would go for the Chinese and Indians as well.

In the UK, the English joke about the Irish, the Irish joke about the Welsh, the Welsh joke about the Scots, and vice versa. In the US, the Italians joke about the Polls, the Polls joke about the Germans, in short, everyone jokes about everyone. And no one goes to jail and no one riots on the streets.

If Malaysia wants to be part of this new millennium and not be left behind in the dark ages then Malaysians must be more matured and open minded. We have to be more tolerant and able to accept criticism. The truth, after all, always hurts. We must also not be too sensitive about what is being said about our race or religion whether in jest or otherwise. This is what freedom of expression is all about. If not, then Malaysians, in particular the opposition, have no business screaming and shouting about wanting more freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression has no borders or boundaries, just like the Internet. We cannot say we only want the freedom to express ourselves as long as this freedom is not ‘misused’ by others to criticise our race or religion. Freedom of expression is like a knife. And a knife cuts both ways.

We cannot control freedom of expression. Either we allow it or we ban it. And it is up to the readers of Malaysia Today whether they want to be allowed the privilege of freedom of expression. But they cannot expect this freedom of expression to be censored or else it will no longer be free expression but restricted expression.

Well, what do you want it to be? I will just go along with the majority view. But it will have to be the majority’s wishes because, in a democracy, the best you can get is majority view, never unanimous view — as unanimous views do not exist (if it does, then we would all be of one religion instead of many religions).