Let’s play the race card

Raja Petra Kamaruddin

Phew! What a relief! The Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the alleged incident of the Chinese woman made to do ear squats in the nude in the police station has proven that the woman is Malay after all.

What a disaster it would have been if it had been proven she is Chinese. Barisan Nasional may actually lose the support of the Chinese voters, especially when the policewoman subjecting her to this treatment is Malay and wearing a tudung on top of that (those in tudung are pious and true Muslims as opposed to those bare-headed ones like my wife who are deviants).

Now that it is confirmed she is Malay, Barisan Nasional is secure. It is very important that Barisan Nasional is perceived as looking after the interests of the Chinese and not give any appearance that the Chinese are subjected to any form of discrimination. Umno, the lead partner in Barisan Nasional, depends a lot on Chinese and Indian voters to stay in power. Those constituencies which are 95% or 97% Malay would fall to the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS). Only in the mixed-constituencies where 30%, 40% or 50% of the voters are Chinese and Indians would Umno be able to win.

Yes, that’s right. This has nothing to do with human rights or justice. It has everything to do with race. And Malaysian politics is based on race, not issues or ideologies. One must play the race card to retain power. And one must be an expert at playing the balancing act: being able to tell the Malays one thing and the Chinese and Indians the opposite. One must carry a keris above one’s head in an assembly of Malays and scream about defending Malays against the enemies of the Malays (guess who?) while at the same time, the very same day, stand before an assembly of Chinese and Indians and talk about multi-racial Malaysia and the importance of racial tolerance for the peace and stability of this country. (You can get away with this when the Chinese do not read the Malay language newspapers and the Malays do not read the Chinese newspapers).

Barisan Nasional is very clever at playing the race card. Take, for instance, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which is a non-race based or multi-racial party. Barisan Nasional will tell the Malays that Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which seeks equality for all races and an end to the New Economic Policy, is a traitor to the Malay race. It then tells the Chinese that Parti Keadilan Rakyat has an alliance with ‘militant’ and ‘extreme’ PAS, which aspires to set up an Islamic State, so it is a danger to the Chinese and Indians.

Now can you see how difficult it is for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (which propagates issues such as eliminating corruption, transparency, accountability, better government, independence of the judiciary, separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, and so on)? Who cares about all these? Malaysian politics is not about all these issues. It is about race.

However, how clever Barisan Nasional may be at playing the race card, it is still playing a very dangerous game. Malaysia is a delicately balanced country — slightly over half the country’s population is Malay-Muslim. Malaysia is probably one of the few countries in the world in this situation. That makes Malaysia unique, and of course very dicey as well.

But this does not mean if Malaysia is 90% Malay-Muslim things would be safer. Indonesia has more than 90% ethnic Indonesians and less than 10% Chinese; yet this does not stop that country from suffering from racial strife. It just means that the Chinese in Indonesia have absolutely no political involvement or influence so they keep to themselves and do not ‘disturb’ or cabar (provoke) the majority ethnic Indonesians since they are grossly outnumbered. And, unlike in Malaysia, the Chinese in Indonesia cannot make any demands and would drop their Chinese names whenever the government demands so.

I suppose Malaysia is slightly better than Indonesia in that since the Malays are not 90% or more of the population, they do not go around bullying the helpless Chinese who would be forced to take whatever shit they are dished out without a whimper. In Malaysia, the Chinese can fight back, though I do not mean physically, because they have a strong political representation in the government plus a strong opposition voice (DAP) as well, which the Chinese very cleverly manipulate — so the various Chinese political parties try to outdo each other in proving it is the best alternative to serve the Chinese community and safeguard Chinese interests.

The Malays, of course, though only half the population, still have the upper hand. The Rulers are Malay, the Prime Minister is Malay, and most of the civil service and security agencies are Malay. But the Chinese dominate the economy so there is this almost unwritten rule of live and let live. The Malays run the country and the Chinese make all the money. In most instances, there is a marriage of convenience between Malays and Chinese. Malays have the political power to make people rich while Chinese have the money to help you get rich.

One cannot live without the other. All the money in the world is pointless if you cannot invest it. On the other hand, all that power to grant approvals is useless unless you can get funding to turn that piece or paper into cash. So, the Malays sign the approval letters and contracts and the Chinese sign the cheques to finance everything. Beautiful arrangement!

However, once in awhile this unholy alliance is threatened when Malays who do not get a cut of the cake start grumbling. Then they will grandstand, resort to rhetoric, and wave a keris in an assembly full of politicians. Statements like the future of the Malays is being threatened, the ‘foreigners’ are stealing the wealth of this nation, Malays are being reduced to second class citizens in their own country, and much more would be uttered.

Chinese, on the other hand, too have their own rhetoric like demanding more Chinese schools and to be educated in their mother-tongue, an end to the New Economic Policy, meritocracy instead of quotas based on race, and many more which the Malays invariably view as provocative and a threat to their very existence.

Understandably, each side views the other with suspicion and any demands or rhetoric is interpreted as a challenge and a test to see how far they can push and get away with it. Therefore, they should not be allowed to get away with it lest this makes them bolder and they start demanding more.

But most of this cabar-mencabar (provocation) is conducted in the controlled atmosphere of the party’s general assembly. The Malay and Chinese politicians do, after all, have to show their respective communities that they are doing their job and are fighting for the rights of their community. It is when the same thing is done on the streets or in the media (internet included); which means it is not a controlled ‘fight’; that the government is forced to act. And sometimes the media purposely plays up certain issues just to stoke the sentiments of their community.

For example, say there is a gang fight in Petaling Street and one person is killed. This happens all the time and gangsters getting killed in gang fights are pretty common. Petaling Street is controlled by the Chinese and it is just coincidental that the chap killed is Malay. But he was killed because he was from the rival gang and not because he is Malay. The newspapers, however, report that a Malay youth was murdered by some Chinese in Petaling Street. The reporters then interview the deceased’s parents and they say he was a kind boy, always helped the parents around the house, a fantastic son, and so on.

Then some Malay politicians make statements about how the Chinese ‘kurang ajar’ (insolent) and have forgotten that they are ‘guests’ in this country. The Chinese are then warned not to push the Malays too far. This has been going on too long and the Malays are at the point of hitting back.

Hey, this was a gang fight and had nothing to do with race. Why are the politicians getting all hot and bothered? Now can you see where all this is leading to? But if the newspapers had just reported that there was a gang fight in Petaling Street resulting in the death of one gangster, no one would have bothered reading the news item and newspaper sales would not increase.

On Tuesday, the government reported that the so-called Chinese national who was video-taped doing ear squats in the nude while under police detention is actually Malay. But this was not until the whole country was up in arms and a senior minister had to go to China to apologise over the incident.

As much as I despise such treatment of women while under police custody, I still wonder why the massive brouhaha over the matter. Certainly it is wrong. My wife and I too were asked to strip naked when we were detained in March 2001, and I have never forgotten the incident nor will I forgive them for it. But Malays, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and many more have been subjected to this treatment while under police custody for tens of years. And the police did say this is standard procedure.

In 2000, Nora, a Malay mother of six, too was stripped naked and made to do ear squats. The Free Anwar Campaign website carried the news as did Malaysiakini. But there was no outrage. There were no protests. The matter was not raised in Parliament. No Commission of Inquiry was set up.

Why, why and why? Is it because she is Malay?

Yes, when things are taken in the context of race it always gets out of hand. If the report had just said a woman was stripped naked and made to do ear squats it would have gone unnoticed like in the Nora incident. But when the word ‘Chinese’ is added to the news report, it makes headlines. And even more sensational if the police concerned was Malay wearing a tudung.

Is the outrage because a woman was made to do ear squats in the nude or is the outrage because she is Chinese and those subjecting her to this are Malay (since there is no outrage when it is Malays who suffer this)?

I smell a rat. I am beginning to suspect that the issue is not about human rights at all but about race. But then, I may be wrong. I hope I am.