Promote greater goodwill with neighbour

By Koh Lay Chin (NST)

Most Malaysians may balk at the idea, incredulous there is such hate from our neighbours, but there it is, as clear as day if they choose to recognise it.

SOMETIME last year, Malaysian actor Ashraf Sinclair and his Indonesian sweetheart Bunga Citra Lestari, also an actress, talked to the media about their love and impending nuptials. The attractive pair, now husband and wife, were charming and talked candidly about their relationship, both with obviously differing Bahasa accents. At one point, when asked about actual timelines for their wedding arrangements such as the adat merisik (asking ceremony), both cheerfully said that there were no actual plans as yet. A smiling Ashraf said they would first be asking for the restu (blessings) from their families and also "from our countries". Both laughed, and the heartthrob then said in jest, "Did you get that on tape?"

Both media darlings could hint about their countries' differences in a jovial manner but about a week ago, when Ashraf got into a car accident, there were hints of the republic's feelings about Malaysians in some responses about his misfortune. When it was reported that he was fine and well despite the accident, one particularly cruel comment online from an anonymous Indonesian said bluntly, "Pity he is still alive."

Most Malaysians may balk at the idea, incredulous there is such hate from our neighbours, but there it is, as clear as day if they choose to recognise it. There is actual hate simmering in the hearts of Indonesians, and it isn't just made up or government-to-government. Just ask your Indonesian friends or trawl online for opinions about Malaysia and the scorn is easy to find. These are ordinary, middle class and salt of the earth Indonesians — the ones that share our fondness for their Peterpan or our Datuk Siti Nurhaliza.

On Twitter, there is even a trending topic that starts with a particular F word and ends with our country's name. On many Indonesian news and analytical sites, comments from Malaysia often cite surprise that the level of hatred is substantial. When it comes to neighbourly relations, it would appear as if most Malaysians are a little clueless about Indonesia's feelings.

In recent comedy shows in Kuala Lumpur, there were more than a few jokes about our republic down South. Truth be told, we make so many subtle or not-so-subtle jibes at Singapore, but most of it comes hand in hand with secret and not-so-secret affection and admiration. With newfound bilateral warmth stemming from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's efforts with the island republic, we have also seen further opportunities for cooperation opening up, a far cry from the days of full-on verbal hostilities regarding the triumvirate problems of water, land and skies.

But as relations improve with Singapore, they seem to be deteriorating with our bigger brother, the one we call serumpun (of the same family). If we have made fun of Singapore before, perhaps we may understand a little where Indonesia is coming from. Singapore's food is actually ours. Their wau and batik of Singapore Airlines is actually ours. Bah humbug, those inter-racial, muhibah advertisements are actually ours!

But it stands that as much as we claim ownership about certain things promoted by Singapore, Indonesia is really fuming from the ears about things we do ever so innocently. As we trot on, singing our tourism gems to the world and showcasing our colourful heritage, it appears that to Indonesians, we are arrogant, preening peacocks who have "stolen" their pendet dance, their islands, their songs and an assortment of cherished symbols.

It is a travesty made even more sour when we have, or so they say, abused their maids and a model-princess, as well as bred a terrorist who has created havoc on their shores. It would seem a double whammy — we apparently take their most precious of things, and throw the damaged back at them.

Burning a flag is never a light or justified action. Even the most peaceful and liberal of Malaysians would not appreciate the Jalur Gemilang being treated that way, no matter what race, religion or political leaning. But Malaysians' response on the recent burning of our country's flag in Indonesia was not met by great anger or similar retaliatory actions. Could it be that deep down inside Malaysians are aware of or understand their anger?

Najib, in response to these incidents, said he believed the burning of Malaysian flags did not reflect the intention of the Indonesian government. Surely, however, it must be more worrying when it is not the government's intent, but that of the people on the ground. This is no longer about politics, it has seeped into the masses of Indonesia. They are no longer talking about just maids or territorial disputes like Ambalat, they are saying phrases like "You think we are dirt" and "You are so arrogant". They hack our websites and openly insult the country, and this is in the month of Ramadan.

You know that really annoying kid in the classroom who cannot stop talking about himself, unwittingly infuriating those around him? That seems to be us to Indonesia at the moment.

But there is hope for improvement. Even as there is vitriol from Indonesians, there are those who urge restraint, and tell their countrymen that it is their government who should do more for their poor, for their maids, for their own tourism campaign. There are the Indonesians who remind their peers that we are indeed from similar roots, and to instead promote goodwill and friendship.

Perhaps we need to be more proactive to help them, and ourselves. Could there be more non-governmental organisations or British Council-like outfits to promote cultural relations? Perhaps the arts community in both countries could play a greater part.


If we are truly keen to better our neighbourly relations, then like Ashraf and Bunga, we must seek the understanding and restu from both our peoples.