‘Racist’ principal debate signals a ‘divided’ nation

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 — The latest racial incident sparked by Johor school principal Siti Inshah Mansor has raised concerns that the country may still be “divided” along racial lines.

Politicians and analysts have claimed that the conditions in the country since March 2008 have spiralled down to a level where “minority” groups like Perkasa are able to propagate a fear of “Malay insecurity,” and attach almost every issue to racial inequalities.

“Yes, we are divided between racial lines. Since the last general election, there has been a rapid escalation of racial rhetoric. It’s quite obvious where it is coming from, you have groups who are harping on the insecurities of the Malays.

“This is a dangerous move here, where these small groups are pushing racial lines to create a false sense of blame on other races,” said Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian.

Ibrahim told The Malaysian Insider that he did not believe that Malaysians in general were “intolerant” towards each other.

“I think for the most part, the average Malaysian is open and tolerant, although there are quite a number people who are ignorant of the culture and sensitivities of other races.

“The problem is when (these) people congregate in groups, they have different views and they start agitating the public to take sides,” said the pollster.

Since Siti Inshah’s alleged racist remarks were reported last week, a fan page in support of the principal was created on Facebook, where there has been an outpouring of support, with many “fans” believing that the allegations against her were “racial and ethnic.”

The commentators have defended Siti Inshah’s alleged remarks, saying that she was merely educating her students on the position of the Malays and other races in the country.

“The divide has increased in recent years due to the nature of politics being practised in this country. Students, teachers, civil servants are being exposed to racial rhetoric on a daily basis,” said DAP national publicity secretary Tony Pua.

Pua blamed the Najib administration for the “increase” in racial division.

“Yes, it’s pretty much about race. I mean, you have a Deputy Prime Minister (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) who refuses to espouse the 1 Malaysia concept, how do you expect the rest of the country to follow suit?

“The increasing racial stance is because politicians in Barisan Nasional (BN) are feeling defensive, this is their final attempt at remaining relevant,” Pua told The Malaysian Insider.

Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said the reason why a racial debate on Siti Inshah had begun on Facebook was because the investigation into the principal’s alleged racist remark was taking “too long”.

“When an issue drags and there is an absence of information, there is a lot of speculation and it creates room for people to want to racialise the issue.

“The investigations are taking a long time, people begin to speculate,” said Khairy.

But the Rembau MP disagreed with the fact that the country had become divided along racial lines.

“I wouldn’t want to make that kind of generalisation. Ethnicity still plays an important role in forming our identity. But the problem occurs when you look around to racialise the issue,” Khairy told The Malaysian Insider.