It’s always been about race

Umno, therefore, cannot unilaterally play the race card. If they do that, they run the risk of upsetting the other non-Umno (meaning also non-Malay-non-Muslim) members of Barisan Nasional. And there would be a danger they may leave Barisan Nasional and become independent parties or join Pakatan Rakyat to form the new federal government. So the non-Umno members must endorse what Umno is doing and maybe even participate in the game and also play the race card, although sometimes subtly like MCA so that it is not too obvious.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Certainly Barisan Nasional plays the race card. And they play it quite well, I must say. And certainly we should whack Barisan Nasional for playing the race card, as this is not conducive to national unity.

Note that I said Barisan Nasional and not Umno. Oh, of course, Umno does play the race card. There is no doubt about that. But Umno can never play this race card unless the other dozen or so non-Umno parties in Barisan Nasional also play it, or allow Umno to play it.

We must remember that Umno has only about half the seats that Barisan Nasional has in Parliament, which means only about one-third or so of the 222 seats in Parliament. This means Umno, on its own, without the rest of the Barisan Nasional component members, does not have enough seats to form the government. Hence, if the dozen or so other non-Umno parties leave Barisan Nasional, Umno would become the opposition party in Parliament and the Umno President would no longer become the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Umno, therefore, cannot unilaterally play the race card. If they do that, they run the risk of upsetting the other non-Umno (meaning also non-Malay-non-Muslim) members of Barisan Nasional. And there would be a danger they may leave Barisan Nasional and become independent parties or join Pakatan Rakyat to form the new federal government. So the non-Umno members must endorse what Umno is doing and maybe even participate in the game and also play the race card, although sometimes subtly like MCA so that it is not too obvious.

Barisan Nasional needs to continue playing the race card to survive. That is why the three original members of the Alliance Party — Umno, MCA and MIC — have not merged into one multi-racial or non-race based party. If they thought that the race card was already outdated and there is no mileage in racial politics, Umno, MCA and MIC would have merged into the United Malaysians National Organisation.

Now, that is Barisan Nasional and its cohorts. How fares the opposition Pakatan Rakyat? Is Pakatan Rakyat a victim of racial politics or is it also a player?

From where most Malaysians sit, Pakatan Rakyat is as much a player as Barisan Nasional although most times it screams ‘victim’. Pakatan Rakyat is no less guilty of playing the race card although sometimes they may not realise (or are in denial) that they too are playing the same game as Barisan Nasional.

And this is what is most troubling because it gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the Pakatan Rakyat people and their supporters are hypocrites. Just by screaming that the other side is a racist does not make you a non-racist, just like screaming that someone is a thief does not mean you are not also one.

My wife and I have made about nine trips to China in our lifetime. One trip was about a week before Chinese New Year and, boy, were the airports crowded with people ‘balek kampong’. You won’t believe it but we actually had to step over people to get to the check-in counter. I called it wall-to-wall people — so thick with people you could not see the floor.

Anyway, I asked this girl in Beijing whether she too was going home for Chinese New Year. She looked at me all puzzled. “Chinese New Year?” she asked me.

“Yes…you know…next week…holiday?”

“Oh, you mean Spring Festival,” she said. “You call it Chinese New Year in Malaysia?”

“Yes,” I replied. “And do you also have lion dances going door-to-door.”

Again, she looked puzzled. “Lion dances? What is that?”

Well, that was 20 years ago back in the early 1990s. Maybe things have changed since then but that was the gist of what happened when I went to China.

So you see, some of the so-called Chinese customs and traditions are not actually Chinese culture. I was told that the tossing of Yee Sang and the throwing of oranges over the bridge during Chap Goh Mei is the same. It is actually Malaysian rather than from China (correct me if I am wrong).

And this is the same for some so-called Malay customs and traditions. They are not really Malay culture in that sense but adopted over the many generations from the Buddhists, Hindus and whatnot. Over the last generation, many have since been discarded, but up to the 1960s many of these customs and traditions were still being practiced by the Malays, as if they were God’s law (in fact, many Malays actually thought they were Islamic but now know better).

Nevertheless, we still allow these customs and traditions to continue to divide us. We treat them as divine law and we go to war with those who ‘do not respect our culture’. If a Chinese refuses to wear a songkok during a swearing in ceremony it becomes an issue. On the other side, if you are told that you must wear a songkok because it is the dress code it also becomes an issue. Hence, both sides turn it into an issue, the anti-songkok as well as the pro-songkok.

If Malays hand out a red ang pau during Chinese New Year it becomes an issue. The Islamists will say that this is a non-Muslim belief and therefore if you ape the non-Muslims that makes you an apostate. In fact, in the first place, the Islamists will argue, you are not even supposed to participate in non-Islamic rituals and functions, let alone hand out a red ang pau for good luck.

If Malays hand out a white ang pau to avoid being accused by the Islamists of participating in non-Muslim rituals and beliefs it also becomes as issue, but this time to the non-Muslims. It is now interpreted as not respecting Chinese customs and beliefs.

The safest thing would be to avoid totally any and all Chinese festivals. Then both sides will be happy. The Islamists would not label you an apostate while the non-Muslims would not accuse you of not respecting their culture.

That would mean the Malays keep to themselves and the non-Malays do the same. Do not cross the racial divide and try to reach out to the other side. Keep to your own race. Then no one can say you are acting like a non-Muslim by participating in non-Muslim events and the other side can’t accuse you of being insensitive to their feelings.

Basically, we will be turning the clock back to the mid-1800s when the Chinese and Indians first came to Malaya in large numbers. The Malays lived in the kampongs, the Chinese in Chinese villages, and the Indians in estates. They did not cross each others’ paths so they did not rub each others’ sensitivities the wrong way. Everyone lived in peace because everyone lived within his/her own community or clan.

That was how it was like more than 150 years ago. And that is why there was peace amongst the many races, because they did not need to interact with one another.

Today, that would be impossible. Today, we have been urbanised and live in one huge global ‘village’. So we will need to interact. We can’t avoid crossing each others’ paths. But our thinking has not globalised. We still think and do things as Malays, Chinese, Indians or whatever. Even those in the opposition who scream ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ are not exempted.

They say everything is in the mind, even sex. According to one surgeon I spoke to, he said that 50% of erectile problems is psychological and not physical. So you need to ‘talk to somebody’ to be able to get an erection. Hence it is certainly in the mind.

So let us start with the mind.

For example, why not we start by abolishing the term ‘Chinese New Year’ and call it ‘Spring Festival’ or ‘Malaysian Spring Festival’ or ‘Lunar New Year’ or whatever? Then it will become an annual festival for all Malaysians and not just for the Chinese. In the 1800s, only Chinese celebrated this festival, so calling it Chinese New Year made sense. Today, all Malaysians join is so it is no longer just for the Chinese.

Hari Raya (Celebration Day) is called ‘Hari Raya’ and not ‘Hari Raya Melayu’. Actually, it is not really an Islamic affair. No doubt, Muslims go to the mosque (just like some Chinese go to the temple for the Spring Festival and burn joss sticks), but it is the celebration of the end of the month of Ramadhan (fasting) just like the Spring Festival is to mark the end of winter and the beginning of the Lunar New Year.

Some have asked me why do we still talk in terms of Malay, Chinese, Indians, Dayaks, Ibans, Kadazans, etc? Well, that’s because each respective ethnic group also still talks in terms of their ethnicity. And Malaysian politics is very much race based.

Aren’t DAP and MCA both fighting over issues such as Chinese education and Chinese schools? The two main rival Chinese-based parties are propagating Chinese issues. Even Chinese who are Christians scream about Chinese education and Chinese schools.

On the one hand, DAP wants to see a Malaysian Malaysia. On the other hand, they scream about Chinese education and Chinese schools. And if people like me speak out against Chinese education and Chinese schools we will be called racists. (Actually, I attended the DAP demonstration on the Damansara school matter if you must know, as did some PAS people).

I think everyone needs to rethink about what is going on in Malaysia. Both sides accuse the other side of perpetuating racism. Actually, both sides are equally guilty. Those readers of Malaysia Today who whack Ketuanan Melayu also use derogatory terms to refer to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Those who whack Perkasa never shy away from making racist remarks themselves. If I get RM1.00 for every time Dr Mahathir is whacked as a Mamak, I would be a very rich man by now.

It is one big load of hypocrisy.

Oh, you want to disagree with me? You don’t agree that the opposition also plays the race card? Well, why then do the Chinese contest in Chinese majority constituencies and the Malays in Malay majority areas, and the same for the Indians, Dayaks, Ibans, Kadazans, etc? Can a Malay candidate contest in a Penang seat that has 90% Chinese voters and win? Can a Chinese candidate contest in a Kelantan seat that has 95% Malay voters and win?

If a DAP Chinese candidate contests against a Malay from Umno in a PAS area, the PAS Malays will vote Umno. If it is Malay versus Malay then they will vote PAS. If a PAS Malay candidate contests against a Chinese from Gerakan in a DAP area, the DAP Chinese will vote Gerakan. If it is Chinese versus Chinese then they will vote DAP.

You still say that this is not based on race? And aren’t the political parties from both sides perpetuating this? Of course, they talk about ‘winnable’ candidates, but ‘winnable’ here also means the correct race.  And why do you think parties from both sides of the political divide quarrel over seats? That’s because they want the seat with the ‘correct’ racial mix. So they quarrel over these seats, the opposition included.

Culture, traditions, language, customs, etc., are not wrong. There is nothing wrong in having your own culture, tradition, language, custom, etc. Actually, it makes Malaysia very unique and colourful. And tourists just love it, especially the diversity of our food. It is when all these becomes tools of the political game is when the harm is done. 

And that is what both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat are doing.