September 4th, 2009 by Hafiz Noor Shams
What happened on a Friday in Shah Alam – when a group of individuals protesting against construction of a Hindu temple chose to do it by parading a severed cow’s head knowing full well that Hindus hold the cow sacred – is disgusting. There are ways to protest but the method employed by them is so despicable that it should be unthinkable and, hence, unspeakable. Malaysians who believe in a more inclusive future have every right to be angry at the protesters, whatever their political inclinations may be.
So reckless was the action that it left far too many thinking individuals with a revolting aftertaste that lingers on the tongue, even days after. It reminds too many Malaysians of one of the worst facets, if not the worst, that Malaysia can offer. It invokes all kinds of negative emotion: fear, sadness, disgust, anger. Pessimism reigns.
Regardless of debate regarding the ideals of Malaysia, this is no way to enter August 31, or September 16.
On the other side of the coin is the romantic Malaysia at play however.
If one concentrates just barely, one would realize an oft-overlooked but yet obvious and crucial fact in the whole episode. It is a fact that is capable of holding the tide of pessimism as the Hoover Dam to the Colorado.
It is a fact that the one who is standing up for a minority group against the majority is Khalid Samad, a Muslim Malay. It is a hopelessly clichéd romantic narration in which a Malaysian of a different background stands up for another Malaysian of different background.
Nonetheless, this important fact deserves greater attention because it provides a concrete example in combating generalization that leads to the perception that a community is homogeneous in its opinion and that that opinion is one where all Malays are out to oppress the non-Malays. It is especially useful in undoing views that the whole majority population – every Malay – is bent on pushing the minority aside with impunity.
For the action of a very limited number of individuals, there are those who condemn the whole Malay population as they condemned the outrageous protesters. This generalization is unfair and unbecoming of anybody that dreams of an inclusive Malaysia.
That generalization is absurd. More than absurd, it is dangerous because that itself leads to a greater downward spiral into bigotry. While they themselves claim to abhor bigotry, they themselves are falling into the same trap that forms the basis of such bigotry.
It cannot be emphasized enough that one large factor contributing to the racial and religious mess in Malaysia is the perception that ethnic groups in Malaysia are monolithic and that there is no individual but only a unit listening to the hive mind inside each of this group.
This is not a conflict between Muslim Malays against the minority. Rather, it is a conflict between inclusiveness and intolerance. For this reason, for their offence, these barbarians deserve focused criticism with the spirit of inclusiveness. But not with further bigotry and racism.
Any criticism that has with it a hint of bigotry and racism – in this particular case, by equating the whole Malay population with that of the few barbarians – is counterproductive. Such criticism against the protesters only justifies and strengthens the flawed notion of monolithic community because it attacks other Malays and Muslims who are innocent of the appalling act done on Friday in Shah Alam. When these Malays and Muslims are unfairly criticized, the likelihood of them to fall in line with the perceived communal pattern increases to worsen the situation.
The presence of Khalid Samad – not him as a person per se but the fact that he is a Muslim Malay – standing in opposite to the position of bigots forces anybody contemplating to unfairly commit that gross generalization. The role of Khalid Samad makes good the abstract criticism that has been made against the perception of monolithic community for the longest time.
Granted, such roles as that played by Khalid Samad frequently plays out in smaller settings every day around Malaysia and, in fact, around the world. Khalid Samad is not an exception to a generalization. Instead, the generalization of monolithic community is downright wrong.
Unfortunately, those who hastily generalize too often are too blind to see so small a deed. What they need is a big one to convince them.
With the temple controversy becoming a national issue, the role Khalid Samad has assumed provides Malaysians with an opportunity to demonstrate and convince themselves how flawed the notion of monolithic community is. It provides a chance to smash the idea of homogeneity to smithereens.
That is something Malaysians should celebrate and that should be the spirit as Malaysia celebrates its day, be it August 31, September 16 or any other day for that matter.
First published in The Malaysian Insider on September 1 2009.