Silent No More, Please

Posted on November 22, 2014

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SilentNoMorePlease

Since PM Najib attributed UMNO-BN poor performance at GE13 to a Chinese tsunami and Utusan followed up with “Apa lagi Cina mau?,” all hell was let loosed and the racists and extremists came out of their closets. From ministers to ex-judges, ex-civil servants, politicians, etc, they came out unashamedly declaring their true agenda.

But I still believe in Malaysia and that the vast majority of Malaysian of all races are decent, peace-loving and not racists at heart. We are the silent majority.  However, the silent majority is irrelevant when the only voices heard are those of the vocal extremists and racists. It seems that they are the ones who are setting the agenda for public discourses these days.

I want to quote from part of an article I read a while back.

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I used to know a man whose family were German aristocracy prior to World War II. They owned a number of large industries and estates. I asked him how many German people were true Nazis, and the answer he gave has stuck with me and guided my attitude toward fanaticism ever since.

“Very few people were true Nazis,” he said, “but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.”

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Very few people were true Nazis but they enjoyed the return of German pride. Many people may not agree with the extreme views of the likes of Perkasa, Isma or even IS but perhaps in their hearts they enjoy the restoration of pride that these groups offered. Therefore, they maintain their neutral silence.  Or perhaps, too many are just too busy with daily survival and chores to bother.

Most Russians were peace-loving when the Communists came and took over the country. Yet 20 million died at the hands of Stalin.  Most Chinese were peace-loving when Mao brought about his revolutions and yet 70 millions died under his rule. Most Cambodians just want peace but yet the minority Khmer Rouge murdered 2 millions of their own countrymen. History is littered with evidences of the irrelevancy of the silent majority.

In Malaysia, are we also doomed to be dominated by the extreme minority that seeks to divide us, sowing hatred and threatening our future? When will these hateful rhetoric becomes fleshed out to physical violence, riot and civil war even?

I refuse to be a passive observer of history and thereby becoming one of its flotsam, becoming a victim of circumstances contrived by evil men bent on destruction and domination of others. We cannot afford to remain one of the silent majority, we have to speak up and act on behalf of the majority.

How do we overcome evil and hate? Do we overcome it with more evil and hate? With arguments and reasoning? With legislation and intimidation?

I would suggest that to do all that or any of the above would be akin to pouring fuel to fire. What fuels such extremists are not just ideological, theological or even political but hate. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. To be able to spew hate for another human being is an emotional matter, from the heart. To fight hate with hate is to further inflame the situation. Just as Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye, makes the world go blind.”

I am aware that it is human nature to respond in like manner. When we are shown kindness, we reciprocate with kindness. When we are hated, we hate back.  In my view, the real danger of racist rants is not the content of such rants but how we respond to them.

Many Malaysians are hurt by labels hurled at them like pendatangs (migrants), penceroboh (intruders), perompak (robbers) and pemalas (lazy). They can’t get their hands on the issuer of these labels who spoke from the safety of press conferences, forums, parliament, social media, etc, so they take it out on their innocent neighbours who had the misfortune of sharing the same race as the issuer, thus the cycle of hate is perpetuated.

We become what I would call reflective racists, no less vile than the source of these racist rants.

No, we must overcome hate with love and kindness. It may sounds soft and even weak but it is not. It is not easy to love someone who hates you or in the case of racism, the self-appointed spokespersons of a particular race and the race itself.  It takes a determination to not allow ourselves to respond in hate no matter what but instead respond either directly or indirectly in love and kindness.

To reclaim our nation (Negara-ku), if we are the silent majority of Malaysians who are decent and peace-loving, and refuse to be represented by these racist elements in our society and to be swept aside from any discourse on our future, we must not be silent and passive anymore.

These are a few suggestions I have.

  1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM – To claim that the extremists and racists are a small minority and has little following would be a grave error. The fact that they are bold enough to speak up and allowed to do so with impunity is not just because the authority did nothing.After years of race-based policies and indoctrination, the ground is fertile for these racists. Into this fertile ground they are sowing seeds of insecurities, hatred and fears. It would just be a matter of time before we all reap the fruits of it.
  2. SEEK TO UNDERSTAND WHY – In normal circumstances, nobody wants to live in hatred. There must be reasons why people felt they needed to hate another race. What are they saying? Is there some truth to it? If there is, how can we make amends or if not, how we can allay those concerns?Taking for example the phenomenon of the Islamic State (IS). Tens of thousands of foreigners have joined up with them for this jihad and committing atrocities beyond human decency. When it was revealed that Malaysians were among those who joined up, I was dumb-founded. Why? It’s easy to condemn them but I want to understand why? Perhaps in understanding we can begin to do something about the circumstances that led them to be willing to die in a foreign land. Likewise, we need to understand why people would want to hate other races.
  3. BUILD BRIDGES, NOT WALLS –  Walls are divider of communities and an invisible walls have been built through years of policies based not on our citizenship but on the country of origin of our forefathers. Education policies and falling standards probably has a big part to play as well in polarizing the communities. In the face of worsening race-relation, we must look for every opportunities to build bridges of friendship, understanding, respect and acceptance.Instead of waiting for some grand programme/campaign or change in government policies, can we just be good neighbours? Make conscious efforts to connect with someone of another race or religion. Seek to understand their values and faith and respect their practices or non-practices. Knowing the language of another is a great bridge-builder and it is incumbent on us to be able to speak another language other than our own in Malaysia.
  4. FINALLY, SPEAK UP – We have to let the rest of the silent majority know that they are the majority and not the minority. We have to strongly reject those who claim to speak on behalf of our race especially when in the name of our race or even God, they threaten and demean others. Who appointed them to be our spokesmen?Ordinary citizens can speak up as we go about our lives. Reject racist jokes or terms like devil, pig, or snake attached to certain races. Even if it is common among people to talk that way, it is vulgar and is disrespectful.

    If we are leaders in certain field, be it politics, business, academia, legal, civil society or civil service, we bear a greater burden to let our voices be heard through our speeches or writings.

    The media has a huge part to play as well to give voice to such counter-racism views. Sensational hate remarks often makes good headlines but in my view, it is a disservice to the nation on the part of media organisations to give racists disproportionately more space than voices of moderation.

Can we prove the statement that the silent majority is irrelevant wrong? Can we resolve this day to be relevant in our speech and action so as to reclaim back our nation for our children? Do we want our children to grow up hating another person just because of the colour of their skin? That is no way to live.

* The above were the text of a speech given at the Negara-Ku Roadshow on “Kembalikan Negara Ku: A Forum on Peace, Harmony and Unity” in Johor Bahru on 18th November, 2014 by one of the panel speakers, Thomas Fann.  Thomas is the Chairman of ENGAGE, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to encouraging and empowering citizens to get engage with nation-building.