Are The Chinese Less Malaysian?

Posted on September 19, 2015



After the first Bersih rally that ended peacefully, with a record estimated number of participants of 500,000 over the 34 hours period, the UMNO-owned newspaper of Mingguan Malaysia and Utusan Malaysia, as expected, went on to rubbish Bersih 4. The focus of these newspapers, this time, was on the racial profile of the majority of the participants, who happened, this time round, to be the Chinese.

The headline of Mingguan Malaysia on the second day of the rally on 30th August screamed, “DAP Kuasai Bersih 4.0 – Didominasikan oleh kaum Cina, Peniaga alami kerugian” (DAP Controls Bersih 4.0 – Dominated by the Chinese, Traders suffer losses).

Days after Bersih 4, the focus of Utusan and various Malay-rights “champions” has been on the rude behaviours of the Chinese like the stomping of a photo of the Prime mInister Najib Razak and PAS’ Tok Guru Hadi Awang. Thus, Bersih 4, a protest against corruption and the failure of public institutions to stop it, has been racialized through distortion and amplification of minor incidents.

Estimates of Malay participation at Bersih 4 ranged from 10 to 15 percent on the first day and between 30 to 40 percent on the second day. This can be interpreted as a drop compared to previous Bersih rallies held.

Earlier Bersih rallies, especially the first and second, had significantly more Malay protesters percentage-wise but the overall attendances were much smaller with around 50,000 participants each as compared to Bersih 3 and 4 that saw many more participants and a significant number of Chinese. Instead of interpreting the participation of the Malay community in Bersih 4 as a drop, it would probably be more accurate to say that the participation of Chinese has increased substantially in the last two Bersih rallies.

And what is so wrong with that?

These are children of immigrants who came from China many generations ago, with some coming in as early as the 15th century and the last wave about a hundred years ago. These Malaysians of Chinese origins have often been accused by the same Malay-rights extremists of being selfish, and uninterested in nation-building or participation in politics. In the eyes of these racists, the Chinese have been only interested in enriching themselves and preserving their native culture.

B4_exerciseBut Bersih has shown  that these perceptions of the Chinese to be untrue. Bersih called on all Malaysians to come out in protest against unfair elections, dirty politics, gross corruptions and for institutional reforms to our political system and all Malaysians who supported these demands came out, including the Chinese.

They have shown that they love this country as much as any Malaysian. Those who turned up for Bersih 4 had to overcome threats of arrests and harm from the authorities, internal fears, even objections from friends and families to be counted as true patriots.

At the Bersih 4 rally we were united in our desire to demand a better future for ourselves and our children. We celebrated our diversity, our creativity and for a brief 34 hours, our freedom to express our rejection of Najib Razak and corruption.

There was also freedom to express one’s faith in public. I remember on the first day when it came time for Maghrib prayers in the evening for the Muslims, the non-Muslims quickly cleared a space near Dataran Merdeka, laid out a big banner on the tarmac for their Muslim brothers to kneel in prayer.B4_prayer

Non-Muslims, yes, many of whom were Chinese, offered water to their Muslim fellow-protesters to take their ablutions before prayer. The noisy vuvuzelas were silenced as all of us stood around respectfully.

The participants of the rally volunteered themselves to look after each other in security and crowd control. They picked up rubbish on the roads and did their best to clean up the streets around the Dataran.

They slept on sidewalks and on the streets, side by side, regardless of race or religion. I suspect they shared a common dream that night of a more harmonious Malaysia where there is mutual respect and acceptance of each other’s differences.B4_sleeping_road

For the Chinese who came out to Bersih 4 and many more who didn’t come, they are Malaysians first. They were there not to champion their own race or rights but to champion the rights of all Malaysians to clean elections and good governance. They were there to stake their claim to the only country they know and they are sending a message that they are here to stay.

When will all of us come to a place where we no longer look at each other from racial or religious lenses, but as Malaysians and fellow human beings created and loved by the same God.

I am almost ashamed to even write this article to address this issue of the ethnic composition of Bersih 4. But so many have raised that up, offering reasons why the Malays were not there in larger number and some even blamed Bersih for failing to reach out to the Malays. It is true that Bersih could do a lot more to reach out to all segments of our society, especially in the rural areas where the majority are Malay.

But for me, some of the best Malaysians were represented at Bersih 4. There were Malay, Chinese, Indian, Orang Asli, Eurasians, Iban, Kadazan but we were all Malaysians. We were there for the love of the country and we don’t deserve to be regarded as any less patriotic just because of where our forefathers had come from a hundred or more years ago.

This article was published in my weekly column at The Malaysian Insider.

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