Was 2016 the year of racism, intolerance, exclusivity, elitism and insecurity?
By Zan Azlee
THE new year is here and most people will reflect on a series of turning points in 2016 in anticipation of what comes next. But before the anticipation, let’s look at what we have seen over the past year (since this is an opinion piece, then it is how the year unfolded from my perspective!).
Honestly, without overly being pessimistic, the year 2016 has been the tipping point for racism, intolerance, exclusivity, elitism and insecurity. Allow to me explain why I say so.
The fall of one of the world’s biggest and strongest regional unions came as a big shock to many in the international community. Well, the union is seemingly still intact but one of its most influential members, Britain, has voted in a memorandum to leave the European Union (EU).
The EU was forged to create a free trade zone which improved the region’s economy; it managed to sustain a social welfare system that allowed the aid of countries within the union who needed it, and it created open borders to allow its citizens better opportunities.
Then the memorandum happened, and the British people voted to part ways with the EU. Not all voted for it, but it was enough to divide the entire country, prompting analysis after analysis to pinpoint the causes for the departure.
Voters in favour of Brexit were among those who felt threatened of losing their culture and history, fearing the loss of a country that was once their’s. In a nutshell, they sought exclusivity with the vote and reaffirmed that they did not want ‘outsiders’ to be fellow countrymen.
Jamal Yunos and the red shirts
In Malaysia, it may not be so different. From the start of independence (or even during British colonial rule) around the ‘1950s, those ruling the country practiced the divide and conquer method by pitting one ethnic group against another.
This isn’t hard to do seeing that the country is multiracial and consist of three main races – Malays, Chinese and Indians. And so the political parties of the country are mainly run along racial lines, ostensibly to protect the interest of their respective people.
From this fact alone, it is very obvious that, for decades, the Malaysian political system has been based on fear and insecurities of different ethnic groups who have been conditioned to think that they need to fight for the survival of their communities.
Invariably, this has lead to the birth of ultra right-wing groups such as the Red Shirts, led by Jamal Yunos, who believe that they are fighting for rights of the Malays in the country, but instead reign in on racial supremacy that is unbefitting of the times. Jamal and his ilk are known to intimidate and provoke people through their vulgar and, at times, violent demonstrations and counter demonstrations around the country.
And although the ruling party Umno (United Malays National Organisation) says that they do not endorse the group, the very fact that Jamal himself is an Umno member and division leader who has never been disciplined or reprimanded says a lot is a testament to the pervasive thuggery in national politics.
The United States of America has a new president-elect. I dare say that nobody alive in the world today is not unaware of Donald Trump and the anticipated impact of his election victory.
Trump ran an election campaign that, similar to the right wing populist motivations of the Brexit in Britain and the Red Shirts in Malaysia, drew hype around the fear and insecurity of the people. And the sad part is that it totally worked, whereby people bought into his ‘Make America Great Again’ mantra.
The most shocking thing about this is that it happened in a country that made so much progress by voting in its first African-American president, Barrack Obama, for two terms.
But it looks like after that eight seemingly progressive years, the fears and insecurity of the American people trumped the day. They have chosen an individual who has spewed racist rhetoric throughout his campaign – with much fallacies sexism thrown into the mix.
But Americans seem to be hopeful that their democratic system will ensure that one person won’t have total dictatorial powers in the country and that a proper check and balance will be maintained. They do, after all, claim to be the greatest democratic power in the world.
As for humans in general, I really do want to feel more hopeful that real humanity will prevail and that all of these happenings that I have mentioned above are mere knee-jerk reactions to the real transition and change that is underway.
So let’s end it on that note and hope that all of the pitfalls of last year are just small, eleventh-hour obstacles faced by human civilisation which is destined to move forward and make progress.
Let’s hope for a better 2017.
[This article was originally written for and published at AsianCorrespondent.com]
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