Prove that Malaysia isn’t racist by signing ICERD

Prove that Malaysia isn’t racist by signing ICERD
By Zan Azlee

When I was in Standard One during primary school (and this was way back in 1985), I never thought of what my race is. We spoke English at home with heavy smatterings of Bahasa Malaysia, Cantonese and a bit of Bugis. We celebrated Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and the occasional Deepavali and Christmas.

I never equated any of that to a specific race. I just grew up seeing the languages we spoke among my family members as just a form of communication. If not how else were we going to organise our daily lives with each other, right? It was just a very practical function.

The festivities that we celebrated also did not strike me as racial or even religious festivities. It was just great excuses for my family to get together, have fun and enjoy each others’ company. We celebrated it all with much vigour and excitement.

One day in school, several classmates of mine came up to me. It was right after the Chinese New Year and I had been bragging about the number of angpows I had received from my parents, uncles, aunties and grandparents. I wanted to save up the money and get a Thundercats Sword of Omens.

These boys said to me that I would be going to hell because I had celebrated Chinese New Year. According to them, Malays were not allowed to celebrate Chinese New Year and that it is a Chinese celebration. They said that I am Malay and so they had a responsibility to tell me that.

I was confused. For seven years of my entire life, I had never seen anything wrong with how my family had been doing things, and now suddenly my family is supposedly living a life of sin. My mother is Chinese and my father is Malay (Bugis, if you were to personally ask him!).

Then I got scared. They continued to explain to me that Malays were all assured of going to heaven while the Chinese were kafirs and would go to hell. I didn’t want my mother to go to hell, so you can understand the fear that had beset me after that traumatic day. And I was seven years old, for heaven’s sake.

Luckily for me, my family brushed it off and we continued to celebrate all of the celebrations with the entire family anyway and that gave me the assurance that we were doing nothing wrong. Thanks to my family, I was confident enough to reject what my classmates had told me.

So what’s the big problem if Malaysia is working towards signing the Icerd (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination)? Isn’t it a good thing that we want to ensure that all races and people of all religions are treated equally and fairly? Isn’t it a good thing that we want to promote inclusivity and reject all forms of discrimination?

Look at all the people and groups that are rejecting the signing of Icerd. A huge bulk of them is Malay groups such as Umno, PAS and several other Malay rights groups. It goes to show that only one group who have reaped all the benefits of an unfair system are the ones objecting.

This unfair system has been so ingrained in our country’s life that even little seven-year-olds are so influenced by it that they see it as how life should be. And this happened 33 years ago when apparently, Malaysia was a much better place and was more harmonious. It has just gotten worse over the years, thanks to politicians.

My wife, Sheril A Bustaman, is a feminist. She speaks up for gender equality. She educates me and creates so much awareness in me that, as much as I want to think that I am progressive and forward thinking, there is still much to learn.

Many people would mistake her brazen forwardness as being too aggressive and in your face. But, for a gender that has been oppressed for hundreds of years, now that women have the ability to speak up, it is only understandable that they would want to speak and be actually heard.

Case in point here is the fact that P Waythamoorthy, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, is the one who is seen as pushing hard for the signing of Icerd. Prior to the May 9 general election, he was leading Hindraf and was very vocal about the mistreatment that the Indian community had allegedly suffered for decades.

Malaysians have worked hard to discard a political coalition that, for decades, have been playing the race and religion card to scare the people into submission. Now, we are fast moving towards an environment where we can speak up and address these issues.

Razali Ismail, the chairperson of Suhakam, said that Malaysia has a responsibility to sign Icerd and also a responsibility to educate Malaysians. Saifuddin Abdullah, the minister of Foreign Affairs, said that practising human rights of international standards is not bowing to the West but bringing the country forward in the game and be a formidable player.

I agree.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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