Politicians who lead the racial and religious polarisation agenda
By Zan Azlee
In a democracy, when an elected official takes office, that individual is supposed to represent everyone in their constituency regardless of who the constituents voted for.
There should not be any marginalisation of the population because even if a group of people voted for someone who then loses, they have to concede and hence, also deserve governance.
The issue of Jeram assemblyperson Mohd Shaid Rosli requesting that a supermarket in Puncak Alam close its non-halal section is irresponsible, immature, and ridiculous. The reason he gave was Puncak Alam is a Malay-majority area and 90 percent of the population must be respected.
First of all, the argument is that Malaysia is a multiracial and multireligious country. If we have to respect one racial or religious group, then we have to respect all racial and religious groups. As far as I can understand the Constitution, all races and religions are supposed to be treated equally. A highlight on the ‘supposed’.
The rights of non-Muslims and non-Malays should also be respected even if they are living in a Malay-majority area. They would most probably want to consume non-halal food and drinks and they would have full rights to do so. As a supermarket that serves the entire community, it is also only logical that these items are made available.
We constantly harp about how bad the polarisation of race and religion in Malaysia is. Well, here is a perfect example of how racism and religious intolerance will continue to widen the polarisation. The sad thing is that it is being aided by elected leaders (or maybe many would say these elected leaders are just pushing their own agenda and not that of their constituents).
When something like this happens, the consequence would be that Puncak Alam would be seen as an area that isn’t friendly or accepting of non-Muslims and non-Malays. I’m sure the non-Muslims and non-Malays will think twice if they ever wanted to move into the area. Those who are there would also have more reason to move away.
This would then lead to the creation of silo communities which consist of homogeneous ethnic and religious groups. Different individual areas would be solely Malay areas, Chinese areas, Indian areas, Orang Asal areas, and so on and so forth. This is more polarisation when we should be promoting integration, interaction, and understanding.
We really need to have a more inclusive culture in Malaysia and accept different people instead of pushing them out. I’m a Malay-Muslim and I do not drink alcohol nor eat pork. But I do not feel offended when I see people eat or drink non-halal stuff. I would assume that is how it is too when Hindus see other people eat beef, and vegetarians who see others eat meat.
After public backlash, Shaid has made a slight u-turn and has started to soften his stance. Now, he claims that he did not force the management to close the non-halal section but was merely suggesting it. Also, he focused more on denying that he wanted the supermarket to close down its alcohol section. It turns out they had a license to sell it.
The thing about it is that Shaid shouldn’t have made the request or suggestion in the first place because he needs to consider the racial and religious undertones (or even overtones) of the action. Remember, we need to promote inclusivity and not push people away. That is how we move forward to creating an understanding and accepting society.
What Shaid should have done as a responsible leader is to explain and educate his constituents about inclusivity, understanding, and acceptance, and how that is important to creating a harmonious and multicultural Malaysia. Instead, he was probably thinking of how to secure his position with the majority.
One thing good that came out of this incident is that public backlash caused Shaid to change his stance even if it was just a slight change. Slight, but hopefully in the right direction. Speaking up should never get old and we should all continue to keep each other in check. It may seem like a frustrating endeavour but there is no one who is going to do it but us Malaysians.
[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]
Get Zan Azlee’s best-selling book ‘Liberal, Malay and Malaysian‘ today!
Buy more Fat Bidin books, films and merchandise at The Fat Bidin Store!