Annual Malaysia Racial Discrimination report points to increased incidents of prejudice

KOMAS has released their annual Malaysia Racial Discrimination report, and the results, though somewhat unsurprising, are rather saddening: The racial divide in the country is widening, abetted not just by the actions of private individuals and organizations, but also by a government that had not done enough to promote national unity.

KOMAS is a non-governmental organization dedicated to using creative media to promote human rights causes in Malaysia. Their past work has included documentaries about a daughter trying to piece together her father’s past political imprisonment in 1970’s Malaysia, as well as one about the plundering of Sarawak’s natural resources by government officials.

Their report highlighted several disappointing instances throughout the year when race-based discrimination issues were brought to public attention.

Among them were a “Muslims-only” toilet along an expressway road stop, the unlawful seizure of hardware store paintbrushes believed to be made of pig bristles, the introduction of separate drinking cups for different religions at an elementary school as well as the headline grabbing “Muslims-only” launderettes in Johor and Perlis.

However, they also commended the swift action in many of these cases, including the strong public denouncement by the Sultan of Johor, who ordered the launderette to be open to all or close immediately, and the support of both the Federal Territories mufti, as well as the Perlis mufti on the matter.

When it came to the matter of the paintbrushes, the prime minister himself also voiced public dissatisfaction with how officers handled the matter, adding that simply telling them to label the brushes would have been satisfactory.

An issue that was also highlighted was the overreaching bureaucratic arm of Islamic affairs authorities, who at times acted without jurisdiction on matters.

Discrimination was also felt by Muslim women after an international hotel asked that female employees not wear a headscarf, infringing on their religious freedoms. Also taken to task was a job posting by international skin care chain The Body Shop, which stipulated the vacancy be filled by “Chinese only.”

In the private sector, landlords were also called out, after an online documentary of undercover journalists exposed that over 50 percent of landlords were unwilling to rent their property to tenants of a different race, citing that some nationalities were “bad.”

Media representation was also highlighted, with the Watson’s blackface Raya ad being mentioned as offensive for its portrayal of darker skin being seen as a curse. The company only saw fault with the 15-minute long ad after public uproar on the matter.

Honestly, there were dozens of cases cited, and should you want to peruse the report – please have a look – we strongly recommend it.

As Dolly Parton said, you can’t have rainbows without the rain, and there were many cases that indicated there is light at the end of the tunnel. Not only was the Sultan of Johor quick to condemn racism in his state, so too did the Sultan of Selangor over an offensive religious preacher. The University of Malaya was equally swift after discriminatory comments by a lecturer were brought to their attention. She was given a warning, and issued a public apology for her actions.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin also highlighted at Transformasi 2050 (a conference looking at Malaysia’s future and initiatives) the fact that our country’s young no longer wish to be divided along racial lines. While they appreciate their cultural heritage, they do not want it to be their primary identifier, and would rather be considered “Malaysians.” The minister then suggested future pilot projects where students would learn other languages and broader religious studies as part of their syllabus.

A touching story of a 32-year army veteran was also mentioned, where he called for Malaysians to learn from how he and his fellow soldiers learned to live together harmoniously instead of focusing on the differences in their racial backgrounds. He was quoted as saying that they regarded themselves as part of one big family, and that politicians might benefit from the same outlook, instead of trying to play race cards.

And finally, muftis from Perlis and the Federal Territories were given special mention, with their encouragement of unity, acceptance of different races and religions, and criticism of “narrow-minded” thinking that could lead to extremism.

KOMAS has suggested harsher punishment for individuals, especially for politicians, and groups, who stoke racial divide via speech and/or actions. Sounds fair, right?

Basically – we still have work to do, but it looks like we have people around who can help make us a truly unified society, so that’s good news – right?



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