COMMENT Perkasa’s giving out of white ‘ang pows’ to the people who attended its Chinese New Year open house, which the right-wing NGO claims was a mistake due to ignorance, exposes the flaw that sometimes characterises Malay-Muslim considerations of the Other.
Not all Malays or Muslims are insensitive towards the customs and beliefs of other races and religions - in fact, some are exemplary in their show of respect - but this instance of Perkasa giving out ang pows in envelopes the colour of which signifies death in Chinese culture is not the first and only illustration of insensitivity.
Another notable example is the serving of beef at functions, even official ones, or at private parties when Hindus are present.
This cannot be due to ignorance, especially if government departments are hosts of such functions. If ignorance is offered as a reason, there will be no end to such pleas. That’s why under the law, ignorance is no excuse.
More importantly, this nation comprising denizens of various races, cultures and religions has been around long enough for everyone to find out and understand what is offensive to the Other, and, having done so, refrain from causing such offence.
Besides, what if it were the other way around, such as if Muslims attended a function hosted by non-Muslims at which non-halal food was also served? If, say, a prominent organisation were to do that, what would be the reaction?
I would hazard that Perkasa, for one, would make a beeline to the nearest police station and make a report against that organisation. And its leader, Ibrahim Ali, would issue a condemnatory statement invoking sedition against the organisation.
If an offence such as Perkasa’s on the Chinese community still occurs, it can mean that the state has failed in educating the people to be sensitive towards the Other, and that for all its declared efforts to bring about harmony, tolerance and understanding among all Malaysians, the state may not be approaching it the right way or even doing the right thing.
Perkasa’s offence can also reinforce the perception that the majority race and the followers of the main religion of this country regard the sensitivities of the minorities too lightly.
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Some people may say that such a perception is misguided, even erroneous, but the awful truth remains that it has been around for quite a while. In fact, those who hold that perception would aver that it is the state that has been setting the trend in the way it regards the sensitivities of the minorities.
To back that up, the cow-head incident of 2009 immediately comes to mind. Instead of chastising the protesters who had defiled an animal that is sacred to the Hindus, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein actually defended their right to protest.
On the other hand, the state exhibits extreme care for the sensitivities of the majority race and the followers of the main religion, and expects everyone to be respectful of these.
We need only recall that during the last fasting month, when The Star published an eating-out supplement headlined ‘Ramadan delights’ in which it also featured food that was non-halal, the newspaper was censured severely - by Hishammuddin as well - and given a show-cause letter. It was eventually let off after it apologised profusely.
Now that it’s the other way around, should Perkasa apologise to the Chinese for its white-envelope faux pas? Well, if it doesn’t, it will merely reinforce the perception mentioned above.
And for all that its secretary-general, Syed Hassan Syed Ali (left), has said that “to Perkasa, white signifies clean, holy, sincere”, and that “Perkasa did not know white envelopes are used during funerals”, the fact remains that it did not bother to do simple research on something as significant as a festival that means a lot to the Chinese.
Either that or it could not be bothered to learn more about Chinese culture. From which it could be inferred that Perkasa truly cares little for the sensitivities of the minorities.
Syed Hassan also reportedly said, “That is why we need a plural society, so that we can understand one another’s customs.” This is most telling about his attitude, and perhaps Perkasa’s too. We already are a plural society, but he hasn’t noticed it!
The sad thing for Perkasa is that the incident has undermined its intent in holding the Chinese New Year open house. Instead of showing that it is “not a racist organisation”, it ended up insulting the Chinese.
MCA colluding with Perkasa?
But then, hardly any Chinese would have believed its declared intent in the first place anyway, which therefore makes it strange that an MCA member actually brought 50 people to the open house, knowing full well that Perkasa was its host.
He was no ordinary MCA member either, but a committee member of the party’s Seputeh division. And although Collin Tiew (left) later claimed that he came not as an MCA man, his presence at the event was nothing less than shocking. Even more shocking is the fact that he brought 50 people along.
Was that to fill up the open house so that the turnout wouldn’t look so bad? Did this indicate that the MCA is colluding with Perkasa, thereby confirming the public perception that Perkasa is actually tied to BN?
One wonders what MCA president Chua Soi Lek, who has lately been so quick to pounce on the opposition for the slightest contradiction in its stand, has to say about that. After all, Perkasa has been a thorn in the MCA’s butt. Everything Chua has said in the interest of the Chinese community has met with fire from Perkasa.
The NGO has accused him of insulting Islam, chastised him for his comments on hudud, made a police report on his alleged questioning of bumiputera special rights, and Ibrahim Ali has called him a “racist”. For the MCA to work with such an organisation would be contradictory to its stand.
So, what is really going on? What is the actual relationship between the MCA and Perkasa? Are they on the same side after all?
Perception is everything, as Chua would well know. If he doesn’t clear the air over these questions, the Chinese who still have faith in the MCA might think that the party was colluding with Perkasa despite Tiew’s denial. This might cause them to feel betrayed.
KEE THUAN CHYE is the author of 'March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up', which just won 3rd prize in the Popular Readers' Choice Awards. It has also been translated into Chinese.