Wednesday 13 April 2016

Mariam Mokhtar : SABM Australia and Overcoming Racism in Malaysian Society.

We had decades of divisions along racial and religious lines.
Anak Bangsa M’sia to tackle racism
By Mariam Mokhtar

A group of young professionals in Australia, calling themselves Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM), believes that issues affecting Malaysian society have their roots in racial segregation. These issues, like corruption, the high crime rate, and the deterioration of human rights, cannot be resolved in isolation.  

They say it is the moral responsibility of every Malaysian to speak up against injustice and enter into a dialogue, at home or abroad.

On April 16, SABM will hold a conference on “Overcoming Racism” to restore the democratic health, in Malaysia. The panel members are former ambassador Noor Farida Ariffin of G25, Suaram adviser Dr Kua Kia Soong, Ikram vice-president Zaid Kamaruddin and human rights activist, Jerald Joseph, of Komas.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with SABM president Praveen Nagappan and vice-president, Juliana Koh. Also featured is prominent Malaysian blogger "steadyaku47".

1. The Malays are key to breaking the tyranny in Malaysia, where institutionalised racism is used as a tool to modify behaviour, and instil a culture of fear and loathing.
Some people will say, "Who are you (SABM) to talk about racism, when there are no Malays in your organisation committee?" Are Malays reluctant to join groups which advocate reform and discussion?

Praveen: While this is a convenient argument to discredit groups like ours, it is a misguided one.

We haven’t made a conscious effort to recruit people based on racial profiles. One does not have to be from a certain race to advocate reform and justice.

The majority of Malays are on scholarship and fear repercussions, but their passion for reform and justice is strong.

The Malays in previous SABM committees were mainly students, or recent graduates, who remained, until their return to Malaysia.

Juliana: “Who are we to talk about racism?” That’s a great question and it is also the problem. Racism is not discussed enough, by any race. Talking about racism and racial discrimination is taboo.

Everyone should talk about racism. We must address the fundamental issues of racism, how or where it began, and what we can do.

Discussing something allows us to learn more, develop ideas, challenge ideas and incorporate these ideas into our lives.

It is not only the Malays who are reluctant to join groups which advocate reform and discussions. I know many non-Malays who are unwilling to join these groups.

Steadyaku47:  I do not want a “token” Malay (representation) within SABM.

Malays have attended past SABM events, but not in the numbers SABM would have liked. Malay students would not be seen dead at a SABM rally, for obvious reasons, like losing their scholarships. The other Malays in Melbourne are here to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.

I am one of the few exceptions, having migrated to Australia over three decades ago and, alas, without any ill gotten gains!

2. How can more Malays be encouraged to be part of movements like yours?

Praveen: The fear of repercussion and distrust between races causes the reluctance. We had decades of divisions along racial and religious lines. There is undoubtedly a trust deficit.
The key lies in rejuvenating trust. Each of us wants a peaceful life, without hating or being hated. This works when the Malays understand the non-Malays, and vice versa. Unity is our beacon of hope in shaping a better Malaysia.

SABM Australia’s vision, of holding this conference, hopes to spark a conversation on overcoming racism and segregation in Malaysia.

Juliana: Fear should not stop us from overcoming these issues. I think we need to encourage more Malaysians, period. The Internet is a great tool, and we will continue using it to encourage participation from Malaysians, in Melbourne.

Steadyaku47: The few Malay professionals, that I have met, in Melbourne, have no interest in attending any SABM function, for the same reasons that the non-Malay professionals from Malaysia are reluctant to attend. It is not good for work or business. There are no immediate or long term gains.

SABM may have to consider an “outside-of-the-box” approach and appeal to their “higher instincts”, as mentors or leaders to Malaysians, in Melbourne.

3. A young professional claimed that many non-Malay Malaysians who have migrated, have vowed never to return. Some decline invitations to join activism groups, for discussion and reform. 
Are they selfish?

Praveen: Many of us migrate not from choice, but because we have run out of choices. They are not selfish, they just aren’t ready.  Everyone has a role to play. They cannot be rushed.

I know some overseas Malaysians want to do more for Malaysians at home. To this end, SABM Australia advocates support for the civil society in Malaysia and encourages discussion of issues plaguing Malaysians, both in Malaysia and abroad.

We have organised this conference, on overcoming racism, to help restore democratic health to Malaysia. We hope that similar conversations can be replicated in Malaysia.

Juliana: They’ve lost hope, that’s all I can say. They have remained silent and moved on. Our silence has caused many issues and problems to fester in Malaysia. It’s about time we start speaking up. That is exactly what we’re doing at the conference.

Steadyaku47: Many Malaysians, in Melbourne and Sydney, mostly professionals and businessmen, have extended all sorts of help. They have discussed Malaysian issues and sought resolutions to these problems.

They are interested, but we must approach them at “their level”, which is not through activism. We must appeal to their intellect and sense of responsibility, to assist Malaysians still in Malaysia.

NOTE: If you are interested in sharing your views about overcoming racism, please attend the conference, at the Brunswick Town Hall, Melbourne, on April 16. It is from 10am to 4 pm. The event is free. We are “Anak Bangsa Malaysia”. All are welcome.

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