Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Societal versus Governmental Discrimination

Written by johnleemk on 2:02:36 pm Jun 21, 2007.
Categories: ,

A common refrain of many Malaysians when confronted with the religious and racial injustices in this country is that "In other countries, it is just as bad, so appreciate what you have here!"

Putting aside the fact that the minorities don't have much to appreciate, I find the common comparisons made to countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Australia are simply ridiculous.

When it comes to religious discrimination, it is common to point out that Christianity appears to play an important role in American public life, while the official religion of the British is Christianity (specifically, Anglicanism).

However, the role Christianity plays in American public life is not as large as it may seem. American society may be religious, but American government is secular. In America, school authorities are enjoined from holding any sort of prayer, even non-sectarian ones such as those dedicated to just "God" — an extreme stand which I am glad has not taken root in Malaysia.

(Then again, I am one of those who don't really mind simple Muslim prayers at government functions and school assemblies, so don't take my views as representative of all non-Muslims. Just note that the American government is far more committed to neutrality in religion than our government.)

And as for Britain? Christianity may be the state religion, but Christianity plays much less of a role in British public life than Islam does in Malaysia. Anglicanism is not funded at all by British taxes, and the monarch's Christian titles are a mere formality. Christianity may be the state religion, but Anglican Christians do not need permission from the government to officially change their religion — in marked contrast to the situation here.

What about racism? The US, UK and Australia all had racist policies of their own until the mid- or late 20th century, but they are all now firmly committed to non-discrimination. You are not less likely to win a public scholarship or be treated as a foreigner just because of your race.

Their societies do discriminate, no doubt about that, but such discrimination appears to be blown out of proportion. Racist attacks are a rare occurrence in all three countries; by far most immigrants have experienced little problem integrating into their new home. At any rate, the odd cold stare from the stranger on the bus is still probably better than public threats of genocide from government leaders.

The argument that things are better and fairer in Malaysia is completely disingenuous and totally false. When you take the effects of different forms of discrimination and non-discrimination into account, it is clear that Malaysia lags behind the rest of the world in comitting to true equality for all its communities — and that is what may very well contribute to the death of Malaysia.

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