On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

No place for extremists

Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH) chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim at press conference. - Filepic

Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH) chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim at press conference. – Filepic

We may have gotten off from different ships but we are in the same boat now. We need to row in the same direction together or we sink together.

LIKE most journalists, I laughed loudly at the “balik tongsan” remark made by Baling MP Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim against an opposition MP in the Dewan Rakyat last week.

His words were not funny. In fact, the remark could be construed as racist and derogatory, but it was humorous to many because it was made by of all persons, Abdul Azeez himself.

Abdul Azeez speaks excellent Tamil, and it is no secret that his ancestors came from India. Not much difference from the ancestors of the MPs he insulted. His forefathers also landed in Malaya by boat.

In fact, he is Indian but of course, the Federal Constitution defines a Malay as a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, and who conforms to Malay customs.

Malay citizens who convert out of Islam, for example, are no longer considered Malay under the law and hence lose the bumiputra privileges afforded to Malays.

So Abdul Azeez is a Malay, technically and legally, but no one, including Abdul Azeez, can erase one’s roots with regard ethnicity and ancestry. Well, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is open about his ancestry, acknowledging it could be traced to Kerala in India.

Until now, most of us wondered what led Abdul Azeez to lose his cool and make the “go back to China” remark he shouldn’t have made because he is actually a very affable person with very good public relations skills.

Most of us find it hard to turn down his regular personal phone calls to editors requesting for coverage for his humanitarian work.

Even when no reporter turns up because of logistical reasons, as his efforts are mostly in the rural areas, Abdul Azeez continues to make his calls.

That’s Abdul Azeez for you. He lacks the finesse that some politicians have, and even his Masters in Business Administration degree from the unrecognised Preston University USA has earned him some sniggers.

The university’s office is said to be registered in Pakistan but Azeez said he studied in Wyoming. Even as the status of his degree is questioned and laughed at, no one can question his organisational and management skills. There’s really no need for Preston University to appear on his resume.

Earlier last week, he strangely described a woman MP as pondan (transvestite) when the latter was speaking on the deaths of the orang asli children in Gua Musang and raising concerns on the subject matter when Abdul Azeez interrupted. It’s baffling.

Then, Abdul Azeez, who is the Tabung Haji chairman, went on to insult an MP by calling him apek or old man and told him to balik tongsan (go back to China). It’s no different, really, from calling the person a pendatang or immigrant.

He may have been upset with the antics of the DAP MPs, and out of frustration, he must have thrown caution to the wind and blasted the opposition MPs.

Let’s not think that the DAP MPs are angels as they have made equally uncouth remarks in the Dewan Rakyat.

But two wrongs don’t make a right. Such use of derogatory words by people within and outside the political system should be viewed very strongly by the leadership. When no action is taken, the leadership is sending very wrong signals to the people.

It gives rise to accusations of selective prosecution and double standards. Something is terribly wrong when MPs still call fifth and sixth generation Chinese and Indians in Malaysia, who are rightful citizens, pendatang or ask them to go back to China and India.

It cannot be denied that race relations have taken a sharp dip following the 2013 general election when the majority of Chinese voted for the opposition.

There is still a deep sense of hurt among many Umno politicians who found it hard to accept that Chinese voters would vote for PAS. They could accept the Chinese voting for the DAP but to back the Islamist party, they are still shaking their heads in disbelief.

So, many have asked that if the Chinese were prepared to back PAS in 2013, at the behest of the DAP, then what is wrong if Umno works with PAS now?

The 2013 polls showed that the shrinking Chinese electorate, even with the return of many overseas voters, could not result in any change of government. The Bersih 4 protest also showed that if PAS stayed out, as it did, PKR could not rally the Malay crowd.

The reality is that the Chinese cannot change the equation. With only about 38 Chinese majority seats among the 222 parliament seats, the community ought to come to terms with the political reality and perhaps be more politically strategic.

It will take some time before we stop seeing everything from a racial and religious perspective, as the nation still does. It has gone worse, in fact.

Malaysians must come together as a people. For this to happen, the moderates must work harder to emphasise the relevance and importance of commonality. We must not allow the extremists to derail moderation.

Perhaps, those who still talk of balik tongsan should be reminded of what Martin Luther King Jr said – “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

And certainly as Malaysia navigates through the current choppy economic currents, we need to remind ourselves even more that we are all in the same boat. We either row in the same direction together, or we sink together.