Let’s hear more voices of reason amid the din from critics who assume that being liberal means being hedonistic instead of believing in the universal values of compassion and acceptance.
IT had to take a Sultan and a Raja Muda to settle the Muslim-only laundrette controversies in Muar and Kangar, which raised a ruckus the past week.
The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, spoke at length about his unhappiness with the laundrette and demanded the owner apologise to him and the people of Johor.
The Raja Muda of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra Jamalullail, visited the laundrette up north with his mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin to tell its owner why his business model was not acceptable.
The pin-drop silence of politicians and community leaders was deafening, and it was certainly disappointing to Malaysians in their embrace of moderation.
Worse still, a few people chose to justify the discriminatory act of the laundrette owner in Muar by legitimising it as a business decision, effectively rendering it out of the authorities’ jurisdiction.
None of these explanations were, of course, convincing. In fact, the impression given was that these leaders were prepared to look the other way, be it for political or religious expediency.
By adopting an attitude of indifference, these leaders, because of their own selfish political interests, are prepared to let extremism flourish.
Then there are the near-hysterical comments plastered on social media, which take on racist and seditious undertones, minus rationale or civil discourse, in the process exposing the tyrannous approach of the majority and their intimidating indignation of questioning the issue.
Deep in our hearts, though, we certainly know that such discrimination by the laundrette owner is out of line. Any rational and level-headed person would know the difference between right and wrong.
No one would tolerate nor accept any non-Muslim laundrette owner applying the same discriminatory policy. In fact, one would shudder to think of the wrath such an action would generate.
In all likeliness, it would be absolute pandemonium. Can we even cast a blind eye to the obvious and pretend that this was a decision based on commerce?
Honestly, none of us will condone job advertisements denying access to specific races in job applications. We should stay away from employment opportunities that have racial prerequisites like “Chinese only”, when the job scope merely demands basic requirements. It’s time for employers to be hip to the benefits of having racially diverse human capital.
However, if the job involves a language requirement, for example a travel agency dealing with Chinese tourists, the tour provider would obviously want Mandarin-speaking applicants. Likewise, a Chinese media house would require candidates who read and write the language.
The non-Chinese could naturally feel marginalised, but it’s interesting to note that many Chinese in Malaysia, including this writer, can’t read or write Chinese. Many of our Malay and Indian brethren find themselves in a similar predicament, so the playing field is level in this respect. So, if we think there is economic benefit to the language, the only way forward is learning the lingo.
Similarly, companies doing business in Arab nations may insist on having Arabic-speaking applicants and surely many Malaysians, including Malays, may find themselves unsuitable for the task. We can’t cry “discrimination” in these circumstances.
There are other examples, too, like putting out a notice to say that a property will only be rented out to those of a particular race.
So, when Malaysians engage in heated and accusatory rants against Africans, they are ultimately making derogatory and racist remarks, too.
While we’re generally careful in commenting on the racial make-up of Malaysians, at least publicly, we barely give it a second thought when it involves foreigners. Suddenly, sensitivity flies out the window.
Then, there are those who believe that the minority must bow to the majority. It’s now being shoved down our throats that the liberal minority has to accept the conservatives’ majority.
So, who decides that being a liberal is now a crime or even a dirty word? None of these “geniuses” would be able to explain why our Rukunegara has enshrined that it “guarantees a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions”.
For inexplicable reasons, these critics of liberalism seem to believe – in their imaginative minds – that being liberal means being hedonistic, atheist, agreeable to the practice of free sex and homosexuality.
It never crossed their minds that it could mean believing in the universal values of democracy, human rights, compassion, tolerance, acceptance, moderation, gender equality, respect for multiculturalism and diversity – values all religions stand for.
In Malaysia, liberalism is now a word abused by religious authorities and extremists to demonise those with alternative views on race, religion and politics.
But as the voices of bigots, racists, religious extremists and right-wingers grow louder and more demanding, our politicians are maintaining an eerie, unnerving silence as they are desperate for votes, even from these fringe groups.
Unfortunately, the majority of decent Malaysians are not ready to speak up, preferring to cheer on the few outspoken advocates of moderation to do the job and face the firing squad on their own.
But that’s not good enough. The private discontent can only be addressed if effective and strategic measures are put in place to tackle this at the source.
So, when no voice of reason seemed to be in sight, His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim spoke up for all of us Malaysians.
Tuanku’s strong words of fairness and justice, and the true teachings of Islam – to respect other religions as well – was a beacon of humanity. More importantly, he reminded his subjects that he was the head of Islam in the state.
His Majesty is right – if the Muslim-only laundrette was allowed to continue its operations, it would only encourage others to follow and soon, the situation could spiral out of control.
Soon, we will have ride-sharing drivers who only pick up passengers of their preferred races. It will have a dangerous and detrimental domino effect.
Recently, a spa in Selangor was said to only accept female Muslim clients, another disconcerting incident which went viral on Wednesday. But when this newspaper investigated, the wellness centre said it accepted customers of all races.
We can’t be sure if the centre was the target of business rivalry or truly embraced that policy, but the owners certainly shuffled their feet to set the record straight when the accusation was hurled.
Sadly, the emergence of such claims is heart-breaking for many of us. It’s appalling, and must stop.
Just pause for a moment to think – when we are on a hospital bed, does the race or religion of our blood donor even matter?
In those dire moments, we would only be asking for the best doctor and nurse to treat us, or at the very least, to keep us alive. The race and religion of the medical practitioners are not even called into question.
And certainly, none of us who desperately needs an organ transplant would bother to deliberate the racial and religious origin of the donor. Isn’t that the truth?
For those who preach racial and religious hatred, think about this seriously. God has a way of making people remember, or regret, especially those who dare use His name in vain.