Monthly Archives: April 2022

Ruminations On Heritage 2: What A Truly Multicultural Democracy Looks Like

My country of origin, Malaysia, loves selling itself as the multicultural haven that it really isn’t. My adopted land, on the other hand, just gets on with it. England is showing the world what a truly multiracial, multicultural democracy looks like.

At the start of the pandemic, we were treated to daily press briefings. The first session was hosted by the Prime Minister and his medical advisors. Thereafter, other Cabinet members presented briefings.

The parade of Secretaries and Ministers is evidence of just how far Britain has come. By now you will likely have heard of Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Priti Patel, the Home Secretary. Both are descendants of first-generation Indian immigrants from East Africa. The former Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi, who was tasked with rolling out the UK’s very successful vaccines programme, is himself a first-generation immigrant. Here he is giving one of those briefings. Zahawi is now the Education Secretary.

In England, politicians from ethnic minority groups aren’t just relegated to the side-lines, the way they are in Malaysia. Below are a few of England’s current Cabinet members.

Health Secretary: Sajid Javid;

Business Secretary: Kwasi Kwarteng;

COP26 President: Alok Sharma

In ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’, there is virtually no ethnic diversity within a government that continues to be dominated by race-based political parties. By ‘race-based political party’, I mean a political party run along sectarian lines which admits full members from only one particular racial group.

Yes, you read that right. This may be 2022, but you still have to be Malay (or bumiputera) to be a full member of the ruling United Malays’ National Organisation (UMNO). In principle I am allowed to join, but only as part of an associated group following orders (as per Clauses 4.1.2 and 4.3 of UMNO’s Constitution). Unwanted, unwelcome, second-class: the same way I’d be treated if I lived in Malaysia.

Excerpt from UMNO’s Constitution

There is also that damp squib known as the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), which supposedly represents Chinese interests. Not to be outdone, Indians have the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

The idea that you need to be a certain race to gain full membership of anything should be illegal. It has no place in today’s world. But race (and religion) are expedient tools for power. And the politics they nurture thrives on a self-fulfilling loop of tribalism. Nastiness is repeated ad infinitum, the audience become inured and tribalism ends up infecting a nation.

I discovered this when Sajid Javid was named Home Secretary in 2018. My phone pinged with messages. Some Malaysian family members were worried. ‘You now have a Muslim Home Secretary! London’s mayor is also a Muslim!’

Yes, and???

It transpired that a tonne of What’sApp videos were doing the rounds. One listed the British cities with Muslim mayors (hundreds, apparently). Another video purported to show a road somewhere in England being taken over by Muslim men bowed in Friday prayer. Yet another displayed Buckingham Palace. The Palace, it seemed, was going to be turned into a mosque. I wonder if someone has told Her Majesty. She is celebrating an unprecedented seventieth year as monarch and may have other plans for her home.

A few salient points are in order. First of all, a politician like Sajid Javid reached his position on merit – he was not favoured by positive discrimination. Secondly, he is a member of the Conservative Party which, whether or not you like it, is fully open to all races and faiths. Thirdly, he serves all Britons, not just British Muslims.

When a group of Asian male paedophiles was convicted of grooming white girls in Huddersfield for sex, Javid was brave enough to call a spade a spade. He described the men as ‘sick Asian paedophiles’ and commissioned research to investigate cultural connections. Here’s an excerpt of his comments:

…the sad truth is that if you look at recent high-profile convictions of gang-based child sexual exploitation, there is a majority of people that come from Pakistani heritage backgrounds – that’s plain for everyone to see. What I’ve said is that we, in trying to deal with this, trying to turn this round, we must look at all factors and we must not be too sensitive and shy away or be oversensitive.”

Spot on.

What Javid said and the way he said it is one of the fruits of freedom. Real democracy is sometimes messy. But after the storm comes sunshine. You are able to look at your own culture with clearer eyes. You can speak hard truths without feeling defensive.

Part 3 to follow.

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Filed under Cultural Identity, England, Identity, Malaysia, Modern Life, Politics, United Kingdom

Ruminations on Heritage 1: The Price of Freedom

Who we are, what we believe in and the values we stand for have never been more important. What would you do if a regime you strongly opposed appeared on your doorstep?

I have long asked myself that question. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this is no longer a moot point.

I visited Ukraine three times in 2014 in the months after Crimea was annexed. My now ex-wife is of both Russian and Ukrainian origin and has friends in Kyiv, which we visited. We also went to Lviv. Both are charming cities. To me, Kyiv seemed more Soviet and therefore exotic, whereas Lviv, which is close to the Polish border, (see map below from nationsonline.org) reminded me of Vienna: beautiful yet familiar.

Everyone we spoke to in Ukraine shared the same aspirations. They were fed up of corruption and proud of how they had overthrown a leader who had done Moscow’s bidding.  Our Kyiv friends showed us the square where thousands had congregated for weeks in freezing conditions, protected against bullets by the stacks of tyres they put up. They saw Ukraine’s future firmly in Europe. They did not wish to be part of some reformulated Russian empire – the shackles of which they had worked so hard to throw off.

Tyres Left in Maidan, Square in Kyiv

Till then, I had known little about Russian colonisation. (NB Technically, it was Soviet colonisation.) I heard many stories on those trips, and one was so harrowing that I could not get it out of my head. I had to write about it. What emerged was flash fiction – a very short piece. Masha’s Burning Memory was included in the UK’s National Flash Fiction Day’s 2014 anthology, ‘Eating My Words‘. Our friend Olga, who had related the story, cried when she read it.

The real event on which her tale was based took place in 1933, during what is known as Holodomor or the Great Hunger. Lest we forget the past, there is a museum in Kyiv dedicated to its memory. Remarkably, Kyiv’s Holodomor Museum continued putting up defiant updates in the midst of continuous bombardment. For a full and exhaustive account of Holodomor, I recommend the book Red Famine by Anne Applebaum. It doesn’t make for easy reading, though; I haven’t been able to finish it in two years.

Church I Visited in 2014

Who knows what will be left of the church above? When I compare Russia’s subjugation of Ukraine with Britain’s colonisation of Malaya, I realise we got off very lightly. Indeed, Russia makes our British colonial masters seem positively benevolent. No wonder Ukrainians are fighting so hard.

But there is more to Ukrainian resistance than mere political self-determination. What they want is simple: freedom.

A cliché, I know, and like many clichés, buried within is a kernel of truth. I get this.

I have experienced a type of freedom in the West which I have not found elsewhere. The freedom of opportunity, freedom to fully express myself and explore, the freedom to choose.

I come from a country where little of the above exists and I cherish my freedoms. (Now that it has become common to count your freedoms, I have also begun using the plural). Alas, too many of my Western friends take their freedoms for granted. They have not known ‘un-freedom’.

Part 2 to follow.

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Filed under Colonisation, Cultural Identity, Identity, Politics