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!’
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.”
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.
2 responses to “Ruminations On Heritage 2: What A Truly Multicultural Democracy Looks Like”
Hello Selina, Are you, by any chance , related to the author Chin Kee Onn ? I’m a Malaysian residing in Portugal,and I can totally relate to your last post.How a once beautiful and harmonious country is now a pariah state. Looking forward to hear from you. Regards Zaleha. Sent from my iPad
Thanks for reaching out and yes, Chin Kee Onn was my fifth maternal granduncle. I have written about him on this blog and also about the Malaysia we’ve lost. Thank you for reading!