Race and religion persist in ‘New Malaysia’, says Suhakam commissioner

Panellists hold copies of Pusat Komas’ 2018 Malaysia Racial Discrimination report during its launch in Kuala Lumpur March 21, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Panellists hold copies of Pusat Komas’ 2018 Malaysia Racial Discrimination report during its launch in Kuala Lumpur March 21, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — Race and religious discrimination continues to prevail in “New Malaysia”, a Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner said today.

Speaking as a panellist at a public forum following the launch of Pusat Komas’ 2018 Malaysia Racial Discrimination report, Prof Datuk Aishah Bidin opined that if Malaysians were not careful in dealing with race and religious rhetoric, it could cause the country further harm.

Aishah said this was evident after racial and religious rhetoric was used to drive the conversation surrounding the planned but ultimately abandoned ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

“The recent incident in New Zealand is a lesson to learn for us. From one aspect it talks about white supremacy, it talks about issues related to superiority and that is something very much integrated into the preamble to ICERD.

“If we are not careful in dealing with remarks or statements by certain quarters pertaining to racial and religious issues, it can lead to a very much wider issue,’’ she said.

Aishah was referring to the recent Christchurch mosque terror attack that occurred last March 15.

Prof Datuk Aishah Bidin speaks during a public forum at the launch of Pusat Komas’ 2018 Malaysia Racial Discrimination report in Kuala Lumpur March 21, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Prof Datuk Aishah Bidin speaks during a public forum at the launch of Pusat Komas’ 2018 Malaysia Racial Discrimination report in Kuala Lumpur March 21, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Another panellist, Datuk Johan Arrifin A. Samad, CEO of the Institute of Development Studies Sabah, said many racial narratives have no basis and are merely propagated to benefit certain parties.

“If you look at the narrative of Malay and Islamic right being threatened, it is complete nonsense. Have you ever heard the news that a Muslim is prevented from going to the mosque or that someone had disrupted a Malay wedding?

“This narrative is being driven by a certain group of people and especially the media,’’ he said.

Johan then explained that the media played a vital role in reporting the news, but urged journalists not to focus on sensationalising stories and instead to focus on positive news.

Datuk Johan Arrifin A. Samad speaks during a public forum at the launch of Pusat Komas’ 2018 Malaysia Racial Discrimination report in Kuala Lumpur March 21, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Datuk Johan Arrifin A. Samad speaks during a public forum at the launch of Pusat Komas’ 2018 Malaysia Racial Discrimination report in Kuala Lumpur March 21, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Johan said he noticed that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration has considered entertaining racial and religious politics following their loss in the recent Cameron Highlands and Semenyih by-elections, but urged the government to remain firm and confident that they have the support of the people.

Other panellists of the forum also included Bersih 2.0 director Yap Swee Seng, while Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph moderated the forum. 

The report released by Pusat Komas today compiled local media reports for cases of religious and racial intolerance in the education, employment and political sphere.

The report stated that there was saw a spike of media reports and cases of racial discrimination following the 14th general election (GE14) and the debacle surrounding the ratification of ICERD.

The report also stated that racial politics was a major concern in 2018 as politicians and political parties from both political divides had utilised race and religion for political mileage.