Reminding the elites that human rights belong to everyone

SEPTEMBER 6 — An ex-boss once spoke of Malaysia’s champagne socialists. 

Who are they? Imagine well-heeled individuals, safely ensconced in the enclaves of Bangsar, TTDI and Damansara Heights, glibly speaking about human rights and personal freedoms while being entirely removed from the population who aren’t them.

These English-speaking, worldly individuals will then join Bersih marches and then change their social media profile pictures to suit whatever cause they’re espousing. 

Whether it be saving echidnas or protesting the increasing lack of visibility of bougainvilleas, they are pretty vocal.

Last week, my own social media timelines were filled with snarky responses to said champagne socialists who seem to have taken over Suhakam. Bersih is fine, it seems, but unhappy Rohingyas should “follow the rule of law” and “not cause traffic jams.”

Once upon a time I worked with the UNHCR, with among others, Rohingya. Suhakam’s stance, while hardly suprising is disappointing.

Malaysia has never ratified the UN convention on refugees and is unlikely to, at least in the near forseeable future.

The stigma refugees deal with is as old as time as can be seen now as the world struggles with the numbers created thanks to global instability.

It seems tragic that these people through no fault of their own are considered no better than cockroaches or locusts, seen as burdens or even possible security threats. 

The Rohingya suffer from prejudices from all sides. Being refugees is one thing, but their being dark of skin and not fitting the global conventions of beauty means no photogenic photo opps, not to mention them being Muslim just adds to their problems—in essence, they are discriminated against for their status, looks as well as faith. 

I’ve spoken about this before, the dangerous tendency among us to create this neat boxes of “us” vs “them.” The Rohingya, to most Malaysians, fit perfectly in the “them” box. 

Not educated, from another country, not conventionally attractive but their being Muslim means there will be plenty of outcry by NGOs calling out Myanmar for the killing of Muslim brethren.

Yet when Rohingya actually show up on our doorstep, we consider them inconvenient eyesores. 

Still I feel somewhat heartened that there are more people speaking up for a people who are experiencing literal genocide in a country partially led by, of all things, a Nobel Prize winner.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s callous disregard of the Rohingya is fairly unsurprising. The notion that she should care about them is, to me, amusing. Like too many Myanmar citizens, Suu Kyi also believes that Myanmar’s “true” people are the Burmese majority. The only freedoms she has truly espoused are her own and that, sadly, is the case with most Malaysian champagne socialists.

They refuse to see the parallels within our own country; the not-so-secretly held views by some people of their own racial superiority. 

Neither science nor history prove the superiority of any race and believing genetics should decide a person’s worth is ableist and dangerous. 

So my advice to the next person who deigns to complain about traffic jams caused by displaced persons whose villages are being destroyed and their people burned alive; I’d suggest you stop drinking champagne and perhaps consider a heart transplant.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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