Malaysians recently have been bombarded by the airing of dirty laundry from both sides of the political divide. The constant lobbing of political bombs from both side of the aisle atypically not only failed to abate during the fasting month but actually intensified. Exposé after exposé made it to the headlines of the alternative and mainstream press and they got all tongues-a-wagging.
All these politicizations of events culminated in a flash riot in Low Yat where gangs of youth racialized an apparent theft into a physical show of force between one community with another. The truth didn’t matter, what mattered was pent-up resentment, whether perceived or real, was allowed to easily metastasize from the realm of charged up but mainly harmless coffee table talk into into bloody brawls on the street.
This unhealthy turn of events can be traced to the slow racialization of Malaysian politics, as if it wasn’t racialized enough in the first place. Politics is the art of persuasion of the masses through sound and solid arguments. Great politicians will find ingenious ways to unite the people behind ideas which are good for everyone. Lazy politicians will use dirt to discredit the other side so that they come out on top.
In Malaysia, we unfortunately have a lot of lazy politicians. Anyone who race-baits shamelessly falls into that category. Their arguments are always the same: “the reason why this happened is because is because <insert your least favourite race here> is <insert the reason why you think your least favourite race did> .”
Having a racial argument as a cause to an occurrence is disingenuous. In the era of big data, race has become a non-significant variable in explaining why certain people behave the way they do. It’s all about a matter of perspective. Imagine if we were to lazily cut economic opportunities along racial lines, there are bound to be over-indexing that will show that some racial groups have a slight edge over some other racial groups. This is called correlation. Another example of correlation is if you wore your favorite tattered red underwear when Liverpool won their last football match, you might think that wearing that particular red tattered underwear had something to do with your favourite football team winning.
But in statistics, we also know that correlation doesn’t equal causality. A good data scientist would go back to the data and discover if they cut the data by level of education, the neighborhood in which a person grew up in and the education level of the parents, a more holistic view opens up. Likewise, Liverpool winning had more to do with where they are playing (whether it’s a home or away match) and the players being fielded rather than what you choose to wear underneath your pants.
In Malaysia, the cause of most problems have to do with economic opportunities for certain groups of people. And you know what, this problem is not unique in our country. It was the rallying cry of the Nazis who came into power against the backdrop of perceived unfairness which they attributed to the Jews. The easy way out was to seize properties and intern the people whom you think had caused unfairness to you. After this step, it was easy to justify to yourself that you should take by force from your neighbours what you think they owed you. The last time a nation did this, the world plunged into a world war which killed 60 million people.
Being a politician in Malaysia is not easy. We have a vibrant economy with a diverse pool of people. Finding commonality is one of the hardest thing to do in our multicultural society but it is not impossible. We need politicians with caliber who can capture the imaginations of all of our people and unite us for a common purpose. And the longer we hold this off, the harder it is going to be when the tinderbox is lit by something less consequential than an apparent act of misdemeanor.