Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Racism in Cricket

It's been interesting watching the growing controversy over the racism row in cricket. Now cricket isn't a game i follow for any other reason than my wife - she loves it. It's not really played in my home nation. Anyway, basically what has happened is some sections of the crowd in India have used racial abuse against an Australian player.

When it was first reported the Indian cricket authorities initially denied it happened, or suggested it had been a mis-understanding. When proof was produced, they finally did something about it.

What is interesting is the amount of "what is the fuss, Australia is racist too" type of comments floating about the internet, a prime example being here:

Other examples also here and here:

Again the same old tired defenses about whites being racist, Australians being racist to "us" (in this case Indians) makes it OK to be racist to 'them'.

What is also interesting is that some writer referred to an Australian government report on Racism in sport, citing it as proof that Australia is indeed racist. However, having taken the time to read the report I was, i must admit, a little surprised. The report can be found here:

What i found surprising is that by reading the report you find out:

1. That the majority of professional sporting codes are actively pursuing programs to engage minority groups and aboriginal peoples (albiet room for improvement)
2. All major sports have implemented member protection policies and programs
3. Racism has been identified as a problem and action is being taken, monitored, evaluated and fine tuned.

Now, how is this a racist country? I would think that a country that actively takes steps to reduce racism, foster involvement across racial groups and backgrounds is one that is a positive country rather than one that sticks it's head in the sand and pretends that racism only happens to it and it's people!

It's denials like the ones made by India that fuel xenophobic nazi-style morons in western countries. It's people taking the attitude that "all Australians are racist" that lead to those same people seeing every potential issue they have with people of that background as 'racist'

It's like visiting France. Now, i learned French in high school. Don't remember allot of it, but enough to travel. I love France and the French people, but almost EVERY person i know who has expressed fear and hesitation about going to France because of the 'rude people' has generally come back and spoken about how rude people are. If you LOOK for "it" (racism, rude people, bad food, whatever) you will invariably find it.

So how does this related to the racism row in cricket? well for one, I'm sure that various loony 'white power' groups on the net are going to use this as a chance to encourage people to 'stand up for themselves' and other nonsense. I'm sure that some dumb-ass rednecks in Australia will take it upon themselves to 'give it back' to the Indian team. I'm also sure that any negative cheering etc by Australian crowds will be deemed by the Indian media as being racist. Simply negative energy and thoughts feeding off each other. So what to do? Well, i for one will be attending my wifes family re-union at the time Sri Lanka are touring Australia. We will be watching a 'test' - i think they are the things before the main tournaments? anyway, take a stand - EVERYONE. If some red-neck Aussie hassles the Sri Lankans, I'll tell them to stop. If some Indian cricket fan tries to tell me (again) that the behavior is appropriate I'll, again, correct them and advise them to take the higher ground.

Point being: Asian Racism has again been exposed, the denials again (initially) loud and the same old justifications trotted out. How is racism in the west going to be beaten once and for all if westerners are treated this way? it only adds to the negative perceptions and fuels suspicion and mis-understanding. Only by admitting the problem exists and taking firm positive action to educate and correct peoples thinkings can we rid the world of racism, in all it's shapes and forms.

Rid the world of Racism. Admit that it exists. Confront it. Educate and Emancipate people from narrow perspectives!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Asian Racism in Malaysia: Apostasy

Although not strictly racism, the story surrounding this womens plight is turly amazing... religious re-education camps? what is this, Nazi Germany? Enjoy


I DO not intend to renounce my religion—in so doing, I have in fact chosen the religion I now have. But I am deeply saddened by the news of someone forbidden to practice the religion of her choice. I am saddened by the story of Revathi Massosai.

Revathi, a Malaysian woman married with one child, is the daughter of Hindu parents but she converted to Islam. It was they who gave her a Muslim name but it was her grandmother, a Hindu, who raised her and Revathi decided to adopt her grandmother’s religion. In Malaysia, this is a problem. There, people whose fathers are Muslim must be Muslim. And as a Muslim, Revathi is forbidden from renouncing her religion or from marrying someone of a different faith. Apostasy is forbidden.

But in 2004 Revathi married a Hindu man and the couple had a daughter.

Last January she went to court for official acknowledgment of her status as a Hindu. Not only did she fail, she was detained by the officials. She was sent to a “faith rehabilitation center” and held for six months. The officials in charge of the implementation of Shari’a law wanted to ensure that she would stay “on the right path”—which of course means the “right path” according to those holding religious authority in Malaysia.

During the whole six months of her captivity, she had to wear the veil and perform Muslim prayers, amongst other things. When she got out she told of how she had also been served beef which Hindus are forbidden to eat.

Her stories triggered an angry response from Hindus in Malaysia, and the defense lawyers for the Shari’a officials in the state of Malacca hurriedly explained that Revathi’s stories were untrue. The BBC quoted them as saying they were sure that Revathi could still be persuaded not to give up her Muslim faith.

Revathi disagreed.

I don’t know what those Shari’a officials in Malacca hope to really achieve: save a Muslim soul from the fires of hell; ensure there is no decline in the number of Muslims; or make someone merely pretend to believe in Allah yet in her heart is unwilling and suffering.

I don’t know how those in charge in the Shari’a courts interpret the accepted wisdom of the Qur’an that “there is no coercion in religion”.

I am also not certain whether the efforts to prevent an adult from choosing his or her own religion are part of the politics of suspicion afflicting Malaysia—which makes the matter of one’s identity as a “Muslim” bound to one’s identity as a “Malay” so that religious conviction is no longer a matter of awareness, but a matter of genetics.

I am Indonesian and I am proud to say that in this country Islam is not automatically linked to race. Faith is not something automatic. Religion is reason, the Prophet said. Reason implies freedom to think and to choose.

Still, I have to say that I am a Muslim because of my parents. But I am free not to follow that path—just as the Arabs of times past were free not to follow the beliefs of their ancestors and could decide to follow the Prophet, even at the risk of being ostracized by their own families and societies.

Still, I have to say that I have chosen to keep my current religion not because I consider it to be the best. I am not converting to another religion simply because I know that in my religion there is good and there is bad, just as there is good and bad in other religions. The history of religions is always full of the most repressive and cruel chapters, but it also has passages that are the most noble and hope inspiring. Religions offer a ray of awareness to human life, no matter how impossible it is that justice will ever come. This, and all Allah’s attributes, still inspire. That is the essence of faith.

And so in the end what is important is not which religion Revathi or I choose, but rather how someone can uphold the essence of that faith—how he or she lives and acts.

The essence of faith does not question God. Not even an apostate can question this—just as the character of Lazaro, the apostate, who cannot help but feel close to Don Manuel, the priest in a small Spanish town in Migel de Unamuno’s novel, Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr.

Lazaro comes to my mind because Don Manuel is a patient man who helps people, and—according to the storyteller—likes to give precedence to “the most unfortunate, and especially those who rebel.” But he is also a priest with sad eyes. His face clouds when he tells a child that one has to believe in Hell.

Even Lazaro, who abandoned his Christian faith, respects him and becomes his assistant. The two of them heal the sick, befriend the lonely, feed the hungry, and cheer those who grieve.

The priest does not ask Lazaro to remain a Christian. He only asks him to “feign belief”, even if he does not have any faith, so as not to shock the townspeople. Don Manuel does not demand truth, for truth, as he tells Lazaro, is “perhaps so unbearable, so terrible, and so deadly that simple people could not live with it”.

He himself probably does not believe in Hell; he is sad when God takes revenge. But he does not want to renounce his religion, even as he allows Lazaro to do so. At the same time, everything he does in life shows that hope can happen—hope as the reflection of God who is present in every act of kindness and sincerity towards the wounded and neglected.
By Goenawan Mohamad, translated from the Indonesian by N.S.
Asiaviews, August-September 2007

A paper on Racism in Malaysia

Another article examining the tense relationships between Malays (migrants to the land now know as Malaysia) and other ethnic groups, with religion as another fault line dividing the population

Malaysia: Overcoming ethnic fears

If ethnic controversies have become more pronounced in Malaysia, it is partly because ethnic consciousness has been increasing among all communities since the early seventies. Within the Malay community, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was partly responsible for this. So was Islamic resurgence which in a sense was linked to the NEP since rapid Malay urbanization in those decades reinforced the community's attachment to certain religious forms, symbols and practices that set it apart from the non-Muslim communities in the country. By and large, they tend to be exclusive and ethnic-centered in their outlook and approach, now strengthened by the global environment. The subjugation and oppression of Muslims in various parts of the world, often accompanied by their stigmatization and demonization, are much starker today than ever before, creating a situation where Muslims are convinced that they are under siege.

Among the non-Malays and non-Muslims, negative reactions to both the NEP and Islamic resurgence have resulted in an upsurge of commitment to their own ethnic identities and interests. There are quite a few non-Malays in various sectors of society who partly because of their own experiences with the NEP in particular bear deep communal grudges which are not conducive towards social harmony. It is resentment whose significance cannot be underestimated since a huge portion of the Chinese and Indian populace is already third or fourth generation Malaysian and therefore more conscious of the promise of equality embodied in the nation's Constitution.

These attitudes have been further aggravated by the situation in the school system. With the switch from English to Malay as the main medium of instruction in national schools in the early seventies, the vast majority of Chinese in the 7 to 12 age group now attend state run Chinese primary schools, thus depriving themselves of the opportunity to mix with Malay and Indian Malaysians at a critical stage of their lives.

As with the Malays, there are also global forces impacting upon the non-Malay mind. Islamic and Muslim demonization is often accepted as the truth by many non-Muslims and non-Malays in the country. They refuse to see demonization as a tool, employed by the powerful to not only denigrate their adversaries but also to camouflage their own hegemonic designs over the land and resources of the demonized.

It is important to emphasize that there are also some perennial forces at work which tend to keep the ethnic temperature high. The political manipulation of ethnic sentiments is one such force. It has been shown that in most multi-ethnic societies politicians on both sides of the government-opposition divide just cannot resist the temptation of exploiting ethnic issues in order to enhance their electoral standing, sometimes to conceal and camouflage widening income disparities and social iniquities within a particular community.

The fears

The fundamental fears of the Malays are linked, directly or indirectly, to their position in what was historically a Malay polity. They are afraid that in spite of all the constitutional provisions and public policies, they could one day lose control over their own land because of their perceived inability to compete with the economically more robust Chinese. If that happens, not only will the Malays cease to be politically preeminent but some of the principal Malay characteristics of the Malaysian nation would also be jeopardized. This fear has acquired an added dimension in recent times due to the rapid economic globalization and Malaysia's own position as an open economy in this increasingly borderless world. The pressures upon the Malay community to compete in both the domestic and international arenas have multiplied.

Sections of the non-Malay communities also have their own particular fears. They have for a long while complained about discrimination against them and they regard the NEP and the constitutional provisions that underlie the policy as inimical to the interests of the non-Malays. They are equally concerned about what they perceive as their lack of political clout. UMNO, they feel, dominates the ruling Barisan Nasional. Some non-Malays are also of the view that their languages, cultures and religions are not accorded the prominence they deserve.

A significant segment of the non-Malay populace has concluded from all this that Chinese, Indians and other non-indigenous Malaysians are 'second-class citizens'.

Assuaging the fears

To assuage these fears within the community which are largely unfounded, Malay leaders should show the community through honest and rational analysis that the Malays have made tremendous economic and social progress in the last 49 years. In almost every profession today, Malay participation is significant, compared to the situation 30 years ago. Likewise, in the upper echelons of commerce and industry there are a number of Malays whose hallmark is their competence and ability.

The primary reason for this success is the vast expansion of opportunities for the Malay masses through education and not through ethnic quotas and special privileges per se. To put it differently, it is the state's commitment to social justice, and not its ethnic agenda, that is mainly responsible for the upliftment of the Malay community.

Malay leaders should assure their community that neither Malay political preeminence nor institutions are under any threat from the non-Malay populace. The vast majority of non-Malays accept that a Malay core within a multi-ethnic national leadership is vital for national stability and harmony. What is important is for that core to be just and fair to all communities.

But it is not just Malay leaders who should dispel the unjustified apprehensions of the Malay community. Chinese and other non-Malay leaders can also give a helping hand. Chinese Chambers of Commerce at national and state levels and other trade and manufacturing bodies operating within the community can take proactive measures to assist Malays, other Bumiputras and even Indians to establish small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Since non-Chinese business people have always found it difficult to access the production, supply and distribution networks of SMEs, aid from Chinese businesses could provide a breakthrough. Malays and other non-Chinese should also be given opportunities to occupy the upper echelons of Chinese dominated corporations.

The overall situation of the non-Malay communities is better than it is made out to be by some of their ethnic champions. The Chinese remain as ubiquitous in the economy as they were before the NEP was launched in 1971. The Chinese rich continue to dominate the upper crust of the economy. Non-Malays are also actively involved in the civic and political life of the nation. Apart from playing leading roles in trade unions and NGOs, Chinese, Indian and other Malaysians are at the helm of a number of political parties both in the ruling coalition and in the opposition. Since independence non-Malays have become an integral and essential part of the nation's political process.

The solution

It would be too simplistic to suggest the rescinding of the NEP or the abolition of Chinese medium schools as the remedies. For even if the NEP is not there, the underlying fears and aspirations of the Malay-Bumiputra community related to its economic strength and resilience would still have to be addressed. Similarly, the Chinese school has become a metaphor for the community's sense of ethnic security and identity. This is why any effective, long-term solution should seek to overcome fundamental fears and apprehensions of all communities.

If the State is sincere about strengthening the Malay economy in the coming years, it is justice that should be its central concern. What this means is that it should harness all its energies to tackle what is undoubtedly the single most important challenge confronting the Malay economy: the challenge of widening economic disparities within the community. The state should also go all out to combat the pervasive rentier culture which has inhibited the growth of genuine entrepreneurship. Eradicating both corruption, which has emasculated the economy, and abuse of power should also be its national priorities. None of these goals would require ethnicizing the economy.

If it is important for non-Malays to develop some empathy with the idea of a Malaysian nation that had emerged from a Malay polity, it is imperative that Malay leaders convince the Chinese and Indian communities that they are committed to the evolution of a social order that will be less and less preoccupied with ethnic policies and more and more devoted to an all-embracing vision of justice that focuses upon our common humanity.

Only when justice supplants ethnicity will it be possible to overcome the current challenges facing Malaysia and ethnic fears be laid to rest.
By Chandra Muzaffar, President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
Asiaviews, August-September 2007

Asian Racism in Indonesia

Another article largely examining the problems that Indonesia is facing in regards to developing a working model of multi-ethnic and religious relations. Enjoy

The problem of multi-ethnicity in Indonesia

Indonesia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religion society but for most of its 62-year history as an independent nation-state, the Indonesian ruling elites have chosen not to deal with this reality. Their offensive and degrading interactions with colonialism in the past, together with their bad experience with various 'local' uprisings during the early years of independence, led to a 'a strong obsession with unity'. Now we can see how much this obsession has harmed the Indonesian people. Today we are paying the price.

Soekarno's decision in 1959 to adopt Guided Democracy as the governing principle of his reign and Soeharto's New Order policy to prohibit discussions on issues of SARA (Suku, Agama, Rasial and Antar Golongan-Ethnic groups, Religion, Race, and Intra groups) were all motivated by that obsession. So for more than five decades, Indonesians pretended to have a harmonious relationship with each other even when conflicts were occurring everyday. The Soeharto regime in particular has, for the three decades of his power, successfully 'put conflict under the carpet'. Except for recurring incidences of anti-Chinese sentiments in 1974, 1977, 1980 which reached its peak in the tragic May 1998 Riots, there was little information about conflicts around the country. Some ethnic Chinese Indonesians would argue that anti-Chinese sentiments were purposely nurtured in order to divert the people's attention away from other kinds of conflict, especially state-society conflict.

The situation went out of control after the 1996/1997 economic crisis which led to the fall of Soeharto's regime in 1998. During the first six-seven years after the new era of 'Reformasi' was proclaimed, social unrest happened in various places of the country, from Kalimantan and Maluku to Aceh, Poso and Papua. Nowadays, ethnic and religious issues have become the most important determinant in Indonesia's social and political life. It seems that after years of 'forced unity', the people have become too over- enthusiastic about re-learning the diversity among them and emphasizing the differences. In so doing, locality, ethnicity and religion have begun to create new problems of ethno-nationalism and separatism.

Our question now is 'shouldn't we re-learn unity and be united again?'

Considering the archipelagic nature of our country, where each island produces different goods that are being exchanged for the consumption by others, we actually should rediscover the meaning of unity. No island, especially the small ones like West Timor, would be able to support itself without the help from the peoples of the other islands, a reality that is reflected in the busy flow of people and goods in every day inter-island exchanges.

But how should we re-learn unity? The answer is 'from history'.

Clearly, mutual dependency, common interest, and a simbiosis mutualistic relationship have been developed over the ages and created a connectivity between the islands as well as between the people who occupy these islands. Our history has shown that the Nusantara archipelago, through its inter-island trading network, has become a social, economic and political entity which can only grow with cooperation between the inhabitants of its numerous islands.

As many historical records indicate, way back in the past Nusantara was widely known as a rich and prosperous place which attracted many foreigners to come and trade various local crops with the natives. Obviously it was the cooperation between the natives themselves which created a good impression of them in the eyes of foreigners and was an attractive pull factor.

If in the past unity gradually became a valuable necessity, today unity is similarly a must, if not more crucial, particularly under the pressures of current economic globalization. Without cooperation and unity, we certainly would not be able to compete with other countries.

In forging this unity, even the ethnic Chinese, Arab and Indian Indonesians should be included because each group has their own unique sociological role that cannot be replaced by other ethnic groups. Their contribution to the so-called Indonesian nation-state was written in the stories of their migration, settlement and existence in this country full of social and cultural exchanges, not to mention their friendly cooperation with the locals throughout the generations particularly before the Dutch colonial occupation. These groups, together with the locals, as a whole represent the diversity of Indonesia. As many have said, this diversity is a social asset that should be utilized to achieve the common goals specified in the 1945 Constitution of Indonesia, namely the people's freedom from oppression, their prosperity, security and dignity.

Finally, as a lesson learnt, the Indonesian case has proven that diversity and unity is not a zero-sum choice. Both are an undeniable part of the society with neither one more important than the other. The mistake made by Indonesians was to emphasize the importance of unity by neglecting diversity. The result was chaos still felt today.

To change the situation, the Indonesian leaders have to find the proper equilibrium between their desire for national unity (repeatedly articulated by military leaders as NKRI-short for Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia or Unitary State of Republic Indonesia-being "a fixed price") and adequate respect for the Indonesian people's diversity, their different beliefs, cultures and traditions. Only then can Indonesia achieve peace and stability.
By Thung Ju Lan, Senior Researcher, The Research Center for Society and Culture of The Indonesian Institute of Sciences
Asiaviews, August-September 2007

Asian Racism in Thailand

Another article on Asian Racism - this time in Thailand. Enjoy.

Thailand deals with ethnicity

Thailand is not a multicultural country as its leaders often claim. The ongoing conflict and violence in southern Thailand reveal the country’s deep-seated discrimination and injustice against the country’s minorities who have different cultures, languages and religious beliefs. Thailand is a very diverse country with 79 different nationalities and linguistic groupings.

The hullabaloo surrounding the drafting of the new constitution during the past several months on the provision related to whether to declare Buddhism as the state religion is another case in point revealing the insensitivity towards Thailand’s diversity.

As in the rest of Southeast Asia, religious belief in this country is often linked to ethnicity. Approximately 10 per cent of the 66 million Thai population are Muslims and comprise the country’s largest religious minority. Almost all of the Muslim in the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat are Sunni, with Shiites representing a small percentage. In the case of the Chinese ethnic group, they are either Christian or syncretic Taoist-Buddhists.

It is interesting to note how Thailand has succeeded in assimilating the Chinese. Within Southeast Asia, the Chinese communities tend to have strong cultural identities and societal links amongst themselves. That is not the case, however, for the Thai-Chinese communities. They are different.

Once they arrived in Thailand, they adopted Thai names, took up Buddhism and other aspects of Thai life and norms without any resistance. The estimated 13 million Chinese-Thai citizens are considered well off, both in terms of education and wealth, but they have chosen to follow the local culture and traditions. Any visit to Bangkok’s famous China town, Yaowaraj, would reveal this strong trait. While all the façades and huge neon signs along the main roads stress the Chinese-ness of their cultural heritage, the small alleys or soi and walkways show the other side of them being Thai.

It was only in the past ten years that the government has allowed the teaching of putonghua or mandarin Chinese. After more than half a century of suppression, the government is now enthusiastically promoting the teaching of the once so-called “communist language” which would require at least 5,000 language teachers from China.

In contrast, the Muslims down south live in isolation despite Bangkok’s claim of successful assimilation. They have more contacts with the neighbor in the south, Malaysia, than with their own government. This strong linkage with Malaysia continues unabated today, especially since the 1902 annexation by the central authority in Bangkok of Pattani and six surrounding areas. This places Thailand in a precarious situation.

Within their own communities, they have little interaction with the Thais. The only contact they have would be when the local authorities want to find fault with them. Their children attend religious schools or pondoks near their homes and are taught by religious leaders they know and trust.

Before the tumultuous event of 11 September 2001, the Thai authorities have never attempted to control or monitor the curriculum taught at these various pondoks, assuming that their curriculum must be automatically in line with the Thai national education system to take advantage of the higher education system for students in the provinces.

Since there is no standardized Muslim syllabus, the daily teaching method and its contents are being left to the religious teachers themselves. Many local pondok schools continue to teach Islam as the main subjects and Thai-Malayu as the main language, without sufficient tutoring in subjects such as the social sciences and humanities. Some parents do not want to compromise religious teaching classes with other subjects. As a consequence, children studying in private pondoks are unable to compete with other mainstream students coming from elsewhere, including Muslim children who study in Thai schools.

Thai-Muslims face two dilemmas once they reach their youth. Without proper education and lacking the Thai language ability, both oral and written, they find themselves unable to go for higher education in their own country. Most of them choose to go abroad or cross the border to study in Malaysia and other Muslim countries in the region or in the Middle East and Africa. But those educated abroad eventually end up unemployed upon returning home. A survey conducted by a team of scholars from Prince of Songkhla University showed that 60 per cent of Thai-Muslims youth in 2003 could not get jobs. Inevitably, they become a highly alienated group of youngsters. Full of frustration and a sense of hopelessness, some of them have been targeted for recruitment by either criminal groups or separatist groups.

Thailand needs to change its mind-set in dealing with its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. Some senior Thai officials, for instance, including the statesman Gen Prem Tinsulanonda opposes the teaching and use of Thai-Melayu as a working language in the Muslim areas for fear it would diminish their ability to absorb the Thai language.

Besides the Thai-Muslims, other less well-know ethnic groups including the Karen, Mon, Chong, Mlabri and Meo are also struggling to overcome the injustice and prejudice against them. They want to be accepted and treated as equals in Thailand. The only difference is that their struggle continues without media’s attention.
By Kavi Chongkittavorn, Bangkok-based journalist
Asiaviews, August-September 2007

Asian Racism in Singapore

This article is one i read in a taxi on a weekend visit to Singapore - and strangely enough it is actually written by a Singaporean. The article encompasses many of the points i have been trying to illuminate through the collection of articles that comprises this blog - that racism is alive and kicking in Asia and is conveniently ignored or dismissed as being a problem belonging to other countries. Enjoy.

Racism within Asia
AsiaViews, Edition: 30/IV/August/2007

In recent months, there has been much discussion in the media here about how Singapore could cope with a large migrant population from other parts of Asia if the country is going to aim for a population of 6.5 million within the next decade.

Though the question of race relations has not overtly being discussed, yet, it is what we are referring to when we talk about integration, etc. Asians seem to be very reluctant to talk about race relations or racism within their societies, but are quick to point fingers at the West. A couple of months ago, there was ample coverage given, especially in Singapore, to an episode of ‘Big Brother’ TV program in Britain in which Indian Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty was the butt of racist comments.

Reading these reports, particularly in the Singaporean press, I could not resist the thought, “what’s the big deal, is it not present here?” This is particularly after some experience I’ve had here around the same time when I was looking to rent a condo apartment and was told not once but five times by housing agents that the owner “did not want to rent to Indians”. Some letters to the editor written by Indian expatriates published in ‘Today’ newspaper about 2 months later indicated that this is a widespread practice here.

I have raised this issue with Singaporeans recently and the usual response with the shrug of the shoulders is “well, racism exists everywhere” so what can we do about it?

In one of the popular expat forums on the Internet here, when I raised this point there was a heated debate which developed that reflected this attitude. One typical comment by a Singaporean professional woman in her 30s was: “No, housing agents are not racists, but local house owners may have pre-stated their preference to the agents representing them of not renting to Indians on account of Indian cooking involving very pungent spices that makes the house smell”.

When I responded: “This is what I said, it is a racist attitude to think that anyone of color cooks spicy food at home and smells”. Her reply was: “It is not my intention to make excuses, I’m merely stating the facts…”

Singapore has often boasted about the harmonious multicultural society they have created where Chinese, Indians, Malays, Eurasians, Filipinos, etc, live in harmony. But, what has transpired in the ‘blogsphere’ in recent years indicates that not everything is rosy under the surface.

Coming back to my experience, when I questioned the housing agents for the reasons for refusing to rent to Indians I was told that because they cook with such aroma, it leaves a “bad smell” in the house long after they have left. I pointed out that (a) I’m not an Indian, but a Sri Lankan-born Australian (b) I don’t usually cook at home because I live on my own. One agent told me “that doesn’t matter, you look Indian, all the same”.

This is exactly what is called “stereo-typing” a process which is described in any cross-cultural communication textbooks as “those overgeneralized and over simplified beliefs we use to categorize a group of people (which) have a tendency to make a claim that often goes beyond the facts, with no valid basis.”

At a time when Singapore is looking towards India—an emerging world power—to develop closer economic ties, and with increasing number of “Indian” professionals coming here to work and many even taking up PR here, it is an opportune time for Singaporean educational authorities to take a closer look at how the educational system could be utilized to address this problem of stereo-typing and racism. It does not apply only to Indians, I have noted that Filipinos, Indonesians and Thais to name a few, are also effected by such racial stereotyping.

I must also add that racist attitudes towards other Asians are not peculiar to Singaporeans. Even Malaysia’s recent treatment of its migrant laborers from Indonesia and Bangladesh in particular has been described by some observers as racist. A few years ago, when I arrived in Hong Kong for the first time I noticed that their customs checked the bags of all the people of color arriving there and not the Chinese nor the Caucasians. This was before the 9/11 event. After that I have observed that they do the same at Bangkok airport.

Over the past 25 years I have been to Bangkok over 30 times. Since the 9/11 event I have been there about 6 times and each time they have called me up and checked my bags, even though I was passing through the “green” line and I’ve noticed that they only check the bags of colored people, especially with South Asian appearance. Obviously they suspect us as possible “Pakistani Muslim terrorist”, even though I’m Buddhist and for 20 years living in Sydney, it was Thai monks who performed our family religious ceremonies including my father’s last rites in 2001.

Though many of us, especially professionals of South Asian background, find this attitude offensive, perhaps many of these officials behave in such fashion because they lack cross-cultural communication training. In many Western countries when they have such security concerns they usually do it more subtly where a few Whites will also be checked along with the non-Whites.

Today, in this globalizing world, not only Singapore, but many other Asian countries are facing an influx of people of different ethnic backgrounds, either coming as tourists, convention delegates or to work or invest in their countries. So, knowledge of cross-cultural communications should be an essential ingredient in these countries.

I lived in Australia for 20 years—throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s—at a time when Australia had to address a similar problem in their society, because they were experiencing an immigration boom from Asia, after the ‘White Australia” policy was abolished in the mid-1970s. Australia was also trying to link up economically with a booming Asia, whose people were historically seen by most Australians as of “lower status” or what was called the “yellow peril”. This was tackled through the educational system with new Asian Studies and Cross-Cultural Communication courses introduced in high schools and tertiary institutions. Today most young Australians are less racist towards Asians and are more comfortable dealing and living with them—even marrying Asians in increasing numbers.

Two years ago, I taught an inter-semester course at a leading university in Singapore on Cross-Cultural Communications during which I covered many theories on stereotyping and racism. When I set assignments for students and asked them to apply these theories to practical situations, all of them took examples from the Western textbooks we were using because no Asians texts were available on the topic. They were happy talking about the Caucasians, Hispanics, Blacks or Australian Aborigines rather than applying these theories to their own environment and talk about relationships between the Chinese, Malays, Filipinos and the Indians for example.

There seems to be this perception in Asia that racism is a problem of the West, a problem of the “White” people. But, ‘Whites’ now understand the problem—thanks to many Indians, Africans and Arabs like Edward Said who pointed this out to them more than 30 years ago—and the West has taken remedial action via the education system. The fact that the Britons were able to acknowledge that there was racism involved in the ‘Big Brother’ episode and Shilpa Shetty was voted overwhelmingly as the winner of the show is reflective of such enlightenment.

In Asia, people are still in self-denial mood. Singapore, with its multiracial population mix and its ambition to become an educational hub and a bridge between South and East Asia, is in an ideal position to address this issue. A good start would be to introduce cross-cultural communication courses and textbooks with Asian examples which could be a benchmark for Asia.

By Kalinga Seneviratne, Singapore-based journalist, media analyst and international communications lecturer.
Asiaviews, August-September 2007

Racism in Cricket

Interesting article on racism in Cricket. The much maligned Australian cricket team and fans are often accused of racism now it appears that the Indian cricket fans have also stopped to that level.

Indian crowd racially taunts Aussie Symonds
October 11, 2007 - 10:26PM

Australia's Andrew Symonds has been racially abused by Indian fans while fielding during the home side's innings in their one-day match at Vadodara today.

The only black member of the national side was taunted with monkey noises from the crowd during the latter stages of India's innings at the Reliance Ground.

A Cricket Australia official confirmed the racist taunts were directed at the allrounder who was heavily booed on the occasions that he fielded near the boundary line today.

"The matter will be left in the hands of the local authorities," a CA official confirmed.

The Australian cricket team was trying to respect Symonds' wish not to make a big deal out of the incident.

However the Indian camp had condemned the behaviour of their fans.

"This should not happen but the problem is trying to control the crowds and in some areas there can be some trouble," said team manager Lalchand Rajput.

"People come to watch the game and this sort of behaviour spoils the game."

He said the Indian team would be very upset that a player had been racially abused.

"Yes, definitely these things are not good for the morale of the team, it is upsetting for them," he said.

"They (the fans) should watch and not get into these sorts of trouble and behave in the right way."

Australian Cricketers' Association chief executive Paul Marsh expressed similar sentiments.

"If this incident has occurred I would be disappointed for Andrew," he said.

The International Cricket Council has made cracking down on racial abuse from crowds a top priority with Australian, English, West Indie and South African fans having come in for criticism for racial abuse towards.

An ICC spokesman said the body treated racial abuse very seriously.

"We have not received any complaints about this but in general terms we have a no tolerance policy to racism and a very strict anti-racism code," a spokesman said from Dubai.

"Our anti-racism policy was approved and strengthened in November 2006 with all members having signed up to this, that racism will not be tolerated at any ground."

The matter left a sour note on Australia's comprehensive nine-wicket win over India that handed the side an unbeatable 3-1 series lead with two matches to play.

It is understood the matter was not a major talking point in the Australian dressing room following the change of innings.

The next contest will be in Nagpur on Sunday.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Flaming Hatred: Malaysian style

Another article on the attempts to generate inter-racial hatred in Malaysia. Thankfully cooler heads prevail here. Maybe if religious freedom was a reality and not just a myth for the majority it would not be so easy to flame these hatreds?

Two detained for sending inflammatory SMSes on race riots

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian police have detained two men for allegedly sending mobile phone text messages about race riots, under an internal security law which allows them to be held without trial. The men, who are in their 20s, were arrested by police in Johor, where acting police chief Mohamad Mokhtar Mohamad Shariff said they were held under the Internal Security Act.
"I wish to stress that security in the state is under control and that the SMS messages being circulated are purely rumours and malicious," the police chief was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper. Some Singaporeans have also received text messages warning them not to go to Malaysia.

Police have boosted their presence in the state by increasing patrols and deployed some 200 anti-riot police officers to ensure security, according to the New Straits Times. Race relations have become an increasingly fraught issue in Malaysia.
A series of court cases — notably regarding conversions from Islam — has called that status into question.

Activists have been campaigning for greater religious freedoms in the country, where proselytising by other faiths is banned.
Last November, text messages carrying rumours that ethnic Muslim Malays would be baptised as Christians sparked a large Muslim protest in the northern state of Perak. It led to a government warning that the Internal Security Act could be used on anyone spreading texts, which could cause instability. — AFP

Race Riots in Malaysia?

Hope these don't go down any time soon...

Police arrest fifth person for allegedly spreading rumours of race riots in Johor

KUALA LUMPUR — Police have arrested a fifth person for allegedly spreading rumours of race riots in Johor, as another flashpoint surfaced in Malaysia's inter-ethnic politics.

The Malaysian national was detained under the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial, over SMS messages about race riots, AP reported. The messages, which have been circulating for days, said that Malays and Indians had fought in two Johor towns and that rioting would break out on Malaysia's 50th independence anniversary, which was last Friday. The government dismissed the messages as false. No riots were reported.

Meanwhile, an email, claiming to be from an Islamic body, has urged Muslims to stay away from Indian restaurants because of certain Hindu practices that were allegedly performed daily on the premises, the malaysiakini website reported yesterday.
The email, posted on a website on July 26, suggested that the rituals, which were meant for blessing and purification, were unacceptable to Muslims. The author of the email said that he was a director from the Muslim Consumers' Association of Malaysia (PPIM).

Identifying himself as "MJH", he said that some Hindu-owned restaurants that practise the rites served cuisine associated with Indian Muslim restaurants and used Malay-sounding names to bring in Muslim customers by "confusing" them.
Dismissing the email, Mr A Vaithilingam, president of the Malaysia Hindu Sangam, said: "I hope people would be level-headed when they come across this email. It's best to ignore it."

PPIM spokesman Noor-Nirwandy Mat Noordin denied the group had issued the email. "This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that PPIM has been used to further some opportunistic agendas," he said.

Ethnic Violence in China

Another article that lifts a lid a little on the internal 'race' and ethnic issues inside china:

1 dead, 20 hurt in ethnic clashes

BEIJING — Clashes between minority Chinese Muslims and the Han majority last month left at least one person dead and 20 injured, a Hong Kong newspaper and human rights group reported yesterday.

The fighting in the province of Shandong broke out on Aug 17 after a Hui man was caught stealing and beaten by several Han in the town of Shimiao. The man returned to the Muslim neighbourhood where several thousand Hui people gathered sticks, bricks and other improvised weapons and marched on the town's commercial district.

The fighting was only brought under control after several hundred members of the People's Armed Police were dispatched to the scene. Official media do not report on the sensitive issue of ethnic clashes, the likely reason why word of the incident has only leaked out now.

Numerous violent incidents between Hui and Han have been reported in recent years, including a December 2000 clash in Henan province in which police shot dead at least six Hui men. — AP

Chinese Colonialism

An interesting extract from an article on Chinese colonialism that focuses on the 'internal' aspects of the drive towards a singular mono-ethnic china.

Uyghur Ethnogenesis and Internal Colonialism

The following statement was told to me by a Uyghur tour guide at the ancient Astana underground tombs outside of Turfan. First heard in 1985 (see Gladney 1992), this widely believed Uyghur historiography was repeated on subsequent trips in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1996 : "The Uyghur people are the direct descendants of a high civilization of Central Asian nomadic people who had a kingdom based here in Turfan. The elegant paintings and wrapping in this tomb date to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and are comparable in beauty and sophistication. A mummy in the Xinjiang Provincial tombs also found in this area dates over 6 000 years old and proves the Uyghur people are even older than the Han Chinese" (Personal Interview, March 1985).

Chinese histories notwithstanding, every Uyghur firmly believes that their ancestors were the indigenous people of the Tarim basin, now know as Xinjiang. This land was "their" land. Nevertheless, I have argued elsewhere the constructed "ethnogenesis" of the Uyghur (Gladney, 1990). In his popular history of Xinjiang, Jack Chen (1997 : 100) noted the re-introduction of the term Uyghur to describe the Turkic inhabitants of Chinese Turkestan. While a collection of nomadic steppe peoples known as the "Uyghur" have existed since before the 8th century, this identity was lost from the 15th to 20th centuries. It is not until the fall of the Turkish Khanate (552-744 C.E.) to a people reported by the Chinese historians as Hui-he or Hui-hu that we find the beginnings of the Uyghur Empire described by Mackerras (1972). At this time the Uyghur were but one collection of nine nomadic tribes, who initially in confederation with other Basmil and Karlukh nomads, defeated the Second Turkish Khanate and then dominated the federation under the leadership of Koli Beile in 742 (Sinor, 1969 : 113).

Gradual sedentarization of the Uyghur, and their defeat of the Turkish Khanate, occurred precisely as trade with the unified Tang state became especially lucrative. Samolin (1964 : 74-5) argues that the stability of rule, trade with the Tang and ties to the imperial court, as well as the growing importance of establishing fixed Manichaean ritual centers, contributed to a settled way of life for the Uyghur tribes. Sedentarization and interaction with the Chinese state was accompanied by socioreligious change : the traditional shamanistic Turkic-speaking Uyghur came increasingly under the influence of Persian Manichaeanism, Buddhism, and eventually, Nestorian Christianity (Sinor, 1969 : 114-15). Extensive trade and military alliances along the old Silk Road with the Chinese state developed to the extent that the Uyghur gradually adopted cultural, dress and even agricultural practices of the Chinese (Mackerras, 1972 : 37). Conquest of the Uyghur capital of Qarabalghasun in Mongolia by the nomadic Kyrgyz in 840, without rescue from the Tang who may have become by then intimidated by the wealthy Uyghur empire, led to further sedentarization and crystallization of Uyghur identity.

Indeed, it is the Uyghur nationality of Gansu today, not the Uyghur, who fled the Kyrgyz to Central China who are thought to preserve much of the original Uyghur history in their contemporary religious, linguistic, and cultural expression. One branch that ended up in what is now Turfan, took advantage of the unique socioecology of the glacier fed oases surrounding the Taklamakan and were able to preserve their merchant and limited agrarian practices, gradually establishing Khocho or Gaochang, the great Uyghur city-state based in Turfan for four centuries (850-1250). Reflecting the earlier multi-ethnic, multi-langual, and multi-religious traditions established in Qarabalghasun, this is "Uyghuristan" described by Oda (1978) to which contemporary Uyghur separatists refer today. Most of the Uyghur separatists who are devoutly Muslim would not wish to resurrect the wide variety of religious and ritual practices found in the former Uyghuristan.

The gradual Islamicization of the Uyghur from the 10th to as late as the 17th centuries in Hami, where according to Kahar Barat one could still find Uyghur Buddhists (Barat, personal communication), while displacing their Buddhist religion, did little to bridge these oases-based loyalties. From that time on, the people of Uyghuristan centered in the Turfan depression who resisted Islamic conversion until the 17th century were the last to be known as Uyghur. The others were known only by their oasis or by the generic term of Muslims (Haneda, 1978 : 7). With the arrival of Islam, the ethnonym "Uyghur" fades from the historical record. Instead, we find the proliferation of such localisms as "yerlik" (persons of the land), "sart" (caravaneer), "taranchi" (agriculturalists from the Tarim basin transplanted to Ili under Qjan-long), and other oasis-based localisms. Under the Manchu Qjing dynasty (1644-1911), the region was first brought under direct control from Beijing due to Manchu efforts to defeat the Zunghars, and it was only in the late 18th century that is received the name "Xinjiang" (new border or new dominion) in Chinese.

During the Republican period, Uyghur identity was marked by factionalism along locality, religious and political lines. Forbes (1986), in his detailed analysis of the complex warlord politics of Republican Xinjiang, finds important continuing distinctions between the three macro-regions of Xinjiang : the northwestern Zungaria, southern Tarim basin, and eastern Kumul-Turfan ("Uyghuristan") areas. Rudelson (1991 and 1992) confirms this persistent regional diversity along three, and the insightfully proposes that there are four macro-regions, dividing the southern Tarim into two district socio-ecological regions. The Uyghur were recognized as a nationality in the 1930s in Xinjiang under a Soviet-influenced policy of nationality recognition that contributed to a widespread acceptance today of continuity with the ancient Uyghur kingdom and their eventual "ethnogenesis" as a bona fide nationality (see Gladney, 1990; Rudleson, 1988). This nationality designation not only masks tremendous regional and linguistic diversity, it also includes groups such as the Loplyk and Dolans that had very little to do with the oasis-based Turkic Muslims that became known as the Uyghur (see Svanberg 1989b; Hoppe 1995). While rebellions by Yakub Beg in the late 19th century, and the short-lived establishments of the Eastern Turkestan Republics (TIRET) in Kashgar in 1933 and Yining in 1944 (Benson 1990), indicated Uyghur attempts at resisting expanding Chinese colonialism, these efforts failed just as those of the Uzbeks and Tadjiks in Csarist and Soviet Central Asia.

In the second half of the 20th Century, Xinjiang was occupied by the communist Chinese state in what was regarded as "peaceful liberation", in that, like Tibet, the People's Liberation Army did not have to fight its way into the province, but were welcomed by local leaders. "Minoritization" of the Uyghur became objectified when they were recognized by the Chinese state in 1950 as the Uyghur nationality (Gladney 1990), and the region was recognized as the Uyghur Autonomous Region in 1956. Chinese practices of "integration through immigration" has meant the in-migration of Han Chinese since the 1950s, with populations increasing from an estimated 5 percent in 1940 to 38 percent in 1990. The expropriation of Xinjiang's vast mineral and petrochemical resources, with processing of petroleum products in the interior, primarily Lanzhou, further fits the internal colonialism model (see Dorian, et al., forthcoming). Finally, the development of the tourist industry in the region as a "silk road" destination follows the line of touristic developments in the minority areas of the southwest that Oakes (1995) and Schein (1996) have analyzed as "internal colonialism" and "internal orientalism" respectively.

I argued earlier that the widespread diversity and factionalism found today among the Uyghur reflects a segmentary hierarchy of relationality common among all social groupings (see Gladney 1996b). Uyghur are divided from within by religious conflicts, in this case competing Sufi and non-Sufi factions, territorial loyalties (whether they be oases or places of origin), linguistic discrepancies, commoner-elite alienation, and competing political loyalties. In addition, it might be argued that resistance to the Chinese state has also contributed to factionalism among the Uyghur, particularly among exile communities, as Ortner (1995) has argued for the complex and internally contested nature of resistance movements elsewhere.

It is also important to note that Islam was only one of several unifying markes for Uyghur identity, depending on those with whom they were in significant opposition at the time. For example, to the Dungan (Hui), the Uyghur distinguish themselves as the legitimate autochthonous minority, since both share a belief in Sunni Islam. In contrast to the nomadic Muslim peoples (Kazakh or Kyrgyz), Uyghur might stress their attachment to the land and oasis of origin. In opposition to the Han Chinese, the Uyghur will generally emphasize their long history in the region.

The indigeneity of the Uyghur poses an alternative to Chinese historiographies of the region, which is consonant with "internal" colonizing regimes seeking to assert power in a region not previously their own. By moving the clock back far enough, any regime can claim the land as inoccupied. Claims of indigeneity always transgress nation-states that are founded most often under the conditions of post-coloniality.

Sub-Altern Perspectives on the Chinese Geo-Body

As Thongchai Winichakul (1994: 15) has eloquently argued in his path-breaking work, Siam Mapped, modern nations become established through the imposition of borders, boundaries, and categories of configuration upon previously borderless, unbounded, or uncategorized regions, peoples, and spaces. The invention and "imagined community" (Anderson 1991) of the geo-body of Thailand, Winichakul argues, is effected through the state-sponsored definition of boundaries, peoples, centers, and peripheries. It is clear that parts of China considered to belong to its "geo-body", such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang will never be considered released from Chinese authority. To do so, most Chinese believe, would be to er one's limb. Recovery of Hong Kong and Taiwan is merely reconstructive surgery.

Taking inspiration from subaltern studies in South Asian scholarship and studies in cultural criticism, this article seeks to understand the implications of China's increasing internal colonialism and notions of the Chinese geo-body for its sub-altern subjects. Perhaps it is the recognition of and tolerance for heterogeneity that has led to the influential impact of sub-altern scholars in India (see Duara 1995: 6), producing almost no similar movement in China. The sub-altern studies movement has drawn together a diverse group of South Asian scholars, including Giyatry Chakrovorty Spivak, Ranajit Guha, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Partha Chatterjee, Homi Bhabha, Gyanandra Pand Shaid Amin, and Akhil Gupta, to name just a few, who share a common commitment to writing post-colonialist studies of Indian society. As Edward Said notes in his introduction to the now classic 1988 Guha and Spivak collection, under the editorship of Rjit Guha, the first volume of Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society appeared in 1982, with the claim that "hitherto Indian history had been written from a colonialist and elitist point of view, whereas a large part of Indian history had been made by the subaltern classes, and hence the need for a new historiography" (in Guha and Spivak 1988: v).

In China, a full-fledged "subaltern scholarship" has yet to emerge. While there is a growing dissident and women's literature, particularly from Chinese intellectuals living abroad, clearly there is very little written from the perspective of minorities or other disadvantaged and dispossessed groups. Women's studies and the study of women in Chinese society have begun to give voice to a wide range of opinion heretofore rarely heard (see Honig and Hershatter 1988). These studies have begun to look at Chinese society through a multitude of voices, many of which have been suppressed or ignored. The Gilmartin, Hershatter, Rofel and White 94) collection, Engendering China, has sought to open up a wide variety of perspectives on Chinese society, demonstrating that the internal colonialism in China of constructions of gender influence not only how engendered subjects act in that society, but also how we see them.

Yet there have been few studies giving voice to those subalterns who have independent histories and cultural memories that cry out for understanding on their own terms, rather than placed in a peripheral, sub-regional, or "sub-ethnic" position. This is why at the end of this century the plight of China's sub-alterns becomes increasingly important, both for understanding China's increasing nationalism but also the nature of modern internal colonialism. For this article, “subaltern subjects” are the very groups, individuals, and subjectivities that continue to be regarded as somehow less authentic, more peripheral, and farther removed from a core Chinese tradition

Chinese Nationalism and its Sub-Altern Implications

In a Far Eastern Economic Review (November 1995) interview, Liu Binyan, the former Xinhua journalist and now dissident Chinese writer living in exile in Princeton, clearly indicated that attention to China's ethnic "sub-alterns" is critical to our understanding of contemporary Chinese nationalism. "Nationalism and Han chauvinism are now the only effective instruments in the ideological arsenal of the CCP", Liu declared. "Any disruption in the relationship with foreign countries or among ethnic minorities can be used stir `patriotic' sentiments of the people to support the communist authorities". The recent outpouring of reports over the last few months in the official Chinese media regarding separatist incidents in Xinjiang and elsewhere suggests that Liu Binyan was perhaps correct.

After denying them for decades and stressing instead China's "national unity", official reports have recently detailed Tibetan and Muslim conflicts activities in the border regions of Tibet, Yunnan, Xinjiang, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia. With the March 7'1997 bus bombings in Beijing, widely attributed (though never verified) to Uyghur separatists, coupled with the Urumqi bus bombings on the day of Deng Xiaoping's memorial on February 25 (killing 9 people), Beijing can no longer keep them secret. The Yining uprising on February 7'1997 that left at least 9 dead and 100s injured, with 7 Uyghur suspects now arrested and most probably slated for execution, has been heavily covered by the world's media. This distinguishes the last few events from on-going problems in the region in the mid-1980s that have previously met with little media coverage. In the northwestern Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, the Xinjiang Daily reported five serious incidents since February 1996, with a crackdown that rounded up 2,773 terrorist suspects, 6,000 pounds of explosives, and 31,000 rounds of ammunition. Overseas Uyghur groups have claimed that over 10,000 have been arrested in the round-up, with over 1,000 killed. On March 2 the pro-government mullah of Kashgar's Idgah mosque and his son were stabbed by knife-wielding Uyghur militants, on May 27 there was aner attack on a senior government official, and September 1996 six Uyghur government officials were killed by other Uyghurs in Yecheng.

The government has responded with a host of random arrests and new policy announcements. On June 12 1996, the Xinjiang Daily reported "rampant activities by splittists inside and outside China", that contributed to the closure of 10 "unauthorized" places of worship, the punishment of mullahs who had preached illegally outside their mosques, and the execution of 13 people on 29th in Aksu county (an area that is 99 percent Uyghur) supposedly for murder, robbery, rape, and other violent crimes. Troop movements to the area have reportedly been the largest since the suppression of the Baren township insurrection in April 1990, perhaps related to the nationwide "Strike Hard" campaign. This campaign, launched in Beijing last April was originally intended to clamp down on crime and corruption, but has now been turned against "splittests" in Xinjiang, calling for the building of "great wall of steel" against them. The Xinjiang Daily on December 16 1996 contained the following declaration by Wang Lequan, the Region's First Party Secretary : "We must oppose separatism and illegal religious activities in a clear and comprehensive manner striking hard and effectively against our enemies".

Intra-Muslim conflicts and anti-government protests among the Hui have occurred since 1992 in Xi'an, Yunnan, and Ningxia, China's only Autonomous Region for its largest Muslim minority. In Southern Ningxia, an intra-Sufi Muslim factional struggle in Xi in the Winter and Spring of 1992-93 led to the deaths of 49 Hui Muslims and the arrests of 4 local and provincial-level leaders, with 2 of them receiving life-sentences. Though reported only in November 1996 in the New York Times, the government's harsh response to this and other local disputes have angered Muslims throughout China. Madrassahs, or mosque-related schools, have been closed and a moratorium on mosque-building imposed. This Spring (1997), the National Peoples Congress passed a New Criminal Law that redefined "counter-revolutionary" crimes to be "crimes against the State", liable to severe prison terms and even execution. included in "crimes against the state" were any actions considered to involve "ethnic discrimination" or "stirring up anti-ethnic sentiment". Many human rights activists have argued that this is a thinly veiled attempt to criminalize "political" actions and to make them appear as illegal as traffic violations, supporting China's claims that it holds "no political prisoners". Since any minority activity could be regarded as stirring "anti-ethnic feeling", many ethnic activists are concerned that the New Criminal Law will be easily turned against them. Remarkably early summer 1996 a new directive requiring all Party Secretaries down to the village level to be Han Chinese in Xinjiang indicates the lengths the government is willing to go to re-establish firm control over the region. There are few Han Chinese at thillage level in Southern Xinjiang.

While much is reported about the policy shifts and re-imposed hardline in Tibet, including the prohibition of all public displays of the Dalai Lama's picture and the political re-education of monks, less is known about the extent of the unrest and cracowns in Xinjiang. Unlike Tibet, intra-Muslim factionalism and religio-political killings make the situation in Muslim areas much more complex and volatile. Without a Dalai Lama to sort out disputes and impose a restraining hand, China's Muslims who are riven by political, religious, and local factionalisms, are more susceptible to local and widespread violence.

Muslims in China are distinguished from each other not only by linguistic, locality, and nationality distinctions, but also by a history of Islamic factionalism. Though predominantly Sunni, Muslims in China have divided, sometimes violently, over Sufind reform movements often attempting to make Islam less "Chinese" and more true to their updated versions of its Middle Eastern roots. Since the Ming dynasty, overly harsh government responses to these intra-Muslim conflicts have often led to a unification of formerly factionalized Muslims against the intervening State. PRC officials have increasingly tried to nip intra-Muslim conflicts in the bud or mediate local conflicts, with varying success. It is clear that domestic disputes may have international implications.

The People's Republic of China, as one of five permanent voting members of the U.N. Security Council, and as a significant exporter of military hardware to the Middle East, has become a recognized player in Middle Eastern affairs. With the decline in trade with most Western nations after the Tiananmen massacre in the early 1990s, the importance of China's Middle Eastern trading partners (all of them Muslim, since China did not have relations with Israel until recently), rose considerably. This may account for the fact that China established diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia in August 1990, with the first direct Sino-Saudi exchanges taking place since 1949 (Saudi Arabia canceled its long-standing diplomatic relationship with Taiwan and withdrew its ambassador, despite a lucrative trade history). In the face of a long-term friendship with Iraq, China went along with most of the UN resolutions in the war against Iraq. Although it abstained from Resolution 678 on supporting the ground-war, making it unlikely that Chinese workers will be welcomed back into Kuwait, China enjoys a fairly "Teflon" reputation in the Middle East as an untarnished source of low-grade weaponry and cheap reliable labor. Recent press accounts have noted an increase in China's exportation of military hardware to the Middle East since the Gulf War, perhaps due to a need to balance its growing imports of gulf oil required to fuel its overheated economy (see Dorian, Wigdortz, and Gladney, forthcoming). Unlike Tibet, China can thus ill afford to ignore its Muslim problem.

Yet Chinese authorities are correct that increasing international attention to the plight of indigenous border peoples have put pressure on the regions, with even the German government calling for more human rights in Tibet following a June 15-17 1996 visit of the Dalai Lama. In Amsterdam, on June 2nd, Amnesty International supporters passed out fliers in Damme Square calling for the release of Kajikhumar Shabdan, a 72-year-old ethnic Kazakh, poet, writer, and radio broadcaster, who has been held in prison since July 1987. The fliers were printed on cards in Ensh and Dutch with places for signatures to be mailed to Abdulahat Abdurixit, People's Government Chairman of Xinjiang in Ürümchi. In Munich, on November 11, a "Days of Uygur Youth" conference attracted 100 delegates from Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East interested in what was termed the "plight" of the Uyghurs. Notably, the former chairman of the Unrepresented Nations and People's Organization (UNPO) based in Geneva is the Uygur, Erkin Alptekin, son of the Uygur Nationalist leader, Isa Yusuf Alptekin who died in Istanbul in December 1996 where there is now a park dedicated to his memory. There are at least five international organizations working for the independence of Xinjiang, known as Eastern Turkistan, and based in Amsterdam, Munich, Istanbul, Melbourne, and New York. Clearly, with Xinjiang representing the last Muslim region under communism, Chinese authorities have more to be concerned about than just international support for Tibetan independence.

The real question is, why call attention to these Tibetan and Muslim activities and external organizations now? The Istanbul-based groups have existed since the 1950s, and the Dalai Lama has been active since his exile in 1959. Separatist actions have taken place on a small but regular basis se the expansion of market and trade policies in China, and with the opening of six overland gateways to Xinjiang in addition to the trans-Eurasian railway since 1991, there seems to be no chance of closing up shop. In his 1994 visit to the newly independent nations of Central Asia, Li Peng called for the opening of a "new Silk Road". This was a clear attempt to calm fears in the newly established Central Asian States over Chinese expansionism, as was the April 1996 Shanghai communique that solidified existing Sino-Central Asian Borders. This was perhaps the most recent and clearest example of Chinese government efforts to finally keep hold and fully map its "geo-body".

Sub-Altern Separatism and Chinese Response

China's geo-body is not threatened by internal dismemberment. Such as they are, China's separatists are small in number, poorly equipped, loosely linked, and vastly out-gunned by the People's Liberation Army and People's Police. Local support for separatist activities, particularly in Xinjiang, is ambivalent and ambiguous at best, given the economic disparity between these regions and their foreign neighbors, which are generally much poorer and in some cases such as Tadjikistan, riven by civil war. Memories in the region are strong of mass starvation and widespread destruction during the Sino-Japanese and civil war in the first half of this century, not to mention the chaotic horrors of the Cultural Revolution. International support for Tibetan causes has done little to shake Beijing's gron the region. Many local activists are calling not for complete separatism or real independence, but more often issues express concerns over environmental degradation, anti-nuclear testing, religious freedom, over-taxation, and recently imposed limits on child-bearing. Many ethnic leaders are simply calling for "real" autonomy according to Chinese law for the five Autonomous Regions that are each led by First Party Secretaries who are all Han Chinese controlled by Beijing. Extending the "Strike Hard" campaign to Xinjiang, Wang Lequan, the Party Secretary for Xinjiang, recently declared: "there will be no compromise between us and the separatists".

Beijing's official publicization of the separatist issue may have more to do with domestic politics than any real internal or external threat. Recent moves suggest efforts to promote Chinese nationalism as a "unifying ideology" that will prove more attractive than communism and more manageable than capitalism. By highlighting separatist threats and externintervention, China can divert attention away from its own domestic instabilities of rising inflation, increased income disparity, displaced "floating populations", Hong Kong reunification, and the post-Deng succession. Perhaps nationalism will be thely "unifying ideology" left to a Chinese nation that has begun to distance itself from Communism, as it has Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism in the past. As Bruce Kapferer has noted, nationalism "makes the political religious". This is perhaps why regiously-based nationalisms, like Islamic Fundamentalism and Tibetan Buddhism, are targeted by Beijing. At the same time, a firm lid on Muslim activism in China will send a message to forn Muslim militant organizations to stay out of China's internal affairs. In a July 1994 interview with Iran's former ambassador to China in Tehran, I was told that Iran would never intervene in a Muslim crackdown in China, despite its support for the tring of Kubrawiyyah Sufi Imams from Gansu and close foreign relations with China.

Any event, domestic and international, can be used as an excuse to promote nationalist goals, the building of a new unifying ideology. As Shen Guofan from the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation revealed in his statement concerning the most recent Sino-U.S. trade dispute : "If the U.S. goes so far as to implement its trade retaliation, China will, according to its foreign trade law, take countermeasures to safeguard its sovereignty and national esteem.” Trade and separatism become obstacles not to economic and political development, but to preserving national esteem. Any action deemed by Beijing to be "unpatriotic" is quickly interpreted as an attempt to split the country, which runs counter to Chinese efforts at reunification of its entire geo-body. Hong Kong becomes the first example of the attainment of China's historic destiny, with islands such as the Spratleys and Diaoyutai, to say nothing of Taiwan, arded as impediments to national development and physical reunion.

Conclusion: China's Expanding Internal Colonialism

In his recent visit to the U.S., Defense Minister Chi Haotian, declared: "We hope to see a peaceful settlement [regarding Taiwan] yet refuse to renounce the use of force.... The entire Chinese history shows that whoever splits the motherland will end up condemned by history". This follows the new Chinese History Project launched by Song Jian, Minister of Science and Technology, aimet writing a new chronology of China. In a Science and Technology Daily editorial, published May 17 1996, Song Jian stated that the project's goal was to demonstrates its 6,000 year "unbroken, unilineal" development. "Unlike those in Egypt, Babylon and India", Song declared, "the Chinese civilization has lasted for 5,000 years without a break". The project, to be completed by October 1, 1999, clearly will take a dim view of anyone accused of separatism. As long as Muslim activism is regarded as "separatism", it will be regarded not only as going against China's national destiny, but against history itself. It is through the writing and re-writing of history that colonial and sub-altern status most often becomes internalized, both among the minorities and among the majority. This "internalized colonialism" lead to self and other-perception as "minority", and subject only to definition by state categories and policies. It also displaces indigenous prior claims to land and voice in the administration of local affairs.

Future prospects for the Uyghur in the 21st century may be low considering the proclivity of Chinese historiographers to write histories from the perspective of their "idealized" view. The Uyghur are in danger of being written out! This scenario was already pre-figured by the science fiction novelist David Wingrove in his eight volume futuristic novel, Chung Kuo (The Middle Kingdom). Once the Chinese have taken over the globe in the later 21st century, they re-write history, dating back to the first Chinese "conquest" of Central Asia in the Han dynasty.

"Pan Chao! It sometimes seemed as if half the films ever made had been about Pan Chao! He was the great hero of Chung Kuo-the soldier turned diplomat turned conqueror. In A.D. 73 he had been sent, with thirty-six followers, as ambassador to the king of Shen Shen in Turkestan... bringing Shen Shen under Han control... Over the next twenty-four years, by bluff and cunning and sheer force of personality, Pan Chao had brought the whole of Asia under Han domination. In A.D.97 he has stood on the shore of the Caspian Sea, an army of seventy thousand vassals gathered behind him, facing the great Ta Ts'in,the Roman Empire. The rest was history, known to every schoolboy.

Rome had fallen. And not as Kim had portrayed it, to Alaric and the Goths in the fifth century, but to the Han in the first. There had been no break in order, no decline into darkness. No Dark Ages and no Christianity - of, and what lovely idea that was : organized religion! The thought of it...

In his version of events, Han science had stagnated by the fourth century A.D. and Chung Kuo had grown insular, until, in the nineteen century, the Europeans - and what a strange ring that phrase had; not Hung Mao, but "Europeans" - had kicked the rotten door of China in.

Ah, and that too. Not Chung Kuo. Kim called it China. As if had been named after the First Emperor's people, the Ch'in. Ridiculous!

He strugged. "I suppose you might call it an alternative history of Chung Kuo. Chung Kuo as it might have been had the Ta Ts'in legions won the Battle of Kazatin" (Wingrove, 1990 : 439-54)".

The nationalist re-writing of history, Prasenjit Duara (1995) reminds us, is not unique to China, but accompanies nationalist projects around the globe. The threat of this re-writing is not to China's neighbors, for they do not belong to a nationalist history of China's past or future geo-body. Rather, the rise in nationalist rhetoric in China may have the greatest implications for its internal colonial others, it sub-altern subjects. And, one should not forget the ominous words contained in the Chinese national anthem : "The Chinese race is at a most crucial moment, we should stand up and build up a new Great Wall with our blood and flesh". As Franke and Twitchett note in the introduction to their sweeping Alien Regimes and Border States (907-1368) :

"Traditional histories of China depict the Khitan, Jurchen, and Mongols as "outsiders", inrupting into "Chinese" territory. But this is a misleading oversimplification that needs to be laid to rest forever. In spite of what is shown in modern historical atlases, the T'ang, like its predecessors, never had any clearly defined and demarcated northern frontier... There was never a continuous defensive line or a defined frontier. There was a line of fortified border prefectures and counties, a few fortresses in strategic places, and a scattering of military colonies, military stud farms, beacon signal towers, and military picket-outposts. It was a defense in depth..." (Franke and Twitchett 1994 : 7).

The real question is, what will happen to those Chinese citizens on its borders, should a nationalist movement rise up that sees them as more of a threat than as part of a China that is multi-national and multi-ethnic. If nationalist sentiments prevail during this time of transition, what will happen to those sub-altern subjects currently living in China, but beyond the Great Wall?

References Cited

Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso Press. 1st edition, 1983.

Benson, Linda. 1990. The Ili Rebellion : The Moslem Challenge to Chinese Authority in Xinjiang, 1944-1949. New York, M.E. Sharpe.

Cui, Weiyi. 1993. "An Historical Survey of Modern Uyghur Writing Since the 1950s in Xinjiang, China", Central Asiatic Journal 37.3-4, pp. 249-322.

Dorian, James P., Brett Wigdortz, and Dru Gladney. Forthcoming. "Emerging Energy, Economic, and Ethnic Relations between Xinjiang, China and Central Asia" Submitted to Central Asian Survey.

Forbes, Andrewx D.-W. 1986. Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Franke, Herbert and Denis Twichett. 1994. Alien Regimes and Border States (907-1368), Cambridge History of China, Volume 6, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Friedman, Edward. 1994. "Reconstructing China's National Identity: A Southern Alternative to Mao-Era Anti-Imperialist Nationalism" The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 53, No. 1: 67-91.

Gladney, Dru C. 1994a. "Salman Rushdie in China: Religion, Ethnicity, and State Definition in the People's Republic" In Asian Visions of Authority: Religion and the Modern States of East and Southeast Asia. Helen Hardacre, Laurel Kendall, and Charles Keyes, eds. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press, pp. 255-78.

- 1994b. "The Making of a Muslim Minority in China : Dialogue and Contestation", Etudes Orientales, n° 13/14, pp. 113-142.

- 1994c. "Reconstructing China's National Identity : A Southern Alternative to Mao-Era Anti-Imperialist Nationalism", The Journal of Asian Studies vol. 53, n°1, pp. 67-91.

- 1996a. Muslim Chinese : Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic. 1st edition, 1991, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

- 1996b. "Relational Alterity : Constructing Dungan (Hui), Uygur, and Kazakh Identities across China, Central Asia, and Turkey", History and Anthropology, vol.9, n°2, pp. 445-77.

- 1992. "Constructing a Contemporary Uighur National Identity : Transnationalism, Islamicization, and State Representation", Cahiers d'études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien, n°13, pp. 165-184.

- 1990. "The Ethnogenesis of the Uighur", Central Asian Survey, vol.9, n°1, pp. 1-28.

Guha, Ranajit and Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak, eds. 1988. Selected Subaltern Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gouldner, Alvin W. 1978. "Stalinism : A Study of Internal Colonialism", Telos 34, pp. 5-48.

Haneda, Akira. 1978. "Introduction : The Problems of Turkicization and Islamization of East Turkestan", Acta Asiatica, 34, pp. 1-21.

Hechter, Michael. 1976. "Ethnicity and Industrialization: The Proliferation of the Cultural Division of Labor," Ethnicity 3.3:214-24.

- Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, 1536-1966. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975.

Hechter, Michael and Margaret Levi. 1979 "The Comparative Analysis of Ethnoregional Movements" Ethnic and Racial Studies 2 (3):260-74.

Honig, Emily, and Gail Hershatter. 1988. Personal Voices: Chinese Women in the 1980s. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Hoppe, Thomas. 1995. Die ethnischen Gruppen Xinjiangs : Kulturunterschiede und inter-Schiese und interethnische Beziehungen, Hamburg, Institut für Asienkund.

Oakes, T.S. 1995. "Tourism in Guizhou : The Legacy of Internal Colonialism" in Alan A. Lew and Lawrence Yu, eds. Tourism in China : Geographic, Political and Economic Perspectives, Boulder, Westview.

Oda, Juten. 1978. "Uighuristan", Acta Asiatica, 34, pp. 22-45.

Ortner, Sherry. 1995. "Resistance and the Problem of Ethnographic Refusal", Comparative Studies in Society and History 37, (1).

Rudelson, Justin Jon. 1991. "Uighur historiography and Uighur ethnic nationalism", in I. Svanberg, ed. Ethnicity, Minorities and Cultural Encounters, Uppsala, Centre for Multiethnic Research (Uppsala Multiethnic Papers 25), pp. 63-82.

- 1992. Bones in the Sand : The Struggle to create Uighur nationalist ideologies in Xinjiang China, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University.

- Svanberg, Ingvar. 1989a. Kazak Refugees in Turkey : A Study of Cultural Persistence and Social Change. Stockholm and Uppsala, Almqvist and Wiksell International.

- 1989b "The Dolans of Xinjiang"in The Legacy of Islam in China : An International Symposium in Memory of Joseph F. Fletcher. Ed. Dru C. Gladney. Unpublished conference volume. Harvard University, 14-16 avril.

- Wingrove, David. 1990. Chung Kuo : The Middle Kingdom, New York, Dell Books.

Winichakul, Thongchai. 1994. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Japanese Racism

An excellent article from the BBC on Japan. Like any "Gaijin" knows, Japan is in deep denial about it's racism (disguised as nationalism) and the free use of terms to describe foreigners in negative ways (much Like Ang Mo in SEA Asia and Guilo in HK) only highlight this. Again, the double standards show when confronting this issue. A simple post on another blog about a term being racially offensive generates posts and emails tellimg me that i am wrong, that the term is not racist and yet if the role were reversed, a term used to offend an asian in a western country would result in job disciplinary action, formal complaints etc etc. It just goes to show: racists all over the world a crack heads and nutters.

Japan racism 'deep and profound'
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

Japanese commuters, Tokyo
Only about 1% of Japan's population is registered as foreign
An independent investigator for the UN says racism in Japan is deep and profound, and the government does not recognise the depth of the problem.

Doudou Diene, a UN special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, was speaking at the end of a nine-day tour of the country.

He said Japan should introduce new legislation to combat discrimination.

Mr Diene travelled to several Japanese cities during his visit, meeting minority groups and touring slums.

Japan mulls multicultural dawn

He said that although the government helped to organise his visit, he felt many officials failed to recognise the seriousness of the racism and discrimination minorities suffered.

He was also concerned that politicians used racist or nationalist themes, as he put it, to whip up popular emotions. He singled out the treatment of ethnic Koreans and Chinese and indigenous tribes.

Mr Diene says he plans to recommend that Japan enact a law against discrimination, which he said should be drawn up in consultation with minority groups.

He said he would now wait for the Japanese government to respond to his comments before submitting a report to the United Nations.

Racial Slurs: Ang Moh

I got my first piece of hate mail / posting today. It's taking issue with labeling the term "Ang Moh" for what it is: a racial slur.

Anyway, my response is as below:

I suggest you research the history of racial slurs before you suggest to start telling people of a minority what they should think of a name.

For example, the word "Nigger" originally was only a descriptive name without any negatiave conotations but quickly became to be percieved by the people to whom it was applied too as derogatory.

Likewise the term "Ang Moh" is increasingly seen for what it is: a racial slur.

It doesn't matter how it is INTENDED, it matters how it is recieved and PERCIEVED.

As a cursory glance at both the internet and archives of the singapore staits times shows, many people of caucasian / slavic / baltic background who are described by this word find it offensive.

Indeed, even a number of singaporean bloggers have commented on the need to be careful when and where to use it as they have found through personal experience that it can, and does, cause offence to the people to whom it is used to describe.

Secondly, the origin of the term is it's self racist. It originally means "red-haired foriegn devil", which in the dialect it comes from had specific negative quasi-religious overtones.

This is not in dispute, any number of empirically based sources can cofirm this. It doesn't matter that the 'gui' has been dropped from the end, most caucasians / slavs / baltic people who spend some time in the areas of asia where this term is used quickly learn of it's origin and original meaning. As such, the term has baggage and lots of it.

A similar example is the phrase "Nip". Today this term is used as a racial slur against asians. It originally started as a simplification of NIPPON (name for Japan as a nation, in Japanese) but quickly became a negative name for all east-asians.

Like wise with the phrases "yellow man" (a simple physical description, yet offensive, just like Ang Moh), Nigger, Chink and a host of others have, at one stage or another, been used by a majority on the premise that they are a simple and inoffensive label.

They are not.

Ang Moh is a term that deeply offends an increaing proportion of non-asians in Singapore and Malaysia. The simple fact that even discussions about the words racist overtones crop up in official government controlled press in Singapore speaks volumes about the changing perception of the word.

I politely suggest it is you that need to polish up on your Hokkien language history before you defend a racial slur as something it isn't.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Links to Anti-Racism Resources

As part of making this blog more useful to people researching racism i'll be progressively adding some links to anti-racism organizations around the world.

The first one i have added is the "fight dem back" organization in Australia and New Zealand. They target neo-nazi and fascist organizations and have a wonderful track record in raising awareness of racism and preventing these groups from spreading hatred and spewing crap at conferences and meetings.

I've also posted a link to Asian Nation which has an excellent section on the racism that Asian peoples have faced in the United States with a load of academic resources.

As i find other organisations i'll post them here. Most anti-racism organizations out there deal with the nazi and kkk styled white suprememecy organizations, which is logical as they probably the most numerous and most violent organisations out there.

However, even though this blog is aimed at combatting asian racism, i still feel it's appropiate to link to organizations that combat racism in all it's forms and locations. I would like to re-iterate that in now way do i wish to demonize any ethnic group or belittle the racism caused by other groups such as white supremacist or, as another example, the ethnic elements behind the rawanda genocide.

I've focused on Asian racism because:

1. I live in Asia and i'm exposed to it on a regular basis.
2. I have personally experienced it
3. It is usually an 'out of bounds' topic for discussion in many asian countries media (with the censorship prevalant in many asian countries) hence the ability to highlight racist behaviors and policies and mobilize community support against them is limited.

I hope this collection of media clippings and academic reports will simply highlight that racism does occur in Asia, it is a growing problem and that by linking to other anti-racism resources community minded individuals in Asian can begin to develop grass roots programs similar to what is happening elsewhere in the world to stop this cancerous disease on human relationships.

Religious Freedom in Malasyaia

Whilst not strictly racial discrimination, this article was sent to me by a friend in Singapore from the on-line newspaper todayonline. What i find really disturbing are the 're-education' camps and the obvious lack of religious freedoms. I know i am coming from a liberal western perspective but it strikes a chilling cord to someone who had family members flee from Stalin's horrors in the 50's and settle in a new country. Anyway, an enlightening article that shows how fragile inter-faith (which are often in asia divided upon ethnic lines) relations really are and how the majority in many countries use their numbers as a bludgeon against non-conformity.

SHAH ALAM — A Muslim-born Malaysian woman who was held at an Islamic rehabilitation center for six months because she tried to live as a Hindu after marrying man of that faith insisted on Friday she will never return to being a Muslim.
The Islamic Religious Department in southern Malacca state detained Revathi Masoosai, an ethnic Indian, in January and sent her for religious counselling after officials discovered that she had married a Hindu.
Ms Revathi, 29, was born to Indian Muslim parents who gave her a Muslim name. Her official identification documents state she is a Muslim. Malaysians who are born as Muslims are legally barred from changing religion. But she claims she was raised as a Hindu by her grandmother and changed her name in 2001.
Three years later, Ms Revathi married Mr Suresh Veerappan according to Hindu rites and gave birth to a daughter in December 2005. But the marriage was not legally registered because under Malaysian law, Mr Suresh would have had to convert to Islam first.
Ms Revathi was released from the rehabilitation centre on Thursday. A day later, she appeared in a High Court in an attempt to have her detention declared illegal.
Ms Revathi, 29, claimed officials at the centre tried to make her pray as a Muslim and wear a head scarf. She refused to eat food which she feared contained beef.
"They say it's a school, but it's actually a prison," she told reporters.
Mr Tuah Atan, a lawyer representing the Islamic department, said Ms Revathi seemed to have become "so obsessed with love" after meeting her husband. But he said officials remain hopeful that she might still return to Islam.
Islamic officials seized the couple's 18-month-old daughter in March and handed the child to Ms Revathi's Muslim mother.
Ms Revathi said officials have ordered her to live with her mother and her baby for now and to continue undergoing counselling.
Her case highlights an increasing number of conflicts affecting the religious rights of the ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities.
Indians, who form about 8 per cent of Malaysia's 26 million people, are mostly Hindus while some are Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.
Mr Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party, said on Friday that Ms Revathi's case and other religious disputes could hurt Malaysia's image, saying they showed "a narrow and intolerant face of Islam which must be of increasing concern to progressive and moderate Muslims". — AP

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A paper on Racism in Singapore

Not meaning to pick on Singapore, but someone emailed me with a link to this site:

It's a paper that was presented at conference on multiculturalism. A real eye opener. Text is below:

Everyday Racism in Singapore

Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, Macquarie University

In this paper, I outline some of the common forms of racism that Singaporean Indians
experience in their daily lives. Though other racial minority groups such as the Malays and Eurasians also experience racism within the Chinese dominated Singaporean society, I am limiting my focus to the Indians as my research is based on this community. It should be pointed out that the experience of racism among the Malays has been well documented (see Tremewan 1996 & Rahim 1998). Moreover, because the Malays are often singled out as a “socially and economically underachieving” community in Singapore which in turn has generated critical response and resentment from countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, racism towards the Malays is also well publicised. However, racism towards the Indians has received
little public attention. Even though Indians face racial discrimination in their everyday lives, their high socio-economic standing relative to their population size puts them as a prosperous and successful community in Singapore. As a result, racism has been become a non-issue for the India community and effectively ruling out the possibility of articulating experiences of racism discrimination in any official capacity.

Although the term ‘everyday life’ is synonymous with the idea of being mundane or ordinary and according to Gouldner (1975) is the stable, recurrent and seemingly unchanging features of the social life of ordinary individuals, they are by no means insignificant. In particular, what Heller (1984) termed as the ‘modalities of everyday contact’ which range from the random to the organised are important sites for gaining an insight into everyday racism. It is often argued that in multicultural societies, the proximity and intimacy created by living and encountering racial and cultural diversity can encourage familiarity and awareness of cultural difference. But as scholars such as Ash Amin (2002), Amanda Wise (2005) and others have argued it can
also create social tensions resulting in racial abuse, discrimination, and stereotyping.
Multiracialism is a fundamental pillar of postcolonial Singaporean society. It is a
political ideology that is actively promoted by the city-state to recognise/represent
Singapore as a racially and culturally diverse society. By that token, the main racial
groups in Singapore are accorded official status and are guaranteed equality.
Singapore considers itself a racially tolerant and harmonious country and indeed, the
four official groups – Chinese (77%), Malays (14%), Indians (8%) and Others - have co-
existed peacefully since its independence in 1965. However, this does not mean that
racial discrimination and intolerance are non-existent. Whilst there are many
examples of peaceful cross-cultural intermingling between the races, everyday social
tensions and discomforts arising from living with cultural difference are rarely
officially acknowledged (see for instance Lai 1995). Indeed, the term racism is entirely
absent from official discourse and public debate in Singapore. In this paper, I seek to
document some of the everyday experiences and practices of racism in Singapore.
Using empirical material and research field notes, I will outline a range of subtle to
explicit forms of racism that manifest in different social spaces in Singapore (indeed,
there are more research that needs to be done in studying structural and institutional
racism). I argue that while the city-state actively engages in activities targeted at
'fostering social cohesion' and is ever vigilant at suppressing overt racist provocations,
with few exceptions it has effectively silenced the voices of people who are at the
receiving end of everyday racism.

The Maria Hertogh and Prophet Muhammad Birthday remain as the two significant
events in Singapore history that exposed serious racial tensions on this island state.
The Maria Hertogh riots started on 11 December 1950. It was led by outraged
Muslims after the court’s decision to award custody of Maria Hertogh - raised in a
muslim family - to her biological Dutch Catholic parents. The riots lasted 3 days with
18 killed, 173 injured and many properties damaged. The second riots, took place
during two separate periods in July and September 1964 between Chinese and
Malays. Though no clear cause was identified, state officials blamed Indonesian and
communist provocateurs for instigating racial violence. But as official history and
discourse would have it these riots are regarded as the country’s most bitter
experience with racial conflict. Singaporeans are regularly reminded in official
speeches not so much about the causes of the riots but the fact that they were serious
and potentially disabling events in Singaporean history. The fragility of inter-racial
relationship and disaffections that emerged as a result of living with cultural
difference were never spoken.

In 1965, when Singapore gained full autonomy from the British, one of the foremost
concerns of the People’s Action Party (PAP) state was to ensure that such racial
conflicts did not take root again. And so, the promotion and maintenance of racial
harmony became a central pillar of nation-building. The new government was
confronted with the realities of serious unemployment, immense poverty, low levels
of education, acute housing shortages, strikes, and demonstrations, most of which
were Communist-led, and it had to deal with a plethora of competing ethnic and
national sentiments. The PAP addressed these challenges through what Chan (1975,
p. 51) describes as “a steady and systematic de-politicisation of a politically active and
aggressive citizenry” and mobilising the support of various organisations such as the
trade union and grassroots’ groups. Central to the PAP leaders’ thinking on the role
of the government was their view that the compulsion to achieve economic progress
and ethnic harmony made it imperative that the government in Singapore controlled
all instruments and centres of power and did not allow the growth of political
pluralism (Vasil 2000).

Following independence, many policies and programs were put in place by the PAP
government in an effort to build a nation-state. According to Quah (1990, p. 45):

[t]he rationale for the Singapore government’s approach to nation building has
always been and continues to be the nurturing of the growth of a Singaporean
national identity among the population, which will surmount all the chauvinistic
and particularistic pulls of the Chinese, Malay, or Indian identities of the various
ethnic groups on the island. The objective of the political leaders is to build a
nation of Singaporeans out of the disparate groups in the city-state. The
government has relied on many instruments to promote national integration,
including the promotion of economic development, public housing, national
service, educational policies, the mass media, periodic national campaigns, and
grassroots organization.

For instance by emphasising multiracialism and multilingualism as fundamental
principles of the state, the Singapore leaders aimed to inculcate a sense of commitment
in the various race groups to the state and to existence in racial harmony. In
institutionalising multiracialism as a state ideology, the fragmented and divided notion
of the nation no longer became an issue. Multiracial Singapore with a population of
around 4 million people — consisting of 77 per cent Chinese, 14 per cent Malays, 7.6 per
cent Indians and 1.4 per cent Other (CMIO) — was redefined as an essential feature of a
Singaporean identity and culture. The concept of Singapore’s multiracialism was
fostered through every conceivable means — in all forms of official cultural
representations, celebrations, schools, the media, national holidays and tourism.

Many scholars (Benjamin 1976; Clammer 1998) argue that the CMIO model
accommodates and assures equality and rights for minorities and is a practical and
viable ideology for maintaining racial harmony. One the most notable critical
assessments on Singapore’s multiracial policy was provided by Geoffrey Benjamin
(1976, p. 115) who argued that although the multiracial policy “accords equal status to
the cultures and ethnic identities of the various “races” that are regarded as comprising
the population of a plural society, [it at the same time] serves to define such a population
as divided into one particular array of “races”” (see also Chua 1998).

In addition, the government also actively championed the ideology of meritocracy so as
to tackle the problem of persistent racial inequality. It practical application can be
observed in the government’s promotion of multiracialism as a fundamental ideal
where the four main races are said to be given fair and equal opportunity without
privileging one or the other. According to Carl Trocki;

As an excuse for the paternalistic management of society, the multiracial agenda
justified the government’s structuring of education, housing and the new identity
to which all Singaporeans were expected to subscribe. At the same time, any
attempts by members of a specific cultural community to gain consideration for
themselves have been treated as expressions of chauvinism by the government.
The possibility of racial violence or outside intervention, should the government’s
brand of multiracialism fail, was presented as a constant threat to Singapore’s
“survival” and thus became an unchallengeable article of faith (Trocki, 2006: 140-

And this remains the case till today. To be sure, there have not been any racial
conflicts since the 1950 & 1964 race riots. In fact, people generally do get along.
Similarly, structural and institutional racism are not wide spread. Nonetheless the
official rhetoric of racial violence or disorder has completely overshadowed critical
debates and discussions on racism, inter-cultural tension and disaffection in
Singapore. For a nation which prides itself as a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-
religious and multi-cultural, there has been very little academic scholarship on racial
relations, cross-cultural interaction and racism. Within this context, any attempt to
engage in discussions about everyday experiences of racism is deemed as lacking in
legitimacy and unconstructive. The spectre of racial violence has literally erased the
notion of racism from public and official discourses. Instead the need to maintain
racial harmony, social cohesion and tolerance is repeatedly voiced to render racists
practices as non-occurrences. In fact, the only time it is ever discussed is when
Chinese Singaporeans encounter racism while traveling or studying overseas and
report such incidents in Singapore - Australia is frequently cited in these reports. And
so, other forms of racism that the minority racial groups such as the Malays, Indians
and Eurasians experiences are silenced. The government’s repression of discussions
on racist experiences has meant that there are no avenues for expressing or speaking
out about them.

The most common form of racism invariably experienced by Indians is ‘name-calling’
with specific reference to ones physical appearance. The body and colour of the skin
becomes the point of reference for ridicule, insult and verbal abuse. As it is well
argued by scholars like Audre Lorde (1984) and Frantz Fanon (1965, 1967) racism is an
embodied experience. Repeated references to one’s skin colour, appearance and body
are not uncommon. Let me read to you a set of quotes from my interviews that relates
to this point. As one informant, Shanti in her early 30s pointed out:

I first became aware of racism when a PE [physical education] teacher of mine, because I
was not athletically inclined, called me “Black tofu” in front of everyone. He later said
he was just joking when my father complained to the school.

Another interviewee, Gita in her 20s recalled:

I was about 14 and at the public swimming pool with my brother and cousin. I didn’t
know how to swim and was just getting interested in water, swimming etc and quite
excited. A Chinese man walked past, looked at us and said, “Indian Olympics ah?” My
whole body froze, felt strange, embarrassed, hurt. I lost interest in learning swimming
and did not wear a swimsuit for 20 years. More importantly, it severely affected my
body confidence.

In these two incidents the Indian body is discredited and made inferior because it is
black and also lacking in athleticism. It is a tainted body and incapable of performing
at a competitive level such the Olympics. While the first discriminatory remark is
associated with ‘old’ racism, the second stems from a cultural stereotype that
circulates in Singapore. Sports activities such as volleyball, basketball, and swimming
are almost entirely are associated with the Chinese in Singapore. All other ethnic
groups do not have a high visible present in these sports. As such, within this context,
the remark at the swimming pool was rather insulting.

Another instance where racism is frequently experienced is during everyday
encounters in closed spaces such as on public transport. The involuntary proximity
created by a crowded bus or train and a vacant seat can potential generate
expressions of discomfort and subtle racism. As my informant Ravi in his 30s echoed:

On many occasions this incident has happened while I travelled in a bus. A co-Chinese
passenger would rather stand than sit next to me if there are no other places in the bus.
At other times, the passenger would pass by me and sit next to another Chinese
ignoring to sit next to me. Am I smelly or what?

Bala, in his 20s:

My first direct encounter with racism was probably my first day in kindergarten (1978)
when Chinese classmates will not sit next to me or cover their noses whenever I am near
because they thought I smelt. They would tease or tell me that their parents told them
that my skin is dark because my family and I bathed in mud or excrement or never
bathed at all. As a six year old, it was very troubling to be perceived in such a way and
it certainly damaged self- confidence.

Vimala in her late 20s said:
Often the seat next to me is one of the last ones to be taken on the bus. Once a young girl
boarded the bus and saw me and immediately told here mother loudly, eeee, mummy,
Indian... smelly.” (I did not smell or look shabby.).

It is fairly obvious that a general pattern of racially motivated discrimination emerges
in everyday encounters and contacts between Chinese and Indians. Though they may
not take place on a regular basis, it is hard to deny that they don’t occur at all. Name
calling, the use of expletives, and stereotyping are born out of an attempt to label
Indian bodies as inferior, a threat and mark them out as different to Chinese bodies.
The terms such as ‘black’, dirty and smelly are not just hurtful and distressing but can
result in what Fanon (1967: 11) describes as “the internalisation or the
epidermalisation of this inferiority”. The respondents in my study were clearly
affected by the disparaging remarks to the point that they felt that it has damaged
their self-esteem and confidence. The lacking in athleticism or trying a sport which
Indians don’t excel well is seen as a point of mockery. Moreover, the subtle as well as
overt responses to the Indian body such as the impulse to avoid sitting next to an
Indian and holding of the nose as an expression of revulsion may not appear as acts of
racism but are powerful means by which displeasure and fear is conveyed. The
assertion of the superior status of the Chinese arguably comes about because of their
position as the dominant majority in Singapore. Unlike in neighbouring Malaysia and
Indonesia, where Chinese exists in small numbers, the Singaporean Chinese
population is a powerful force as they dominate the economic, social and cultural

In addition, the arrival of large number of non-skilled workers from India since the
late 1980s has further intensified ongoing racist practices. There are some 160, 000
non-skilled foreigners currently working in Singapore - a majority of them are from
the Indian subcontinent. These workers congregate in the Indian historical and now
tourist enclave called Little India. During Sundays and public holidays, the Indian
workers gather here to do their shopping, meet friends, eat and so forth. However,
these large gathering has not only created an uproar among non-Indian Singaporeans
but also to the perpetuation of racists sentiments and stereotypes about Little India.
As one informant noted:

“Friends (yes, people I actually know quite well) who avoid Little India like it's some
Danger Zone. I can take it if they tell me they're not used to the food or the smell of
spices and incense, but to make comments like, "eeee, all the Bangla and Indian
workers hang out there" are uncalled for. It's not just about the workers (I mean if
they were Chinese workers, these people won't kick up such a big fuss). I mean if you
want to talk about a place being dangerous, Geylang [an area famous for late night
food stalls, nightclubs and a red light district] can be said to be fraught with danger
too right? but no one seems to make a big deal out of it -- most Singaporeans have no
qualms about heading there for durians and supper” (Devi)

Another respondent, Thiru – reiterated:

I also have non-Indian friends who refuse to go to Little India on Sundays because they
fear being harassed by the Indian foreign workers who hang out there. I have heard
stories of cab drivers whizzing through Little India and only stopping for local
Singaporean customers. I have also seen on public transport – especially when taking
the train to Little India – how people will avoid sitting next to Indian men (in

It has to be said that although Singaporean Indians (who are mostly 3rd or 4th
generation) try to dissociate themselves from the temporary Indian workers, they are
invariably implicated and are to subjected similar racist overtones. In this instance,
Little India with its large concentration of Indians (not frequented by many Chinese)
is perceived as an alien space which is potentially threatening and even dangerous.
Even though there are no crime statistics to show that it is an unsafe area – Little India
is a place which you would want to avoid. Such derogatory remarks and stereotyping
are becoming a common place in Singapore.

There are also many other instances of everyday racism relating to food, homes,
neighbourhood, characterization of Indian behaviour and so forth that I am aiming to
examine in the longer version of the paper. But in conclusion, I want reiterate that
everyday racism in Singapore is fairly widespread especially within dominant and
minority relationship and encounters. Unfortunately, such experiences are never
articulated or openly discussed in the public arena. As a result, they continue to
simmer beneath the warm and fuzzy image of a harmonious and tolerant image of
multiracial Singapore.



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