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:

http://www.asiafinest.com/forum/index.php?s=a18d9d9a902475c983f32d18474283af&showtopic=137629

Other examples also here and here:

http://www.indianexpress.com/story/229276.html
http://www.indianexpress.com/story/229349.html

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: http://www.hreoc.gov.au/racial_discrimination/whats_the_score/index.html

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

Apostasy

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 fa├žades 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.

AAP