Friday, October 16, 2009

Malaysiana: Belated Thoughts on Cowhead Fail

A while back, there were some dumb shenanigans in Malaysia, involving the protestations of a few crazy people against the building of a Hindu temple in what they felt was a Muslim area. For some dumb reason I do not understand, they took this seriously, and there were photographers floating around showing pictures of these dudes walking around with a cow's head - like, a real cow's head, not some papier-mache doohickey - in order to make their point.

Aside from how utterly stupid this display was, which caused a bit of an uproar, there's not much I can say about that incident per se.

What I want to address are the reactions to the incident, which I will now refer to as Cowhead Fail.

Specifically, the lack of reaction. There were a lot of emails floating around about how "real Muslims don't do this" and "how can this happen in this day and age" and "why are people so barbaric". Which is fine for the first few times, but eventually it all boiled down to a lot of moral posturing over how we are obviously so much better than that, omg our international reputation is getting ruined, look we totes can get along with each other, hand-wring hand-wring hand-wring.

The problem with race in Malaysia isn't that we talk about it, and yet we don't talk about it. When we do talk about it, it's either to heighten our difference or to discuss how well we get along with each other! And when it comes to crucial moments like this, we are surreptiously silent on the issue, unwilling to confront the problems that led to such an incident happening.

In a few ways, I can personally see it as a general lack of tolerance for other groups that has been simmering all along, but only now really broke the surface. Or it could be something's been going on in Malaysia recently I don't understand. Maybe these Malay-Muslims felt disenfranchised over the distribution of privilege across the country and took it out in the only way they knew how. Who knows, maybe their grievances were valid, if not their method of airing their grievances.

Without addressing the causes, we cannot cure the symptoms, and it seems to me more is done to prove how racially united we are, instead of studying the ways we are divided.

It bothers me because it feels like a band-aid solution to talk about how we would never do such a thing, what a barbaric act, how intolerant, we're better than that - because, really, are we really better than that? Or are we as bad, but unwilling to confront it?

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