Thursday, September 16, 2010

Malaysia Day

So before I run out of Malaysia Day, I should say something about it.

This day has never really been in my consciousness before this year. 

It is the day when Malaysia was officially incorporated, which includes East Malaysia. Which, sadly, is a region I tend to forget. I forget that I am, at heart, West Malaysian, and don't know much about East Malaysia. I don't know what the politics of Sarawak and Sabah really are like, but I am quite sure they are similar-but-not-quite to politics in the peninsular. It makes me wonder, perhaps I should just call myself Malayan, and I find myself thinking that, especially when I become painfully aware that whatever politics I'm talking about tend to be mostly concentrated in West Malaysia. 

Nonetheless, Sabah and Sarawak are part of Malaysia, and if I want to celebrate Malaysia Day, I need to tip my hat to them for bringing in their own slices of awesome to the whole cake. 

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The recent fandom wank involving one Elizabeth Moon's tirade against Muslims failing to assimilate properly into greater American culture, using such alarming dogwhistles as knowing many Muslims had nothing to do wiht 9/11, yet it is still unjustifiable that they should expect to build a community centre by the site of the tragedy without any fuss. If anybody was paying any attention, this is easily debunked. No fuss was caused at all, until recently when the neo-cons of America needed a scapegoat to direct media attention to.

The main driving point I want to get here is the idea of assimilation being a categorical good. Moon actually posits the residential schools, that severed Native Americans from their culture by forcing them to adopt the culture of colonists and imperialists, is in any way a social good because now everyone can speak English!

Ms. Moon, under the influence of colonialism, I cannot speak my own mother tongue nor my national language properly. This is not a social good. This is a personal tragedy. 

Nor is assimilation in any way a social good in a multi-cultural society. The idea of multiculturalism implies multiple cultures. Assimilation is the effacing of one's own culture in the face of the dominant culture. Not exactly the idea of cultures living side by side. That assimilation is in any way conducive to multiculturalism is deeply insulting to countries and past civilizations that have been able to muster the state without making the same demands that white American supremacists make of their immigrants. 

Ms. Moon, I would like to invite you to Malaysia, to the apartment block my aunt lives in. On the same floor, walking along the corridor, are the doors of the families that live there. 

Over one door is gorgeous Arabic calligraphy, that immediately identifies this household as the abode of a Muslim family. Over the next door, a portrait of a Hindu god I am unfamiliar with. The next apartment over, there is an altar by the door, red with gold letters, with ribbons, and electric candles. It is typical of somewhat-traditional Chinese households, a shrine to ask local spirits and gods to watch over the family. It is not atypical for a Christian household to display their faith either, with a cross, a crucifix, a portrait of Jesus Christ and/or his mother Mary. 

No one would dare make the demand that one or more of them must taken down these signifiers of their cultures and faiths in order to fit in better with Malaysian society. Because all of these are part of Malaysia's social fabric. Laypersons understand this. Supremacists do not. 

Malaysian history is filled with communities that have isolated themselves, "determinedly distinguished themselves by location, by language, by dress" (adjusted accordingly for practicality and availability of resources). We managed quite bloody fine, thank you very much, without the feudal sultans getting bugs in their bums over how disloyal and uncivic they are, so long as they paid their goddamn taxes and didn't disturb the peace. 

You don't get the right to use the label "multi-cultural", Ms. Moon, to describe your ideal America, because it doesn't fit. You are demonstrating that you cannot accept with warmth in your heart that these people are different and this very difference contributes to the beauty of your country. If you cannot do that, you cannot make claims to multiculturalism. 

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We Malaysians may not be very good at multiculturalism or pluralism or such, but when I go home, I am awoken by the morning call to prayer, and I listen to the cry with relief, knowing that I am truly home. And more and more, I am aware of how limited my sphere of friendship is within my own country, that most of the people I know are of a certain culture, certain class, certain race. This is a good thing, to be aware of people who are different from me. 

This Malaysia Day, I am pleased to be aware of them. I am pleased to have this chance to be so far away fro Malaysia that I am stepping back to have a good look at the social fabric. The tapestry is a mess, but it is still pleasing to look upon.

Look, okay, Malaysia is a Muslim country. But Islam has always been welcoming of other faiths. The Christian states have rarely been so kind. Compare the Golden Age of Islam to the Renaissance of Western Europe... which time period had greater diversity?

I don't have much truck with religion, but I think it is a splendid thing to have so many ways to celebrate a monotheistic deity, who can't help but be pleased at the variety of forms worship can take, because surely it must be a sight more interesting that way, especially if the deity is so creatively inclined as all that to make this world. And for those of us who are of polytheistic faiths, it's even more splendid to know that we have such a vast array of gods and goddesses and other spirits watching over us. 

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I am not proud to be Malaysian. That implies an accomplishment. I haven't accomplished anything to "deserve" my nationality. I am. By virtue of my birth, my identity card, my passport, my circumstances, I am Malaysian. 

Today, I acknowledge this.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled lives. 

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