I WAS one of those who visited the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Section 19, Shah Alam on 4 Sept. The visit, comprising a small group of about 30 Malaysians, was initiated as an act of solidarity with the Hindus on the receiving end of the now infamous cow-head protest a week earlier. We brought with us some flowers and kuih, and were very warmly welcomed by the temple committee members and other worshippers there.
We were invited to sit alongside the worshippers as the prayers commenced. Not long after, we began to discuss the issue of the temple relocation. They explained that the issue had been ongoing for almost 20 years, and were eager for some sort of resolution that would be practical for all the parties involved. It was evident that what should have been an easily resolved issue got blown out of proportion by certain parties, and became an unnecessary burden on the temple committee.
And yet, they were calm in explaining the harassment that they’ve had to endure for many months. For instance, being refused permission to repair the temple that gets flooded after every heavy downpour; having to get a police permit for special mass prayers during Hindu festivals; or having a zinc fence suddenly appear where their parking lot used to be so that devotees could not park their cars. It almost seemed like they have accepted such injustices, and one could not avoid feeling a deep sense of shame at this.
While I was aware that the temple committee were very appreciative of our visit, it did not feel as if it were an extraordinary gesture, or that it was surprising for Malaysians to go out of their way to support other Malaysians. It just felt biasa for different races to mingle, without question. This was the real Malaysia.
From our little visit alone, it was painfully obvious that the apparent “racial tension” that we’re constantly reminded to be fearful of is nothing but a divisive tool to support our race-based politics. The defence by our very own home minister and other supporters of such a bigoted and violent act as the cow-head protest is clear evidence of this.
How shameful it is that the people who are supposed to govern and protect us could sit side by side with these protesters and condone such hateful behavior. Is it so hard for our politicians to simply acknowledge that these protesters do not represent Malaysians, regardless of race or religion? Doesn’t it also benefit them to safeguard the interests of all Malaysians, rather than the bigoted few? Are these the people our children are supposed to look up to as role models?
But Malaysia is not fooled. It isn’t hard to see right through such political games, and realise that it really isn’t about one race or religion against another. You’d only have to walk the streets of this country to see temples, mosques and churches standing side by side without much fuss. You’d only have to speak to its citizens to see that many of us don’t see each other as “pendatang”. As the late great Bob Marley sang, “You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
As we celebrate Malaysia Day this 16 Sept, I hope we can all stand up and say that we do not judge our neighbour based on race or religion. That we accept and wholly embrace our differences and similarities. That we are all secure in our identities that we should not feel threatened by the “other”. That we refuse to be divided along racial lines and be used in this way as a means of political gain. That we are all, simply, Malaysians.
16 Sept 2009