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Racialising Teoh Beng Hock’s death

An illustration of Teoh Beng Hock

THE Malay-language press continues to react to the death of Selangor government aide Teoh Beng Hock. Or rather, they continue to react to the outrage expressed by certain quarters over the tragedy.

The 20 July 2009 edition of Utusan Malaysia ran a simple warning on its front page: Jangan melampau. The news report to which that headline referred, Henti tohmahan terhadap SPRM, quoted politicians who urged the public to “stop all unreasonable suspicions and accusations again the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC)”.

The article also slammed the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition for “going overboard” and for calling for a royal commission.

“Why can’t opposition supporters be patient? They should give room so that an investigation can be carried out. Only if they are still dissatisfied when the investigation is finished should they hold rallies or make demands,” Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia (Perkasa) president Datuk Ibrahim Ali was quoted as saying.

Ibrahim, who is also an independent Member of Parliament who ran under the PAS banner, expressed worry at the precedent such a royal commission would set. “Soon, there will be a royal commission for everyone who dies.

 “There are many police who die, and many Malays who die in unusual ways, but no one [has held] rallies or [made] demands [for these deaths] so far,” Ibrahim added.

                                                          Utusan Malaysia front page
Ibrahim alleged that there were “puppeteers” waiting to use the issue of Teoh’s death for their own ends, and alleged that PR leaders were exploiting it, “as if they want to turn it into a racial issue”.

Whiff of racism

The lack of empathy towards the passing of a Malaysian citizen notwithstanding, Ibrahim’s statements are also ironic. This is because the first whiff of racism around Teoh’s mysterious death arguably originated with the Barisan Nasional (BN)-aligned daily Berita Harian.

Berita Minggu‘s 19 July 2009 editorial, Kematian Teoh timbulkan pelbagai spekulasi politik, by Zainul Ariffin Isa, argued that the PR was using the tragedy to incite ethnic sentiment.

“Why does Selangor Menteri Besar (Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim), a Malay, doubt the ability of those of his own race to act fairly and sincerely?” the New Straits Times group managing editor asked.

“Aren’t there a lot of government agency or institution officers that are Malays? Are Malay police officers, judges, teachers, investigators, doctors and lecturers all not to be trusted?” Zainul asked.

He added that one need only surf the internet to come across criticism about government institutions, “the majority of which are headed and staffed by Malays”.

Berita Harian, in its 20 July 2009 edition, continued to propagate the idea that Teoh’s death was being played out along ethnic divides.

Manja Ismail’s article in Berita Harian
In Manja Ismail’s editorial Antara malang berbau dan malang tidak berbau, the writer expressed sympathy for the “unexpected misfortune that befell Teoh and his family”.

“But we are also worried of the effects of the opposition’s actions, which are turning it into a political and racial issue,” Manja said.

The writer argued that the PR was using Teoh’s death as a smokescreen to divert attention away from the weaknesses within the opposition coalition, pointing to PAS’s slim victory in the 14 July Manik Urai by-election.

Additionally, Manja argued that it was an attempted diversion from the PKR vice-president’s public criticism of the Selangor government.


The PR leadership, reacting to Teoh’s death, has been quite party-partisan. This sentiment was obvious in a rally on 19 July at the Kelana Jaya stadium, where figures such as PAS central working committee member Datuk Husam Musa and Selangor Speaker Teng Chang Khim lashed out at the MACC’s lopsided actions.

The PR leadership charged that the MACC targets PR politicians and ignores BN leaders, such as former Selangor Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo. Several speakers called on their audience to reject the BN government and vote for PR in the next general election.

But these opposition leaders have also been careful to avoid racialising Teoh’s death. “This is not about politics, activists or race. This is about justice,” Selangor MB Khalid was quoted as saying.

In fact, PR supporters logged outrage at the insinuation that they were framing Teoh’s death in Malay-versus-non-Malay terms. Some at the rally on Sunday burnt copies of Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian to show their disgust.

Supporters at the 19 July rally

Those within the BN have also spoken out against Berita Harian‘s racial frame. Referencing Zainul’s 19 July editorial, Gerakan vice-president Datuk Mah Siew Keong insisted that Teoh’s death should not be seen as an issue of ethnic prejudice.

“Truth is the truth, and it does not carry the label of Malay, Chinese or Indian,” Mah said in a press statement on 20 July.

“The outcry that we see now is the outpouring of the people’s feelings towards the nation’s sacrosanct institutions, which is one of doubt and loss of confidence.”

Also interesting is that while Perkasa’s Ibrahim exhorted people not jump to conclusions, Berita Harian writers appear to have their minds made up over the circumstances surrounding Teoh’s death.

In his article, Manja consistently used words like “misfortune” and “accident” to describe the death of the 30-year-old political secretary. It isn’t a stretch to conclude that the daily, evident in its use of language, was already ruling out foul play, even before independent investigations are carried out and completed.

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19 Responses to “Racialising Teoh Beng Hock’s death”

  1. armstrong says:

    This Ibrahim Ali speaks like a typical Umno member. Oh, I forgot he used to be an Umno member and is dying to join Umno again.

    We are talking about a life, not about Malays vs non-Malays. Can’t he send his head to do some cleaning before uttering such comments and not show some respect and feelings for the deceased and family members?

    Only the racists that could think about the non-Malay Malaysians trying to attack a “Malay institution”. FYI, MACC is a govt agency, not a Malay agency or party.

    When we say we don’t trust the govt means we don’t trust the parties that are running the govt, not about not trusting Malay Malaysians.

    The end is nigh for Ibrahim Ali and Umno.

    If anyone is still human, he/she would like to seek justice for Beng Hock and not cover up the MACC.

  2. k c low says:

    For this sort of racial comment, the editors of both papers and their reporters should be sent to Kamunting for rehabilitation. Obviously they don’t accept the 1-Malaysia concept.

  3. D evil says:

    How come the minister of law blames this turning racial thing on the opposition parties when it is clear as daylight this race issue was started by these Umno papers? He is minister of law, for heaven sake.

  4. Gopal Raj Kumar says:

    It is not too different to the slander directed at Hindraf members when they held that now historic procession in KL in 2007 which galvanised local support for an anti-MIC coalition of forces. Against Hindraf was arrayed a force of Chinese and select Indians paid by government and the so called-opposition and those supposedly neutral .

    The excuse was that it was “un-Malaysian” and made the country look bad. Take a look at the reports in the Star and New Straits Times and in the various so-called enlightened blogs at the time of the event. Lip service and tokenistic comments.

    The Malay Malaysians are going through a form of radical nationalisation. Noordin Top and his handiwork in Jakarta is a warning of what may happen in Malaysia in the not too distant future. In Indonesia there is clear evidence of the participation of the armed forces in these so called acts of terror. (SBS TV report 2007)

    Unless the opposition learns to be a little less self-centered and symbolic and sheds its race leanings and image in whatever form, they will in no time be the catalyst the radical Malay Malaysians seek to set out what will become a chain reaction that will find the currently abused opportunities for change squandered by loud mouths replaced by louder still race riots and bombs.

    To the opposition, read, get in line with reality instead of imitating reality TV. Be a little more democratic and allow diversity of opinions and most important learn to be self critical.

  5. zuraida says:

    Indeed it was a heartbreaking tragedy for all mums and dads of Malaysia and the rest of the world irregardless of race, religion, clan etc.

    Only [people] like Muhyiddin, Ibrahim Ali, Zainul, Manja and the likes do not possess a twinge of remorse on the death of an innocent young man. What crap about politicising the incident!

    It is political when BN/Umno jolly well enjoy the protection of MACC, the police and the court, PR leaders are subject to the whims and fancies of these institutions whose main task is just to satiate the appetites of BN/Umno political animals. You talk about the death of the Malay Malaysians, coincidentally I just came back from Kedah. It breaks my heart to see the 14 families who struggle for their living almost 25 years after the killing of their breadwinners in the Memali tragedy. Why does Ibrahim Ali not champion these families? After 20 years they were only compensated RM20k. The village and the life of the people do not show any significant progress. The politicians from Umno/BN can just pass by without a twinge of guilt towards these Malays whom they claimed to protect with the keris over their dead bodies.

  6. kanchil muda says:

    Ketuanan Melayu and Ketuanan Islam are alive and well. These twin concepts will be turned into reality at any cost. This is the drive by the BN government. They have not been openly mentioned but it, in reality has gone into “active” mode – Umno is going ahead full speed. The Chinese and Indian Malaysians must heed the wake-up signals emanating from Umno. Otherwise they will be “dominated” and “domineered”. They will be treated like a conquered people with the Malay Malaysians, their overlords. This country will be run by pirates. Piracy will be the new form of government.

  7. Aiyoh says:

    Wahai, Ibrahim Ali, lu bukan orang Malaysia, kah?

    Wahai pengarang Berita Harian / pengarang Utusan Melayu, kalau nak jadi boneka Umno, jadilah boneka yang ada sikit otak manusia – bukan otak udang.

    Belas kasihan itu jangan dihulurkan pada yang bersalah – SPRM.

    Takut apa ini – takut hilang kerja atau “lubang-lubang untuk cari wang” kah?

  8. Eric says:

    Does Nazri know how to read Bahasa Malaysia? Re: “Don’t turn Teoh into racial issue, Nazri warns opposition” in Bernama today.

    1 Black Malaysia. Democracy First. Elections Now.

  9. kanna says:

    I would like to agree with Utusan that it is racial, his death is a racial issue – it’s an issue of the Malaysian race. 1Malaysia, 1Race. Only a true Malaysian would understand why the reaction is such. For racial bigots in Utusan and BN this doesn’t mean a thing. They only know the Umno race and nothing else.

  10. getintouch says:

    Haha. Pot calling the kettle black.

  11. Russell Lei says:

    Is Perkasa another of those NGOs with the vocal strength of one? Isn’t it like the NGO that an independent candidate in Bukit Gantang wanted to form, PIS? Bunyi saja kuat. What are its credentials? Why are views from such empty shells given so much space by the media? Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

  12. Billy says:

    All I can say is that these people can’t help but to make racist remarks as it breeds from the top. The surprising factor is Ibrahim Ali. As an elected PAS represented instead of showing empathy to Teoh and his family, he had to make some unkind remarks. There is a saying, “What goes around, comes around”. I hope one day when something happens to a member of their families, than they will know what it is like to feel the agony of losing someone. This is about a human tragedy and not about race. Why are these fellows getting so defensive?

    As a human being and a Muslim, have any one of these Umno cronies even bothered to visit the family to express their condolence, or even a phone call? A life is lost and that is a fact. Even if a Malay Malaysian were to die this way, non-Malay Malaysians would have even shared in the same outcry just as in the case of Nurin Jazlin Jazimin and Sharlinie Mohd Nashar. To enlighten these fellows further that this was not a racial issue, when a group of people demonstrated in front of the MACC office last week, there was this Malay Malaysian boy wearing a green Muslim cap who resisted the police fiercely but was ultimately given continuous beatings and was dragged away on the ground. There were also Indian Malaysians who joined in the chorus of the maltreatment of Teoh. Racial, my foot! These fellows should be charged under the Sedition Act!

  13. Lainie says:

    Perhaps BH writers will like to assist in investigations then, since they seem to know more than anyone else?

  14. Rosan says:

    Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian are unabashedly racist. They consistently racialise all issues and instigate racial confrontations. All peace loving people should reject and boycott these papers. Let all future generations be aware of the harm and damage they have done to our society.

  15. Nicholas Aw says:

    That is the problem in this country; everything is turned into issues of politics and race. The alleged political and racial propaganda of the pro-government media such as the Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian is public knowledge.

    Despite the alleged seditious propaganda, action has not been taken against them. I doubt the government will ever act against them. Not in a million years as they are “orang kita” (Umno people).

  16. D.Iaspora says:

    We are reminded of an incident related to us by an old Master. Sriratha Gaitama Buddha was once crossing a flooded stream along with his followers. Whilst doing so, the Buddha saw a scorpion trying to float in the swirling waters.

    He picked it up and put it on his shoulder to help it cross the flood. The scorpion stung the Buddha who instinctively struck the scorpion off his shoulder.

    Seeing the scorpion struggling in the water, He picked it up again and the scorpion again stung him. This went on a number of times prompting follower to ask the Buddha “Why are you trying to save the scorpion which has no feelings but only the thought to sting and kill you?”

    The Lord replied, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting. It will thus sting. It is our nature to save. Thus We will save.”

    Does this story ring a bell when we think of the BN, MCA, MIC, Gerakan, the PDRM and MACC? Someone said in another site to ask the the National Registration Department too. The Singapore woman drinking beer in Pahang is another story which the Singaporeans will deal with appropriately.

    May God bless the souls of our martyrs in PDRM and MACC custody.

  17. Raja says:

    As of yesterday 20 July 2009, I have ceased buying or reading the NST. For more than 50 years this publication and its predecessor have been a part of my life. True democracy is when institutions of government and governance are allowed to function impartially even when the other side rules. But for some time now, and especially in the recent past, the NST coverage on local political events have become so slanted that it is now too painful to read. Even more agonising is when you realise the same writer can offer serious platitudes for the English readers but frothing incitement in the Malay press. At my age, I don’t need such pain. Besides there are other avenues for me to find out correct and truthful news coverage.

  18. Kamal says:

    Shame on the editors of the Malay-language press. Have they any sense of common decency?

  19. tkwah says:

    Aren’t “jangan melampau” and “kurang ajar” such fantastic “vocabulary” that are so frequently used by the powerfully inferior and insecure, to suppress freedom, transparency and justice?

    I feel so scared and intimidated when I hear those magic phrases.

    Could it a good idea to start using the word “tempang” more often?

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