Teh tarik (literally “pulled tea” or 拉茶 in Chinese) is a hot Malaysian tea beverage which can be commonly found in restaurants, outdoor stalls and kopi tiams in southeastern Asian country such as Malaysia. Its name is derived from the pouring process of “pulling” the drink during preparation. It is made from black tea andcondensed milk.
The portrayal of Muslims as the “Islamist bogeyman” is getting old and boring.
And while some may regard the recent report about Muslim enclaves as groundbreaking journalism, it falsely represents the majority of Muslims as a monolithic entity forced to congregate en masse for fear of not fitting into society.
While there are suburbs across Melbourne that attract significant communities of Muslims, their attractions are borne of a variety of reasons. These may include economic wellbeing, housing affordability, access to health and welfare services and proximity to one’s workplace or schools of choice.
The presence of communities with identical or similar cultural backgrounds living in that suburb may certainly be a factor, but it’s never the sole driver. And to this extent such logic could be applied to any Australian family, whether they be migrant or fourth generation.
The tireless depiction of “Muslims plus burqa equals the face of Australian Islam” is as irrelevant as a bishop in robes representing the “average Christian”. This use of imagery to invoke fear in readers does nothing to educate them about the realities of thousands across Melbourne, from diverse cultural, professional and ethnic backgrounds, who identify themselves as Australian Muslims.
The variance in appearance, levels of religious practice and socio-economic status within this community is enormous. And yet the prevailing stereotype almost always reflects an absence of fact and an excess of sensation. Surely, this denigrates the intelligence of the target audience.
The success story of Muslim integration in Australia doesn’t get the media attention it deserves. This is extremely disappointing, given the hundreds of stories there are to tell, from those working in protective services to those in arts and entertainment, from barristers and surgeons to executives and authors and academics — to name but a few avenues into which Muslims have entered with great success.
The ethic of working hard and giving back to the society in which they live is not an alien concept for Muslims. It is, in fact, an ethic compatible with both Islamic and Australian values.
I am not for a minute discounting the reality of problems that do affect Muslims in this society including, for some, a sense of ostracism following negative media portrayals and racist outbursts from opportunistic MPs. I’m simply arguing that the portrayal of Muslims here needs to be reasoned.
That is to say, there are elements of good and bad in every society, but dwelling mainly upon the negative aspects seriously undermines the capacity for successful integration.
Criticism of an entire community on account of the behaviour of a few is problematic. But for some, it is a mindless knee-jerk reaction to how they see the world.
We need to return some perspective to this discussion, because Muslims are stepping up to the table to demonstrate they’re not victims, but citizens.
The concept of an Australian Muslim is not an oxymoron, any more than is Australian Christian, Australian Jew, or Australian atheist. Both mindsets can co-exist without conflict.
Multiculturalism, particularly in Victoria, leads the way in showing how pluralistic societies live in harmony. We are the example to others of how this works. It’s time the cynics stopped talking the talk and walked the walk.
The need to label any attempt to have a discourse on race or religion has always been considered sensitive in Malaysia and we are conditioned to believe that this is the way the world operates.
From young, Malaysians are taught by the BN government that nature has provided a system where we are separated based on our race and the religion that we profess. And when we take a step forward to discuss and query those from different faiths, lines must be drawn and any time someone crosses this line; we must throw up a hand and tell them to back off.
We then surmise that the issue is sensitive and no-one is allowed to discuss it. In Malaysia, it is sensitive when the authorities call it sensitive. And no one else has any say.
And because of this propaganda and brain-washing, many everyday Malaysians have some hang-up or other about race and religion. Racial and religious polarization is on the rise thanks to the BN’s continuous efforts to keep the Malays separated from the non-Malays.
The only saving grace is that violence has not broken out despite provocation and threats by groups linked to Umno such as Perkasa and Pekida.
Tools of the politicians
Really, it is only those in politics who find religion and race a sensitive issue, since both serve as tools for Prime Minister Najib Razak to gain political mileage and to character-assassinate political rivals.
One good example of an Umno stirred-up spat is between JAIS and the Christian community. It has allowed Umno and its supporters to claim that Muslims are being turned away from their faith by Christians groups.
The Muslims are always portrayed as innocent lambs led to the slaughter by the evil Christians who would not hesitate to stoop to using money and false assistance in order to lure Muslims away from Islam.
Yet, to date, the actual number of Muslims turning away from their faith remains under wraps. We only have the word of feverish politicians to go by, with no real facts and figures to read or research.
The Christians can also call the matter sensitive since their faith is also being questioned and even subjugated to another. A good Christian is called upon to make disciples of men and thus the higher calling takes precedence over rules and regulations put in place by mere mortals.
Existing laws are adequate to address an alleged rise in the proselytisation of Muslims, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom recently, adding that failure to enforce such laws was what needed redress, not the lack of laws. Jamil, the minister in charge of Islamic affairs, was responding to newspaper reports alleging that attempts to convert Muslims were increasing in the country.
And this is the state of affairs in Malaysia. Accusations are hurled by top level government officers. Najib himself has led the charge in insinuating a real threat from the Christians – and this directly after an official visit to the Vatican to create diplomatic ties.
It is no wonder that Christian leaders here have felt the need to speak out against the government to the foreign media. At the very least, it is a form of self-defense and a real disgrace to the Umno-led BN government. That citizens in Malaysia feel the need to seek protection of the global community shows the type of ‘people’ leading the government of the day.
Until real numbers are shown, all the feverish claims are hearsay and mere whispers that insult Malaysian Christians and infringe on the basic right of a citizen to practice his or her belief.
To draw the Sultan of Selangor into the fray was a sad attempt at hiding the ulterior motives of Umno to wrest back Selangor from Pakatan Rakyat’s rule. Umno knows, in a straight fight, it is doomed to lose at the ballot boxes. So it plays up the fears of the Malays by telling them that Islam was being trampled on and that they were losing ground because the Christians were proselytizing Muslims in the country.
The use of race, as a tool to scare the electorate into voting BN, will surely be used with full effect in all the Pakatan states. Prime Minister Najib Razak gave a hint of this strategy during the Umno General Assembly, which was subsequently echoed by all branches of the Umno political machinery.
Ironically, when real issues that threaten Malay rights present themselves; Umno and Perkasa who both insist they are the champions of the Malays and the Malay Rulers remain silent. Take for example the RM100 million suit filed by a Kelantan prince against the police and effectively against the government. Why has Perkasa or Umno not come forward to defend a royal who is seeking justice via the courts of law? Why has Perkasa not come out to take up the Kelantan prince’s cause?
Indeed, Perkasa and Umno who have been the protectors of all things Malay and Islam are in fact very selective in what they choose to defend or to highlight.
The assertion that DAP is an enemy to all Malays in Malaysia is both wrong and ridiculous. In fact, it is Umno and Perkasa who insult and humiliate Malays by painting them as overly sensitive and prone to inferiority complex.
Then the premise that Malays are forever being abused and under-served by the Malaysian society at large. This too is a lie. How can the Malay community be under-served when Barisan Nasional has been ruling Malaysia for the past 54 years? And all branches of the executive is fine-tuned to give exceptional treatment to the Malay majority.
The only people who are sensitive and feeling inferior are those in Umno. These people are feeling the wind of change blowing across the land. It is a wind that is steadily building into a monsoon and is bound to blow and wash them away. The rush to approve various legislation in Parliament only enforces the view that Umno is now desperate to win at all cost. They are willing to use laws and regulations to bend the will of the people in order to secure their stay in power.
The Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 has effectively sealed off any form of public show of dissent against the government. The rush to increase the civil service income levels for government servants shows an establishment desperate to draw on the votes of 1.2 million civil servants who are predominantly Malay. Raising wages is an incentive yet it shows a government desperate to rake in more tax. More tax means more money in the government coffers and it also means more funds can be abused in order to secure victory in the coming 13th general election.
Umno is desperate. It is at the end of its tehther. Unable to provide an true initiative to strengthen the country, it has chosen to further divide the people of Malaysia; to cause a state of fear and resentment among the nation’s citizens in the hope that Malaysians will not band together against the obvious thieves of the country.
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Last week, that inveterate hate-monger Praveen Togadia made an impassioned plea for a new Indian Constitution that allows for “anyone who converts Hindus to be beheaded”. He went on to assert that “we Hindus should include Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains because their line of thinking is no different from Hindus, except for a few small habits”. Is this isolated fundamentalist ranting or the indication of a trend towards increase in the forces of hatred and division in our society?
The preamble to the Constitution is the most noble advertisement of our commitment to secular humanism. It spells out our resolve to be a humane society that will secure justice, liberty, equality for its citizens and promote fraternity. Of these cherished values, the greatest and the most neglected is fraternity, perhaps because it is least amenable to political action. As a wise man once said, the State can prevent me from coveting my neighbour’s property but it cannot oblige me, by law, to love my neighbour. And yet, the success of our pursuit to be a strong, united and civilised country ultimately depends on whether we love one another as brothers. Our prescient Constitution- makers, knowing the importance, underlined fraternity as a key ingredient for building a vibrant democracy.
We have failed dismally in this endeavour. The country today is the hotbed of a million mutinies. Our prime minister has spoken of terrorism as the biggest threat to the nation. Others believe that the long shadow of Maoists over the heartland is our Achilles’ heel. However, there is another insidious, omnipresent and all-consuming poison that is eating into the vitals of the nation — religious prejudice and intolerance.
When a bomb explodes and kills innocents, cold fear grips the Muslim community. It knows, from bitter experience, that although terrorism claims affinity to a host of faiths and ideologies, the invariable reaction to a terrorist act is to blame it on some Islamic terrorist group. The grim reality is that only Muslims are made to feel that they have to answer for the perverted deeds of their co-religionists, whereas an equally heinous crime by Norwegian Anders Breivik is rationalised as a case of individual madness that has nothing to do with Christian fundamentalism. Similarly, the terrorist acts of the right-wing Hindu extremists are seen as an aberration. The fact that so-called Islamic terrorism claims many more Muslim victims than others is studiously ignored because it vitiates a neat argument.
The bogus perception of Islam has unfortunately seeped into the law-enforcement apparatus. Time and again, the nation is confronted with the unacceptable injustices perpetrated on members of the minority community in the guise of fighting terrorism. After the 2006 Malegaon blasts, 115 Muslims were picked up and all, barring nine, were released after years of incarceration and torture. These nine innocents remained behind bars until last week, despite Swami Asimananda’s confession that it was the handiwork of Hindu extremists. Earlier this year, 63 Muslims who had languished in jail for nine years for alleged involvement in the Godhra train massacre of 2002 were released for want of evidence. The Godhra verdict itself threw up a major paradox. The court on the one hand adjudged that this horrific incident was the result of a criminal conspiracy and on the other came out with the astonishing contradictory ruling letting off the main conspirators who were allegedly instrumental in mobilising the mob on that fateful day. The judge apparently does not subscribe to the dictum that a case is only as strong as its weakest link. Full of loose ends and imponderables, the judgment has done little to inspire confidence and finally clear the air.
So acute is the discrimination that Muslims wonder whether they have equal citizenship rights under the law
In July, 12 Muslim youth, who were implicated for the Haren Pandya murder, were set free after five years as there was no evidence against them. More recently, 21 Muslims who had been implicated for the Mecca Masjid blasts of 2008 were released because they were innocent. Not surprisingly the advocate commissioner who had been appointed by the State Minorities Commission to investigate allegations of police abuse not only confirmed torture but the report also added that the detainees believed that they had been picked up and tortured “because they belong to a particular community”.
What the years of torture, unfair defamation and separation from their families have done to these broken spirits is impossible to express in words. So acute is the discrimination that Muslims wonder whether they have equal citizenship rights under the law. The most tragic irony is that scores of innocents are behind bars because of their religious affiliations, whereas there are thousands of murderers — the perpetrators of the Sikh killings of 1984, the Mumbai blasts of 1992, the subsequent Mumbai pogrom of 1993, the Godhra train massacre of 2002 and the subsequent Gujarat riots — who are roaming free. This is the chilling reality of life in our country today, which can be ignored only at our own peril. These hate-mongers would need little provocation to kill again.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju recently berated the media for accentuating the false perception about Muslims. He is convinced that the media often twists facts and creates the impression that Muslims are terrorists. Observers have noted that the media is muted and guarded in exposing the atrocities committed by other right-wing extremists. It is significant that the mainstream media ignored the recent revelations by a special director of the Intelligence Bureau at the conference of the State Police Chiefs that Hindu extremists have either been suspected or are under investigation in 16 incidents of bomb blasts, which makes Hindutva terror a much bigger phenomenon than previously envisaged. The media, however, continues to portray the Muslim as the archetypal terrorist. Fuelled by prejudice and intolerance, our public discourse has degenerated to the lowest possible level. The most inflammatory and divisive rhetoric has become commonplace. We are all aware of the scurrilous remarks about Muslims made by Subramanian Swamy, who has called for disenfranchisement of Muslims if they did not proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus. Even the once respected Justice VR Krishna Iyer made this scandalous observation: “I do suspect their loyalty. If every Muslim in India feels India to be his motherland and wants to defend it, the police will easily get information about the secret manoeuvres of hostile Muslim elements.” Can hate and prejudice get more absurd and hurtful than this? With such deviant thought processes in the public domain, our founding fathers’ cherished dream of universal brotherhood lies in tatters.
In this mind-numbing environment of hostility and prejudice, one would have thought that the political leadership would help to redress this grave situation with courage and humanity. But far from trying to rectify matters, they have only added fuel to fire. Who can forget Rajiv Gandhi’s statement about the inevitable effect of the falling of a big tree? Or Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s heartless comment following the Gujarat riots that Muslims did not condemn the Godhra carnage loudly enough. Then we had Narendra Modi’s infamous Newtonian observation justifying the Gujarat riots as reaction to an action.
Today, the woes of the ordinary Muslim seem never ending. Living as he is on the margins of society, discriminated against in education and the job market, even when looking for accommodation, he is also burdened with the awful stigma of being in tacit collusion with terrorists. In communal conflicts, he is not only pitted against the other group but has to contend with the clearly partisan actions of the State as demonstrated in the Gopalgarh incident in Rajasthan where only the Muslims were gunned down by the police. And despite his intolerable travails, he is considered the main beneficiary of “minority appeasement”. Is it any wonder then if many believe that our secular democracy exists only in the statute books?