The grandson of an immigrant family from India decided to remind everyone that the Chinese were “penumpang,” rightly or wrongly. Then a journalist from a Chinese press did her job and reported what was said because the statement by the grandson was made in a public forum.
It naturally created an uproar in the country because we thought 51 years after Independence, we have gone beyond the issue of who is a “pendatang” or “penumpang” and everyone is a fellow Citizen building a new and progressive Bangsa Malaysia.
The deputy prime minister, Najib, who can trace his blood to Indonesian seafarers, the Bugis people, apologized on the behalf of that grandson. The Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also the president of the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) and whose paternal and maternal grandfathers were of Arab and Chinese descent respectively thought that the grandson of Indian immigrants was going overboard with his statements.
Then came Tun Dr Mahathir, our former Prime Minister, whose grandparents came from India as well. The Tun chided UMNO leaders for apologising in this issue, questioning the need to do so.
The Indian immigrants’ grandson (the first one, not the Tun) was unrepentant and called for one press conference after another justifying his statement, denouncing everyone in his way and even issued challenges, threats and warnings to others not to provoke the Malays. One Barisan Nasional leader, Koh Tsu Koon from Gerakan was suddenly thrust into the limelight when the grandson singled him out in one of his press conference labelling him a hypocrite and calling him incompetent. One of the supporters of the grandson in a moment of rage smashed a frame carrying Koh Tsu Koon’s photo and tore the photo into pieces.
After the issue boiled for several days, the grandson was given a hibernation period of three years by UMNO. The grandson was still unrepentant – I will be back, he warned.
Just when we thought the whole drama has ended, the Government of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi arrested three citizens in one day under the draconian law of ISA, inherited from our former Imperial masters – the British.
The journalist from the Chinese press who reported what the Indian immigrants’ grandson said was arrested. Raja Petra Kamarudin, who is from the royal family (also of the Bugis ancestral lineage) was arrested. YB Teresa Kok, a parlimentarian and a Selangor State council member, was arrested.
The journalist was released the day after she was arrested. Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, the son of Arab immigrants, first said the arrest was to “protect” her. Then he said it was because the journalist had provoked racial sentiments by her article (which one must remember was a factual quote of the Indian immigrants’ grandson’s statement). Then he said he had no idea why the police had used ISA on her. He presumably had forgotten that as Home Minister he had to sign off any arrest made under ISA – did he just signed the papers ordering arrest of an innocent Citizen without finding out why?
On YB Teresa Kok, it was alleged that she had caused a racial uproar when she sent a petition to lower the volume of the loudspeakers of a certain Mosque during azan (call to prayer). Teresa had denied vehemently she did that. The party involved in the petition had came out to clarified that Teresa was not involved and that the petition was not about the azan. Even the authority of the Mosque had stepped forward to deny Teresa’s involvement. So who made that charge? Khir Toyo, former Selangor Menteri Besar and yes, the son of immigrants, from Indonesia. The Utusan Malaysia, an UMNO owned newspaper, carried the news day in and day out.
In Raja Petra Kamarudin’s case, being one concerned with the state of his Country, fellow citizens and religion, he was a sensible and internal critic of his own people and Islam. He got arrested.
And thus in this latest episode of Malaysian life, we have a story of immigrants, sons and daughters of immigrants and grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants trying to assert their presence in this blessed land of abundance. Is this not what Malaysia is all about?