On the 19th of March, 2011, the LoyarBurok Centre will be officially launched in Bangsar. Please join us for this inaugural event! There will be live music performances featuring songs from Radio Demokratika. Details of event will soon follow – keep an eye on the blawg. In the meantime, Long Seh Lih tells us what to expect from this ground-breaking Centre.
When I sat down to write the inaugural article for the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights or commonly known by its colloquial name, LoyarBurok Centre, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend, on the shores of a not-so-distant land. I was proudly giving the spiel that Malaysia is made of three main races, thinking albeit naively, that it was a strong selling point of Malaysia Truly Asia, when I was rudely awaken when the friend asked me “why all the labels?”
This made me realise that that was the first time that I referred to myself as Malaysian Chinese since I left Malaysia five years ago. For some reason, outside Malaysia, we are Malaysians full stop – without the supplemental label of Chinese, Indian or Malay.
Also, what struck me was that my circle of friends became larger, to include those who I do not conventionally spend time with when I am in Malaysia. How many of us are guilty of only ‘hanging out’ with like-minded people or of the same status or class? How many of us have Police as friends? I do not mean mere acquaintances or ‘facebook friends’ but friends who share meals and genuinely look out for each other. I will ashamedly admit that save for one, I do not have other friends in the Police force.
However, beyond the borders of Malaysia, we band together as ‘the Malaysian Contingent’. We are even able to discuss what is deemed as sensitive issues (within Malaysia) such as the Internal Security Act 1960 and race relations in a calm and rationale manner, with both sides genuinely trying to understand the other.
As I track the recent events in Egypt, I am in awe of Egyptians and I ask the question, what united the people of Egypt? For this, I think it is important to go beyond the obvious answer of the threat faced by Egyptians of a dictator or a cruel regime, and take one step further to explore the common thread that would band us together, like we do outside Malaysia.
So, aside from sending all Malaysians to ‘exile’, it is extremely important to find the x-factor that unites Malaysians outside Tanah Malaysia lest the underlying tension between the races explodes in our face one day. I love Malaysia and I do not want to see this happen. Whether we would like to admit it, dividing society by race or class is destructive. The fact that we identify ourselves as Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Malay or Malaysian Indian or even contemplate the question whether we are Malaysian first or Chinese/Indian/Malay first, is by itself indicative of a fault line within Malaysians.
What is it that can traverse political games and manipulation? How can all of us sit down together and discuss the affirmative action policy without Bumiputeras feeling like the non-Bumiputeras are ‘threatening’ their position or rights, or without someone asking another to ‘balik China or India‘. What can make us sit together and discuss deaths in custody without either side viewing the other as bias or be on the defensive? When can we shed the label of ‘Bumiputera’ or ‘Malay’ or ‘Chinese’ or ‘Indian’ or ‘Haves’ or ‘Have-nots’? When can we just call ourselves Malaysians?
This, I will say, is the mission of the LoyarBurok Centre: to find the unity factor, to find the answer to the question, “what unites Malaysians in Malaysia” and to generate discussions around such issues. And from what I am seeing, I am encouraged – the enthusiasm and camaraderie at the LB retreat in Melaka in February 2011 seems infectious and there is a will to work towards creating better versions of ourselves.
This task falls on every member of LoyarBurok (current and potential) and every Malaysian; but more squarely on those spearheading the LoyarBurok Centre: the Directors of LoyarBurok (Edmund Bon, Shanmuga Kanesalingam, Sharmila Sekarajasekaran, Edward Saw, Amer Hamzah and Fahri Azzat) and myself.
The LoyarBurok Centre is an arm of the infamous LoyarBurok and was inspired by a calling to establish a centre to mainstream human rights as popular culture and to give something back to Malaysia. Amongst the main work of the LoyarBurok Centre is to provide an integrated approach through various human rights oriented components such as teaching, research and advocacy, analysis, training, capacity building and strategic litigation. In time, the Centre will set-up a reading room, which will have a library and a resource centre. The reading room is aimed at fostering interest and enthusiasm for community work and human rights. Also, the Centre will provide training to different sectors of society, including youths and students. It is an opportunity for young people who are interested in social justice to gain additional skills and knowledge and to meet to exchange ideas.
As its first enterprise, the Centre will undertake a voter education project, aimed at educating voters and potential voters on election issues – to ask pertinent questions to election candidates such as “where do you stand on women’s rights?”, “if you were elected, what would you do to repeal preventive detention laws?”, “what is your opinion on how to eliminate poverty in Malaysia?” or “does affirmative actions have to be race-based, should it not be poverty-based?”
The LoyarBurok Centre has an important and arduous task ahead but I am confident that the Centre will succeed in finding the elixir, which will remove all divisive labels and transform Malaysia. But for today, we celebrate and commemorate this milestone for LoyarBurok and for me personally as after five years, this humble dream is a reality.
Long Seh Lih is the co-founder, Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights, and would like to thank a friend who inspired this article and who first asked the questions, ‘why all the labels?’ and ‘what unites Malaysians?’
The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.