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Of Lynas and Erykah Badu: A Malaysian perspective

Meld Magazine

Tue Mar 06 2012

Malaysians protest against Lynas

AS Malaysia is thrown into the global spotlight yet again for protests against Australian refinery plant, Lynas, and banning an Erykah Badu concert, Jowee Tee can’t help but wonder just where her country is heading.

I say this as a patriotic Malaysian, but it seems to me that one thing my country’s really good for is making headlines internationally for its many controversies.

Neo-soul singer Erykah Badu’s  Kuala Lumpur concert was banned because a local paper published a photo of her sporting a tattoo of  the word “Allah”. And that story  has been fodder for almost 460 news articles and headlines worldwide.

And the issue of an Australian rare-earth refineries company, Lynas, wanting to open a plant in Malaysia  has had the country’s citizens crying out in outrage – also captured by global media. But perhaps this attention is needed.  Much like the Malaysian-Australian refugee swap, Malaysia has once again become the dumping ground for everything Australia doesn’t want to deal with – refugees and unprocessed nuclear waste alike.

But why, oh why is my country such a stickler for controversy? And is it really any wonder why the future of this country – the country’s young – feel the need to migrate to “anywhere else but here”?

Just as what noted Malaysian rapper/singer/songwriter Namewee sings in his latest social-political number:

“We’re sending so many students to Sydney, Melbourne. We give you so much money and you give us Lynas?!”

He then ends with an impassioned cry: “F*** Lynas!”

*Warning: The following video contains explicit language and imagery*


While his gusto and choice of words can’t help but make us chuckle, something in those lines awakens our senses to something more telling: Just what the heck is happening to this country? And how do we explain that many are ashamed and are unable to rightfully call it home?

Last Thursday, Malaysia’s Business FM held an interesting discussion which somehow managed to get to the crux of our problems. They asked, “Is multicultural Malaysia really in a position to capitalise on the concert industry?”

Caller after disgruntled caller stayed on the line to rant and give their opinions on the Erykah Badu issue, quite often forgetting the question altogether. In the public’s eye, the problems were  the hypersensitivities of conservative “Islamists” or  shoddy media practices. It was about the lack of place art had in this society and the ever-popular lament, “It’s all just politics.”

Malaysia’s radio legend, “the man with the golden voice”, Patrick Teoh, sounded more and more annoyed with every caller who rambled and went off-tangent, while fellow DJs Caroline Oh and Ezra tried to steer the conversation back on course.

Miss Badu herself has reacted to the ban with unparalleled understanding and grace. She took to Twitter to say, “I Understand. :)” and also, “It’s an election year… Keep in mind.”

Subsequent tweets also showed her depth and insight into this improbable situation. Miss Badu seemed pressed to make it a point to educate her supporters who were angry with the Malaysian government.

“The gov. Of Malaysia had to be responsible to its people’s beliefs…even if it were just 1 or 2 complaints. I understand,” she tweeted.

She went on to say, “This photo was chosen &edited by the promoters here in Malaysia. They were very responsible to the people and it’s Muslim beliefs…”

” I love Malaysia and its people. Art is often misunderstood in the realm of religion. My body art has ALL the names of God. Not just 1…”

And also, “How useful is religion when love is refused outside of its microcosm.It’s bigger than religion. We Are One.”

Reading all that, it was difficult not to fall more in love with this woman.

Many Malaysian personalities spoke up about the ban, as well as showed their support for Miss Badu.  Among them was singer Pete Teo, who reached out to her by Tweeting,”This country is not well. We R sorry. Please don’t look 2 dimly on us.”

Another local singer,Raja Puteri Atilia,  said, “Remember when France banned the niqab last year? She performed at the BET awards wearing 1. Just to show support to Muslim women worldwide.”

To the country’s many liberals and art/music lovers, the ban was ridiculous. But what I was more surprised about was how many thought it wasn’t.

While I thought shock and dismay should have been a no-brainer response to the situation, there were some immature enough to have just the opposite reactions. These people took to Miss Badu’s Facebook wall to spew hate and death threats.

During Business FM’s radio segment, one individual called in half-ranting, half- scolding the radio presenters saying, “Why don’t you teach the country how it is wrong to tattoo your body?” This came amidst a whole slew of anger towards the radio station for facilitating this largely liberal-slanted discussion. The caller then promptly hung up, while the DJs were in the midst of asking him just what he meant.

Perhaps what was the most frustrating in this whole situation was not how authorities ban concerts, or even the objections – because let’s face it,  there will always be opposing views. What was most frustrating was how we let this happen.

This isn’t the first occasion where this has happened. If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we have so often conceded our wants to the small minority that makes the most noise. Perhaps this is what really marks the Malaysian dilemma after all. Conceding defeat, before even beginning to fight. Rather than be intolerant of the wrongs we have suffered, we have let wrongs become commonplace and the accepted norm.

But in what could be a small glimmer of hope, the Lynas protests, and even the Bersih protests before it, could mark the beginning of how we as Malaysians are starting to change.

One can only hope.

So Malaysians abroad and at home, what are you doing to affect change? What do you want your Malaysia to look like?