December 05, 2012 ― “So it strikes me to ask, is Sabah as racism-free as it seems?” That’s what a LoyarBurok columnist asked, after a (brief) visit to Sabah and noting the distaste many locals have towards illegal immigrants.
The first problem I have is with the notion of Sabah being “racism-free.” No place in the world is free from racism, unless said place is filled with people of the same race. Even then, we human beings will find other reasons to oppress our fellows. Because we can.
Sabah has a higher degree of tolerance. A higher tolerance of other religions and more widespread acceptance of intermarriage among the races sets us apart from most states in the Peninsula but we never pretended that we are “racism-free.”
I have relatives who are racists. Which makes things slightly tricky because I happen to be a “mongrel” with Dusun and Bajau blood and have ancestors from China and Pakistan.
So that means I hear about the “lazy, stupid” Dusuns, the “bloodthirsty, manic” Bajaus, the “miserly, selfish” Chinese and the “untrustworthy” Pakistanis from my own family.
If all their stories were true, by virtue of my mixed race I am destined for infamy or, at the very least, a long prison sentence.
Despite our differences, what sets Sabah apart is that the races just get along better.
The point is that racial stereotypes are common everywhere, even in Sabah. But the LoyarBurok columnist chose to harp on local Sabahan’s attitudes towards illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia.
My god, man, do you expect us Sabahans to embrace them as brothers? Roll out the red carpet? Have feasts for them?
The ugly truth is most Sabahans don’t want them around.
PBS head Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan is but one of many Sabah politicians who have called on the mainland to address the problem of illegal immigrants who are frankly unwelcome in the state.
It’s unfair that many Sabahans see illegals as criminals and parasites, when some people are genuinely fleeing harsh conditions at home. But the reality is that many illegals do turn to crime.
There are areas in Kota Kinabalu that are “black areas” controlled by illegals, where locals fear to tread. Even our local law enforcement is forced to turn a blind eye. Some due to lack of manpower, some because they’re paid off by the illegals.
Many Sabahans are afraid of illegals. They have good cause to be. My neighbourhood doctor was killed with parangs by Indonesians. Two-thirds of the women I know, including myself, have been molested by illegals.
Just behind my house, a neighbour started an illegal immigrant-staffed brothel and my family had to put up with the circus of whores and their seedy clientele, literally in my own backyard.
My stories are just anecdotes, some of you will scoff. But my “anecdotes” are the reality that non-Sabahans will not be able to appreciate.
Then we have people like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who say that we should just give illegals citizenship, no matter what Sabahans have to say about the matter.
So we blithely give these 3.2 million (as of 2010 ) people citizenship? Really, Dr Mahathir?
Another truth is, as my mother says, that we may despise them but we also need them. Sabah’s backward economy is dependent on cheap labour. So much so that locals are forced to go to the Peninsula to seek better-paying job opportunities.
The illegals drive the buses. They monopolise the cheap boat services to the islands. They are the ones manning the stalls at the Filipino Market. Some call them industrious, some call them opportunistic. Yet they’re here and now they just won’t leave.
Is it really racism to be unhappy that foreigners come onto your land, monopolise your commerce, threaten your feeling of safety while you are also powerless to get rid of them?
I guess Sabahans know too well what the Orang Asli must feel.
By Erna Mahyuni