Neo-colonialism or whitewashing history?

When the Western press indulges in “China-bashing”, the term “neo-colonialism” is often used. The term insinuates that China is using its money in lesser developed countries – usually in Africa – in a new form of colonialism. I find the term “neo-colonialism” offensive; not to the Chinese, but to all of us who lived in former colonies.

I’m not talking about the post-WW2 period of colonialism, especially throughout the British Empire. In that period, we kind of have fond memories of the white man – you know, FA Cup, rugby, cricket, tea and crumpets, “mad dogs and Englishmen”, etc. I’m talking about what happened earlier, about the evils that they committed – which make the current criticisms of China, based on human rights and democracy, rather hollow.

European expansionism started in 1492, when Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas. It made Spain rich, and the Hapsburg Dynasty that ruled it, the premier European power of its day. Yet, colonization basically meant genocide on a scale never seen before, and for those who survived, a living hell.

The first natives that Columbus encountered were the Tainos. What makes this piece of history especially gruesome was the fact that Columbus himself described the Tainos as people who “were full of love”. Instead of using this as a basis to form a positive relationship, he saw this as a weakness which he could exploit. If you look at his journal – and those of his men – they boasted about repeatedly raping the native women. In fact, this was a tactic that he employed to make them into slaves; after being repeatedly raped, a woman’s will to fight is broken. So, slavery became his first commercial venture in the Americas.

Many of the slaves, of course, didn’t make it on the long voyage to Europe. Needless to say, this high mortality rate did not make for a profitable enterprise. So, Columbus turned to a tribute system. He forced every Taino,14 or older, to fill a hawk’s bell with gold every three months. If successful, they were safe for another three months. If not, Columbus ordered the Tainos to be “punished” – by having their hands chopped off, or they were chased down by attack dogs. Oh yeah, I’ve left out one detail. Those who had their hands chopped off were also forced to wear them (the chopped off hand) around their necks – as a kind of barbaric reminder of what failing to meet the quota meant.

It gets worse. Although generally unprofitable, one part of the slave trade was lucrative – providing girls for sexual slavery. Especially girls between the ages of NINE and TEN. Remember, this is according to Columbus’ own personal journal (“a girl is worth a hundred castellanos”). On his second trip to the “New World”, Columbus brought cannons and more attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus would have them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down. When found, the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive.

And to prove what absolute monsters they were, when the Spaniards ran out of meat to feed the dogs, the native babies were killed for dog food. As you can imagine, the Taino people are now extinct as a distinct population. One of Columbus’ men, Bartolo de las Casas, was so mortified by the atrocities that he quit working for him, returned to Spain, and became a Catholic priest. Between Columbus’ personal journals and de la Casas’ eyewitness accounts, we know these atrocities to be real.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated situation. In the period 1885 to 1908, a number of well-documented atrocities were perpetrated in the Congo Free State (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo). At the time, it was a colony under the personal rule of King Leopold II of Belgium. Called the “Congo Horrors” by European contemporaries, they were particularly associated with the labor policies used to collect natural rubber for export. Like Columbus, King Leopold set up a tribute system.

Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. The administration of the colony, the Force Publique, was required to provide the hands of their victims as proof when they had shot and killed someone. This was because it was believed that otherwise, the bullets – imported from Europe at considerable cost – would be used for hunting. As a consequence, the rubber quotas were in part paid off in chopped-off hands. Sometimes the hands were collected by the soldiers of the Force Publique. Other times, small wars would erupt among villages to gather hands, as the rubber quotas were too unrealistic to fill.

In 1908, after popular uproar throughout Europe and the US, the Belgian government stepped in and confiscated Congo from King Leopold, and made it a colony of Belgium…after the population was reduced by half (around 10 million people).

We could also talk about the genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples in German South West Africa (1904 – 1908). Think the British were any better? Read Shashi Tharoor’s book, “An Era of Darkness” to find out what the British did to India. Oxford-educated, Tharoor is a former Indian Foreign Minister, and in it, he describes how British soldiers went into every village they could to destroy cotton looms. This destruction of the native textile industry is what allowed the British to invest in the factories of Manchester that heralded the Industrial Revolution. Basically, as every businessman knows, you don’t build a factory until you’re sure that you have a market for its output. They left that bit out of our history books, didn’t they? And, of course, the Opium Wars in China…

I know what you’re thinking – that was then, this is now. Surely attitudes in the West have changed? I beg to differ. By now, everyone throughout the world agrees that the famous WMDs in Saddam’s arsenal did not exist – and thus, the main reason for the Iraq invasion. Yet, many thousands of innocent Iraqis died, and many more are suffering till this day. So, why aren’t the chief architects of the invasion – George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (and their most fervent cheerleader, Tony Blair) – not on trial for war crimes?

Look, this isn’t an attempt to vilify white people. There are good, and there are bad – just like everywhere else. Reading about what has already been done, however, I hardly think it fair to call what China is doing now “neo-colonialism”. Let’s not be naïve – China isn’t altruistic. But it sure as hell isn’t sending gunboats and troops, or chopping people’s hands off. When the white man uses the term “neo-colonialism”, he’s just trying to whitewash his own history.

The elephant in the room

I, like the majority of Malaysians, have been in euphoria since the results of GE14 came out. It sounds cliché-ish, but it really does feel like a new dawn. We’ve now got the opportunity to put in place institutions that will safeguard our nation.

Let’s get back to the real world for a moment, though. Malaysia has a lot of problems. Budget problems, tax problems, unemployment problems, immigration problems – I think if the new government just solved these four, we’d say that they’ve done a good job.

Which makes me really reluctant to say this (I don’t want to be the wet towel): our education system is a real mess, and until we get it fixed, Malaysia will always be on the precipice.

Malaysia has got to be the only country in the world where there are three government-recognized systems of schools, and a plethora of private schools that teach a foreign syllabus (i.e. the international schools). The core problem that these different school systems cause is that Malaysians grow up hardly mixing with members of the other races that make up the country. Seriously, most Malaysian-Chinese twenty-somethings who went to Chinese schools might as well have been born in HK, Taiwan, Singapore, or China. I mean, they speak Chinese in nearly all aspects of their lives. The movies they watch, the songs they listen to, and the stuff that they all read – they have more in common with people from these countries than their own countrymen! Don’t believe me? Just ask one of them to name you a MALAY movie star.

This is not to criticize the Chinese education system in Malaysia. After all, most Malays are just as in the dark if you asked them something similar (OK, in this case, someone other than Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee). What this highlights, however, is that one of the most basic ways to foster national unity is lacking in our country. And if left to fester, our democracy will always be under threat from those unscrupulous politicians who won’t hesitate to play the race card.

After all, one of the first things that my hero, LKY, did when he took power in Singapore was to abolish the Chinese education system. He was pilloried at the time by the Chinese-language press as a traitor, but he knew that if he didn’t take this step, there would be no “Singaporean Identity”. After all, it was the British who came up with this asinine education system; they would rather we be not educated at all, but if so, they designed a system to keep us divided. Whatever you think of Singapore, if you go there, everyone is a Singaporean – not Singaporean-Chinese, Singaporean-Malay, Singaporean-Indian.

The solution, however, is not obvious. The government schools (i.e. Malay medium) are now so bad that I would be doing my kids a disservice if I sent my kids to one. I don’t say this lightly. Think about it – in this day and age, when we’re talking about a globalized world, an Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, environmental challenges – what did the (previous) government do? They made History a compulsory pass in the SPM. I love History (it’s one of my hobbies), but even I don’t see how learning it will prepare our kids for the future. Especially when half of the Form Four syllabus is about “Islamic Civilization”, and half of the Form Five syllabus is blatant brainwashing of how UMNO developed the country.

So, you just can’t go and close down all the vernacular schools. With the rise of China, the hope of Malaysian-Chinese parents is that their kids will, at a minimum, learn enough Mandarin to live and work with the Chinese. Hell, from what I see in my kids’ school, that feeling is not confined to just Malaysian-Chinese parents. And you can’t say that “we’ll teach Chinese in government schools” either. I mean, they have to get the hang of teaching English properly first!

This problem will not go away, no matter how many Petronas ads you make. Just do this simple test. If you have kids in the school system, then their getting married is something that is likely to happen in the next ten or twenty years. How would you react – I mean, be honest – if your son or daughter brought back someone of a different race? For those who don’t have kids – how do you think your parents would take it if your prospective spouse is of a different race? If you answered “not a problem”, then you (or your parents) are a credit to the human race.

If not, however, then you see the problem. Don’t feel bad, though – after all, we’re only human. It is an evolutionary survival strategy to discriminate and stick to your own. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to overcome our prejudices for the sake of the common good, but it will take time – just like finding a solution to this problem.

Forget Tony Fernandes – we’ve got bigger fish to fry

Over the last few days, there’s been a lot of talk about Tony Fernandes. Is he a good guy forced to do bad things? Did he have a choice? Rafidah Aziz and Syed Saddiq went out to bat for him, so he can’t be that bad, right?

I’ll tell you what he is. He’s a billionaire who loves the media, and doesn’t really give a toss about what you or I think. In his “apology”, he says he “buckled under pressure”. I was going to buy that, but then I saw pictures of him sitting in THAT plane laughing and chuckling away with Najib. Sure doesn’t look like a guy under pressure to me.

In the whole scheme of the universe, however, it doesn’t matter. Like I said, whatever you or I do, he’s got billions of RM. It’s a new Malaysia, but some things just don’t change – namely, people with lots of RM don’t usually find themselves very lonely. But if Tony does care about the Malaysian people (like he claims), then I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if we liberalized Malaysia’s airspace, and let other budget airlines in, right? I’ve flown on Thai Airways’ budget carrier, Nok, before – and I can tell you I preferred that a whole lot better than AirAsia. Besides, the only way to really guarantee the “lowest fares possible” is by letting in more competition.

Anyway, the purpose of my writing this is to point out that – love him or hate him – there’s really not much we can do to AirAsia or its boss. Instead, we should be concentrating on the other lowlifes who can really do damage to our new democracy. Most of them are already on the radar of the new government, but here is my Top Three of those who seem to have gotten away (in reverse order).

In third place, we have Ali Tinju. You remember him – the guy who would rather help a thief just because of his race. Please, no excuses – he wasn’t stealing bread to feed his starving family. It’s blatant racism. He stole a smartphone at Low Yat. Who is this Ali Tinju anyway? Some ex-Sergeant in the Army? I’d rather listen to a real man like Brigadier General Dato Mohd Arshad of Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan.

In second place, Dato Jamal of the Red Shirts fame. Spreading hatred and threatening violence with his antics, I wonder how big of a man is he going to be when he’s in Sg Buloh Prison? Yeah, those videos of him spreading money around Sekinchan and during his ceramahs – in direct contravention of the Elections Act – should be more than enough for the EC, MACC, etc. to press charges. Special mention also goes out to MCA Sg Besar for inviting this guy to lunch, despite his insulting all Malaysians of Chinese descent by calling them pigs. MCA, you really are a disgrace to your people, families, and ancestors.

Speaking of disgracing their ancestors, here’s first place on my list: Ridhuan Tee. This guy deserves the top spot because his brand of hate-spewing and self-serving rhetoric is especially toxic. It does nothing but put up walls among Malaysians. Indeed, that was his intention. I’m glad that the Malaysian people have unequivocally rejected this type of thinking. Hey,Ridhuan – how does it feel to know that most people agree with the ultra-kiasus?

He should do the honorable thing and resign his position at the Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin. If not, whoever is in charge should just get rid of him. Yes, we’re not out for vengeance, but tell me – honestly – what could he possibly contribute to our young people, except for hatred? If you can’t come up with something, then I don’t think we need to spend our taxes paying this guy (we have a national debt, you know).

Of course, he could really believe the nonsense that comes out of his mouth. If so, dude – how does it feel to loathe what you see in the mirror every morning? If, on the other hand, it was all a sham – just a persona to get a pay cheque – then he could do a Tony Fernandes and make an apology video. Unfortunately, he’s not a billionaire, so he has to come up with something better than “I buckled under pressure”. How about “I was abducted by aliens, and all the anal probes they did on me made me lose my mind”?