[Malaysia] Open Space #1: Countering Hate During the Pandemic

Published by AYF Secretariat on

The Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the culture of hate against ethnic minorities and migrants in Malaysia. After years of having to endure the Malay supremacist that systematically excludes them from political and economic activities in varying degrees, minorities and migrants in Malaysia have now been blamed for the coronavirus outbreak. In March, 84 organizations condemned the Malaysian government for failing to address the surge of hate speech directed toward the Rohingya community in social media. Meanwhile, internet users in the country spread an unfounded rumor saying that only a certain kind of race would be infected with the coronavirus. In these times of uncertainties, such hate culture puts additional distress on the already fragile Malaysian socio-political fabric.

To confront the aggravated hate culture amid the pandemic, the ASEAN Youth Forum held an open space on September 26 via a Zoom meeting. The open space aimed to create an avenue for the young to discuss the root causes of such hateful culture in Malaysian society and to propose viable solutions. This open space was expected to be an enabler for the young community to respect diversity and to move towards better normal where no one is hated or side-lined. It is clear from the discussion that the participants understand the danger of hate culture, pointing out that it erodes the value of freedom of expression. A participant explained this notion by saying that some people abuse the freedom of expression to spread racism.

Regarding the root cause, participants blamed the lack of social security as the main culprit. On the one hand, the Malay majority group felt threatened by a certain ethnic minority group that was perceived to dominate the national economy. On the other hand, ethnic minorities also suffered insecurity for the lack of state protections. This inequality has divided Malaysians into groups that lack trust and led to a hate culture that quickly spread with social media. Meanwhile, participants agreed that education and inter-generational dialogues are the primary tools to build trust between ethnic groups that can be the basis for a strong social fabric. Overall, the open space produced a fruitful discussion that gathered like-minded people to build a better community and nation.

Here are some highlights from the session

The main reason for this hatred is our lack of social safety net which led to insecurity for all. The majority feel threatened by the minority and vice versa. For example, in Malaysia, locals feel threatened by the presence of foreigners who, they thought, will seize the opportunities available for locals even though these foreigners help Malaysia’s economic development..


Locals who feel insecure are more likely to spread hatred among the community and this will inevitably bring more chaos.


Malaysia must help refugees. Refugees are oppressed in their own country. We cannot use pandemic excuses to send them to their place of origin where they will be oppressed as before. This can be seen in the Migrant Smuggling Protocol and the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual


To promote unity, we should start with education. We need to review the syllabus taught in school. Like history books, there should be more teaching and promotion of diversity among Malaysians, especially in the eastern part of Malaysia. This is related to formal education in schools. For the informal, the use of social media is very effective in promoting this diversity.


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