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Stressing Unity on Malaysia’s National Day

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advertisement in Malaysia's Star newspaper, August 31, 2010August 31st is Malaysia’s National Day. It’s supposed to be a day of joy and celebration. But if you read today’s edition of Malaysia’s Star newspaper, you get the strong impression that the country is divided by racial tension and on the verge of breaking apart.

Dozens of articles stress the need for harmony and peaceful coexistence of different ethnicities in Malaysia.

Malaysians urged to stay united - The Star, August 31, 2010The paper doesn’t report any specific acts of racism. But as a reader, you get the feeling that something is being whitewashed. Because why would there be so much emphasis on unity if there was no worrying discord?

The authorities are making a desperate attempt to conjure up harmony. In speeches and statements, they stress the need for the different races and religions to combine forces for the greater good of the country.

Almost two thirds of the people in Malaysia are Muslim, 20 percent Buddhist and ten percent Christian. About half of the population is ethnic Malay. The rest is fractioned into a variety of ethnic groups, of which the Chinese and Indian communities are the strongest and closest-knit.

Malaysia's Star newspaper, August 31, 2010The Star newspaper today quotes the country’s Prime Minister Najib Razak as saying  that the Malaysian way of life was based on diversity and moderation. And that “society shouldn’t allow it to be undermined by extreme attitudes which manifest themselves through racial and religious issues.”

The large number of articles in Malaysia’s press today about unity in diversity feels like they are really hammering this message in. Conjuring up harmony where it no longer exists.

It feels like being brain-washed.

Malaysia's Star newspaper, August 31, 2010Reading all these pleas for unity and harmony, you get an ominous premonition that Malaysia could be the next country that will be torn apart by racial or religious extremism.

How sad that would be – not just for Malaysia, but for the world. Another society where Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians lived side-by-side for decades fallen victim to demagogues and disinformation.

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Written by Thorsten

August 31, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Citizens defeat racists in Cologne

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United against racism, terror and violence

United against racism, terror and violence

You won’t find me at a lot of political rallies.

So when I got my ass up this weekend to go out and demonstrate, you know that it must have been a cause that was very important to me.

This weekend, racists and neo-Nazis from all over Europe had planned to gather in my home town Cologne for an “Anti-Islam-Conference”.

They were hoping to use public sentiment against the construction of a big mosque in Cologne to their advantage.

They’d planned a big rally in one of Cologne’s downtown squares, the Heumarkt, with speakers from right-wing parties like France’s Front National, Italy’ Lega Nord and Austria’s FPÖ.

Cologne debates construction of a big mosque

Many people in Cologne aren’t comfortable with the idea of building the new mosque. Cologne is a very catholic and a very traditional city.

But the fact is that the city also has a large Muslim population. And so far, they’ve been meeting in small neighborhood prayer rooms.

The new mosque will give them a central meeting place in town. And it’ll be an architectural statement that Muslims have become an integral part of this city.

Demonstration against racism in Cologne

Demonstration against racism in Cologne

And while the debate about the construction of the mosque is a regular part of the democratic process in Cologne, racism and xenophobia are not.

That’s what brought the people of Cologne out in droves this weekend to protest against the “Anti-Islam-Conference”.

In the end, their massive protest foiled the efforts of the right-wing extremists.

A broad coalition against racism

Opposition against the “Anti-Islam-Conference” in Germany’s media and among the public had gathered force throughout the last week.

Anti-Nazi demonstrations get front page coverage in Cologne's leading local paper

Anti-Nazi demonstrations get front page coverage

Germany’s radio and television stations, newspapers and many websites reported in-depth on the upcoming meeting of the racists in Cologne.

They also described the growing dissatisfaction among the city’s citizens about the event.

And they reported about planned anti-nazi demonstrations and creative ways to obstruct the racist rally. A broad democratic coalition formed.

Cologne turns anti-racist protest into a carnival

One the funniest anti-racist initiatives was “11 000 Bellydancers”. The organizers called on people to come dressed up in oriental garb and dance to oriental music. The aim was to contrast xenophobia and racism with multi-cultural fun, song and dance.

And while there probably weren’t 11 000 bellydancers on Saturday, you did see quite a few people wearing oriental outfits. It was a little like a summer carnival.

Other forms of protest included some of Germany’s most popular bands joining forces for a concert against racism. It took place exactly at the time and within hearing distance of the right-wing rally.

Meanwhile, protesters blocked the streets leading to Heumarkt square, so that the right-wing supporters who wanted to attend the “Anti-Islam-Conference” couldn’t get to the rally.

Whenever someone tried to get through the blockade and onto Heumarkt, the protesters started chanting “Nazis raus!” (Nazis get out).

Racist rally doesn’t take place as planned

In the end, there were only about 90 right-wing supporters on Heumarkt.

The low turnout was a blow in the face to the organizers, who had hoped to attract thousands of supporters.

And it was a victory for civil rights.

I’m proud of the thousands of people of this city who gathered in peaceful protest against racism.

I’m proud of the demonstrators who blocked the tram line that leads from Cologne airport into the city. This prevented hundreds of racists who had arrived by plane from getting into town.

I’m proud of the airport officials, who threw the racists out of the building when they tried to hold an improvised press conference there.

I’m proud of the teenagers who blocked the streets leading to Heumarkt.

I’m proud of the Cologne hotel manager who asked the racists to pack their bags and get out as soon as he found out who had checked in to his hotel.

An important step forward, but still a long way to go

I know that – even though the racists had to retreat this time, they still have a lot of popular support. In Cologne, in Germany, in Europe.

This time, the supporters were silenced by the massive protests.

But they are still among us. Silent now, but waiting.

The organizers of the “Anti-Islam-Conference” have already announced that they want to schedule another rally in the near future.

The public debate about multi-cultural society is far from over. Integration and tolerance remain difficult in Germany.

A Different Germany

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Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

I was in Leipzig over the weekend, which used to be part of communist East Germany. We were sitting in a cafe on Saturday and a young black man walked in. It suddenly occurred to me that he was the first colored person I’d seen all day.

From that moment on, I kept my eyes open, actively looking for ethnical diversity in Leipzig. But throughout the rest of the weekend, I hardly saw any black, Asian or Turkish people. And I didn’t see any ethnic shops either – no Turkish fruit sellers, no Indian stores with colorful saris and Bollywood movies, no Vietnamese specialty shops, or Asian supermarkets.

I’m sure these people and these shops exists in East German towns like Leipzig – they just aren’t as visible as in West Germany, where large parts of the population are now of Turkish, African or Asian origin.

And it’s bizzarre that Neo-Nazism, xenophobia and racism are much stronger in the East than in the West – even though the population there is much more “GERMAN” than in the multi-ethnic cities of western Germany.

Written by Thorsten

March 31, 2008 at 12:49 pm

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