Yo Rais: Your Views on Mixed Marriages are Mixed Up

Those who have been reading my blog for a few years now might remember that back in 2007 I wrote a post calling out Malaysia’s Information Minister for things he had said about children of mixed parentage. Basically, the Minister at the time, Zainudin Maidin (aka ZAM), didn’t want to see such children in local advertising because they’re “not Malaysians”. The post I wrote in response to his ridiculous remarks generated a lot of comments; in fact, while there were posts in my old Blogspot days that had generated more (unfortunately those comments have been swallowed by the Internet), that particular post remains the most commented post since my switch to WordPress. Most of the comments were equally critical of ZAM, but some displayed racism that matched and perhaps even surpassed the things he’d said.

Well, how have things progressed in the nearly three years since then? The Information Ministry has been merged with the former Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry to form the Information Communication and Culture Ministry (which can’t seem to decide whether it wants a comma after the word Information). The new Minister, Rais Yatim, who thinks Malaysians’ use of the Internet, social media, and ‘bahasa rojak’ (the mixing of Malay and English in daily speech) are all very bad things, is unfortunately no less an embarrassment to the country than ZAM was. And unfortunately Rais is no less racist.

Recently that bastion of Malay nationalist journalism, Utusan Malaysia, front-paged an article in which Rais made comments about mixed marriages, in response to a question about the marital troubles of Malaysian actress Maya Karin. Now before we move on to Rais himself, let’s all shake our heads at the fact that Utusan chose to put that as its lead article that day, and that the paper had even seen fit to ask Rais to comment on something which was none of their business, and certainly none of his. Shame on them.

Now, on to Rais. Like I said, what happens in Maya Karin’s marriage is really none of his business. Yet there he was, using the question to deliver a little rant about the perils of entering into a marriage with someone of another race and/or nationality. Not only that, he singled out westerners, particularly white westerners. As Utusan is a government mouthpiece, it’s unlikely they just asked him about this out of the blue and he was simply giving his opinion on the spot. When asked about the matter, Rais didn’t just give his opinion; he backed it up with results of a study undertaken by local sociologists in which it was found that seven out of every ten mixed marriages end in divorce.

Well, I have some big problems with not only what Rais said, but also with the so-called evidence he put forth to back up his claims. First off, let me state that I’m not saying mixed marriages are all fine and dandy. There are bound to be divorces. Just as I didn’t completely disagree with ZAM’s criticism of the prevalence of so-called mixed-race actors in local advertising, I don’t completely disagree with Rais’ assertion that mixed marriages will fail at a higher rate than marriages between people who are from the same race/ethnic group/country. But having said that, I have big problems with what he said anyway, just like I had big problems with what ZAM had said. Aside from what I’ve already mentioned, here’s where Rais went wrong:

The study he referred to is outdated. According to the Utusan article, the figure of only three successful marriages out of ten is based on research that covered only the years 1995 to 1998. That was 12 to 15 years ago. Not only is the research outdated, it wasn’t done long enough for researchers to come to any reliable conclusion.

The geographical scope of the study was even more limited than the temporal scope. It seems Rais was only referring to marriages in the state of Johor and the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur. That’s a very insufficient sample.

‘Artistes’ are hardly representative of the general public. Everyone knows actors and singing stars generally go through spouses like Planters goes through peanuts. I’ll be the first to admit I have no hard statistics to offer up in support of my claim here, but I daresay this is the case in many countries, not just in the west. In pointing to failed marriages among Malaysian celebrities as proof that mixed marriages don’t work, Rais is really barking up the wrong tree. Sure, the study he’s relying on involves more than just celebrities, but highlighting them at all to prove his point is pretty silly.

He’s almost right, but completely wrong. I’ve long said that marriages between Malays and non-Malays can only work if both partners have similar ideas about religion and culture. Rais is saying the same thing, but I think he overstates the number of cases in which this doesn’t happen. Of course, considering the shortcomings of the study he uses to back that up, it’s almost impossible to say. So how can I say he’s wrong? Because since Leen and I moved to Malaysia from Canada we’ve come to know many couples in similar situations to our own. We have indeed met couples whose marriages were a bit rocky, and people whose mixed marriages had already ended. But those were the exceptions. Most mixed couples we’ve met were happily married at the time and remain so today. Sure, some of them will fail, but that is the case with all marriages. Actually, there may be higher rates of divorce with mixed marriages, but…well, see below.

For someone who doesn’t like things that are mixed, he’s sure got this mixed up. Rais actually acknowledges that one of the factors in the failure of mixed marriages is the difficulty foreign spouses — especially foreign husbands — have as immigrants in this country. He even acknowledges this is all due to rigid government policies. But here’s the thing: instead of saying Malaysians should avoid marrying foreigners because the government he’s a part of makes it difficult for them to live and work here, wouldn’t it be better for the government to actually make it easier for foreign spouses to live and work here? Oh, wait…

Rais is out of touch with current events and trends. The Malaysian government is, in fact, beginning to make it easier for foreign spouses to live and work in Malaysia. The government recently announced it would give Permanent Resident status to foreign husbands, something Malaysian women and their foreign-born husbands have long been hoping for (read here for my latest update on that). The advice Rais is doling out to Malaysians reflects either complete ignorance of his own government’s initiatives, or an unwillingness to accept them. Either way, Rais Yatim is not doing his job properly.

Just the other night I watched an interview Rais gave on TV3 and was treated to further proof that he 1) has a real dislike for westerners and their culture, and 2) is unfit to lead a government ministry. While he did make some valid points (advocating more parental guidance in children’s use of the Internet, for example), most of his comments were absolutely sickening. His skeptical comments about the Internet and social media were nothing new (he’s been saying those things for a while now, resulting in a hilarious backlash by Malaysian Twitter users and bloggers), but I have to admit I was taken aback by what he said about language. That was nothing new either (his preference for the Malay language was quite evident when he once arrogantly scolded a journalist for daring to ask him a question in English not long ago), but he somehow outdid himself this time.

When asked to comment on bahasa rojak (basically ‘mixed language’), Rais really made himself look foolish. Remember I said he doesn’t like things that are mixed? Well, here’s the proof. He looks back on a time when the Malay language — the Johor-Riau dialect, to be more precise — was untouched by other languages. Let’s put aside how ignorant that very idea is in and of itself (I mean come on, he thinks the Johor-Riau dialect was not itself a hybrid of various smaller local dialects, and that it wasn’t influenced at all by other languages? Seriously?). Let’s look at what he said next: He actually lamented the fact that there came a time (a long, long time ago in fact) when the pure, precious Malay language was poisoned by other languages. Yes, that’s what he said. He used the word diracuni — poisoned. This is what he thinks of the influence of other languages on the Johor-Riau dialect of Malay. He displayed a particularly sneering contempt of the English language and the growing tendency of Malaysians to inject it into their everyday speech. He made it clear that Malaysians who speak in Malay should not mix words from other languages into it.

Let’s not even get into the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to speak Malay these days without using at least some English loanwords. Let’s just look at the basic thrust of what Rais was saying. It is painfully obvious that the Minister of Information Communication and Culture harbours unrealistic fantasies of linguistic and cultural purity. It is also obvious that because of these delusions he is out of touch with the realities of language and culture. He is out of touch with the way this country’s national language and its culture are heading. He is even out of touch with the direction in which the government he is a part of appears to be heading, or at least claims to be heading. He is, therefore, unfit to occupy his current post.

Now, I can express my personal opinion all I want — that Rais should either resign or the Prime Minister should put him out to pasture — but I’m not Malaysian, so who am I to even suggest what the Malaysian government should do? In fact, it seems Malaysians who support the current government don’t take too kindly to foreigners telling that government what it should and shouldn’t do. Well you know what? Anyone who would rub that in my face now can just stuff it. When a Malaysian government minister uses his position to make bigoted comments about mixed marriages and/or mixed-race children, it concerns me because it concerns my wife and children. The sensitivities of Malaysians who dislike the intervention of foreigners into their affairs are duly noted, but the current government should bear in mind that while I can’t vote here, my wife can; our children, if they decide to stay here into adulthood, will be voters too. So will the spouses and children of a lot of foreigners in this country — maybe a lot more than Rais can imagine. And we’re not just talking about foreigners here. We’re talking about anyone who marries and has children out of their so-called race. Does Rais Yatim really think that he or anyone else in this country is “pure”? Please.

Just imagine if Malaysians actually followed the advice of their Minister of Information Communication and Culture. They might take his ‘stick to your own kind’ rhetoric too far. Why, we might end up seeing disturbingly high numbers of incest cases among rural Mal…oh, wait a minute. I guess Rais should really be careful what he wishes for. And the people of Malaysia should be careful who they vote for.

Chronicles of Duncan MacLeod: The Blind Man’s Biscuits

For Duncan and Hughie MacLeod, summers in Glencoe weren’t all about play. One day they were sent to help old Mr. MacDonald down the road. The old man was part of a large family known locally as the Bornish MacDonalds, to distinguish them from all the other MacDonalds, who were (and still are) legion in Cape Breton. (There are lots of MacDonalds in my family tree. When I was a kid, there were 12 pages of MacDonalds in the phone book, and that was just my town.) The boys thought they were in for a fun day, because the old man was blind.

“Watch out!” said the MacGillivray boys, John and Hughie, as Duncan and Hughie were walking to the old man’s place. “Whatever you do, don’t eat his biscuits.”

“Why not?” asked Duncan.

“Because the old man chews tobacco all day,” said one of them, “and he spits it in his hands because he can’t see the pot. Those are the hands he makes the biscuits with. I’m telling you, don’t eat them!”

Duncan and Hughie were thoroughly disgusted by the very thought of biscuits mixed with spit and chewing tobacco. Their faces were still all knotted up when they arrived at the old man’s house.

“Co thusa?” asked the old man in Gaelic in response to Duncan’s knocking. He was looking out over their heads, until Duncan spoke.

“Duncan and Hughie MacLeod, sir. We’re…”

“Ah yes, yes. The MacLeod boys. You’re the ones who walked up the mountain at night. Hah! Isn’t that something? Come in!”

The boys weren’t surprised that the old man already knew about them. Not just because everyone in the area had already heard the story of their arrival, but also because the old man had what people called the second sight. People often went to him for advice on various matters. He was also the local authority on the genealogies of the various families in the area. When young couples wanted to marry, they’d go to him first, to see if they were related and, if they were, how closely.

The old man’s sons, Angus and Colin, weren’t around that day. My grandfather remembers Angus for his giant eyebrows, and Colin for the fact that he was constantly clearing his throat really loudly but never spit anything out. On this particular day, it was just Duncan, Hughie, and the old man.

The boys did some work out in the yard for the old man, and had a little fun with him too. “Oh, look at that beautiful buck out in the yard,” they said to him, describing in great detail a majestic animal that was in fact not there. The old man loved the boys’ description of the buck, and seemed to be buying it, even though they came close to cracking up with every detail they added.

Finally, after the boys had completed their work out in the yard and around the house, the old man called them inside and had them sit at the table. “Now,” he said, “let me give you something to eat.”

Duncan and Hughie shot each other the same look. “Oh no,” Duncan said, “we’re fine. Really, we should be go—”

“Oh go on,” said the old man. “Just a little something. Here, have some biscuits.”

There they were. Before Duncan and Hughie could say another word, there was a tray of tea biscuits on the table before them. The old man gave each boy a small plate and put two or three of the biscuits on each plate.

Hughie was sitting close to an open window, so he quickly tossed his biscuits outside. Duncan, at the other side of the table, was about to do the same, when the old man grabbed his hand.

“Oh, having another one are you? That’s a good boy.” Then he felt his way over to Hughie and ran his hands over the empty plate, and Hughie’s empty hands. “Gone already! Oh, you like my biscuits, do you? I made them myself!” He took another biscuit from the tray and put it into Hughie’s hand. “Here you go, have one more.”

With the old man standing over him, breathing on him, those brown, knotted hands mere inches away from his face, Hughie had no choice: he ate the biscuit. Duncan grimaced and looked away. He didn’t want to be next, so he put one biscuit into his pocket, and left the other one on the plate. When the old man came back and felt the plate, Duncan said, “I’m quite full. But your biscuits are delicious.” By this time, Hughie’s face was a disturbing shade of green.

The boys had only managed to get a few steps out of the yard when Hughie threw up. He was still wiping strings of puke-coloured drool from his mouth when the boys came to the MacGillivrays’ house. The MacGillivray boys were out front, with their dog.

“Jesus, you ate the old man’s biscuits, didn’t you!”

“Hughie had to eat one,” Duncan laughed, “but not me.” With that, he pulled the biscuit out of his pocket and held it aloft. Hughie threw up again as Duncan examined the vile thing in his hand. Shaking his head, Duncan tossed the biscuit in the direction of the MacGillivray boys’ dog.

No sooner had the biscuit hit the ground than John MacGillivray lunged and kicked it away.

“Are you crazy?! he screamed. “Don’t give that to the dog!”

***

Chronicles of Duncan MacLeod is a series of posts on my MacLeod ancestors, based on a combination of research and stories told to me by my grandfather, Duncan MacLeod. To read other posts in the series, click here.

Chronicles of Duncan MacLeod: Black Bears & Blueberries

Not long after their walk up over River Denys Mountain, nine-year-old Duncan MacLeod and his eight-year-old brother Hughie went to church with their uncle Dan and the other MacLeods. Saint Margaret of Scotland Church had been completed in 1841 and had literally grown with the community: it had actually been split in half one year; the two halves had been pulled slightly apart, and a new section built in the middle. In 1937 the priest only came every two or three weeks, but the church was still the centre of a small but thriving Gaelic community. On Sunday mornings — especially when there was a priest in attendance — all the Catholics in Glencoe squeezed into the church.

Saint Margaret of Scotland Church on River Denys Mountain
Saint Margaret of Scotland Church on River Denys Mountain

On this particular Sunday, Duncan and Hughie MacLeod were celebrities. Everyone knew about their walk and their late-night arrival at Dan MacLeod’s house; those who hadn’t heard the story yet soon knew the details, as the priest made sure to tell the whole story to his flock. Children always sat in the small sections that served as a sort of upper floor, but Duncan and Hughie were allowed to sit on the ground floor with their aunts and uncles. They were the darlings of the district.

The interior of Saint Margaret of Scotland Church.
The interior of Saint Margaret of Scotland Church.

After the church service, as the boys stood outside listening to the strange, melodious Gaelic language being laughed into the light summer breeze, a lady turned to them and said in English, “Oh dear, what an adventure! Weren’t you afraid of all the bears?”

Duncan and Hughie looked at each other and the colour drained from their well-pinched cheeks. Bears?

The MacLeod boys were lucky they hadn’t encountered bears on their trek up the mountain, since the woods in that area were full of them. In fact, there were so many bears in the area, it was only a matter of time before they came across one.

Public-domain photo of an American black bear from Wikipedia.
Public-domain photo of an American black bear from Wikipedia.

One fine summer day — I don’t know if it was the first summer they spent up there or the second — Duncan and Hughie were sitting in a large blueberry barren that was practically right across the MacLeod Settlement Road from their grandparents’ house in Upper Southwest Mabou. They were happily stuffing themselves with blueberries when they looked up and saw a couple of black bears sitting at the opposite edge of the barren, also happily stuffing themselves with blueberries. The boys and the bears eyed one another for a few moments…then they all went back to happily stuffing themselves with blueberries, albeit with a cautious eye on the other diners.

On my first trip up to that area in 2001, I had reached a dead end and was slowly driving in reverse down a narrow, bumpy road near the brook just south of the old MacLeod homestead, when something black moved swiftly across the road behind me. I just managed to catch a glimpse of it, more a shadow than anything else, as it flitted out of my field of vision and disappeared into the dense forest. Leen saw the look on my face and asked what was wrong.

“I just saw something run into the woods,” I said.

“What was it? A deer?”

“No, it was black. I’m pretty sure it was a black bear. Papa told me these woods are full of bears.”

Leen’s face went ashen. Bears?

***

Chronicles of Duncan MacLeod is a series of posts on my MacLeod ancestors, based on a combination of research and stories told to me by my grandfather, Duncan MacLeod. To read other posts in the series, click here.