LIVING in a multiracial and multicultural society, the tendency to wear the attire of different ethnic communities is something common.
It should be even encouraged to strengthen diversity. There is no need for favourable or adverse publicity in such matters. This something expected.
However, despite the multiracial make-up of Malaysia, wearing clothes of different racial or religious groups seems to be problematic.
Given the politics of majoritarianism perpetrated by some ethnic and religious parties, there is an element of suspicion and counter-suspicion.
Wearing Malay-Muslim attire is seen as an aspect of appeasement by the non-majoritarian communal groups or individuals.
The Malays might accept their attire worn by others, but this doesn’t mean that some segments within them will change and will not be suspicious.
Wearing Malay attire by non-Malays might be sign of respect or doing the right thing at the former’s functions.
The problem is not so much the attire, but rather the nature and implications of wearing attire from a different culture in a politically charged environment.
Given the political permeability, even the most irrelevant thing about wearing different attire becomes an issue.
It is the same for members of the Malay community.
If they are seen to respect the Indians or Chinese by wearing their attire, politically this is seen as something some Malays want to avoid at all costs, lest they be branded for diluting their ethnicity or religion.
The difficulty is seen in drawing a line between what is considered as mark of respect and what is considered as an appeasement, or both.
It is perfectly alright to experiment with wearing the attire of other ethnic communities.
It can be mark of respect and understanding, and at the same consciously resisting appeasement politics.
Anyway, things are not clear cut in the realm of social relations in Malaysia where society is very much polarised along racial and religious lines.
Even the inconspicuous aspects, such as wearing clothes or attires of other races, might be construed along political lines.
Thus, wearing the attire of the majoritarian community can be viewed politically.
There is nothing wrong in donning the attire of others, it should be encouraged.
Yet, whatever the objective of embracing diversity, there is no escaping the political implications.
The problem is not the attire, it is dealing with the political implications.
The extremism of race and religion have wrecked such havoc on diversity that innocent acts are subject to all kinds of political interpretations.
It is really difficult for individuals of one community to interact with another by wearing their clothes, due to politics: the politics of zero-sum game that interprets every form of action in terms of gains and losses.
So much for diversity. – December 4, 2021.
* Ramasamy Palanisamy reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.