Some time ago, a friend introduced me—via email—to an editor of an upcoming lifestyle magazine for Malaysians living in Australia. The young woman had read some of my articles and wanted to feature one of them in the first edition of the magazine. Naturally, she needed my consent. I asked to see the concept of her magazine so she sent me a brief that the magazine had put together for potential advertisers. Scrolling through the PDF document, reading their value proposition very carefully, I had my reservations. I did not feel that my article was a good fit for her magazine but I decided to speak to her about it to hear her perspective on what the magazine is about.
A ten-minute conversation and a few emails later, I was still unconvinced. For the most part, I did not really understand why the magazine exists. If Malaysians living away from home wanted to connect with each other, there are plenty of other forums that are more effective for that purpose than a magazine. Content wise, if Malaysians living away from home wanted to read about news from home, they could just easily log on to their computer or tap a few buttons on their smart phones to access the internet. Why wait to read about it in a monthly magazine, which serves to regurgitate news reported by mainstream media anyway? The concept didn’t make much sense to me.
The notion that makes me most uncomfortable was something that was articulated in the magazine’s brief. One of the reasons this group of university students decided to start this magazine was because Malaysians are the only ones without their own magazine, unlike their foreign counterparts. Reading that sentence made me cringe. That was one of the reasons I had my reservations—I don’t subscribe to separation and identification based on nationalities. I don’t subscribe to separation. Period.
When I write an article for a blog or when I speak to people about topics that I care about greatly, I don’t do it in my capacity as a Malaysian, I do it in my capacity as a human being. Sure, the location written on my birth certificate, the emblem on my passport and the accent in my vernacular identify me as a person who was born and bred in Malaysia but that is merely an artificial identity created by mankind for legal purposes. To give it more value than what it is would be like separating people based on hair and eye colour. Hitler tried to do that in the 1930s and the 1940s—albeit in an extreme fashion. We all know how that went. In its most basic form, the idea is that of separation, and separation is not something I endorse.
Separation is the trait of the ego. The ego seeks to find differences between people in order to assert its own significance. The undertone of separation—the Us vs Them mentality—is predicated on the idea that one party is more superior than the other in some way. As a society, we have witnessed so many instances of separation that many of us fail to recognise it for what it is—a barrier to unity and equality.
Organised religion, for one, is a form of separation. It separates human beings based on the belief that their religion is the only path to God. The God I know and love knows no separation. He created only one race—the human race. Human beings are the ones who created everything else that seeks to further separate them from their own brothers and sisters. Human beings are the ones who created labels like Christians and Muslims, gays and straight, white people and black people etc.
You might be thinking that patriotism isn’t separation, that being a proud citizen of a country is not an act of separation. Perhaps not, it all depends on the context. On Australia Day this year, I saw a comment an Anglo-Saxon woman from Western Australia made on one of the Australian airlines’ Facebook fanpage. She wrote that she was “Proud to be an original Australian. No boats. No ten bucks.” To me, it sounded like she would be less proud or maybe even not proud if she had migrated to Australia instead of being born here. Perhaps you can say she should be commended for her patriotism but as far as I know, the only original Australians are the indigenous people. Everyone else came from somewhere outside of Australia. In fact, approximately 40% of Australians are descendants of British convicts shipped over when Australia was considered Britain’s penal colony. Somehow, they see themselves as more superior than the indigenous people, the most startling exhibition of which is the Stolen Generation—where a generation of young indigenous children were forcefully taken from their mothers, separated from their families to be housed and schooled the Anglo-Saxon way.
To further highlight the damage that this perceived superiority is capable of inflicting, until the 1960s, approximately 300,000 British children were separated from their families and shipped to countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia as part of Britain’s mandate to ‘populate the colony with children from good, white, British stock’. These children ended up living in orphanages in poor conditions and grew up with emotional scars. Many worked as child labourers, some even sexually violated by their carers—all in the name of ego.
Perhaps I am a bit overzealous in my stance against separation but justifiably so. The root of many of man’s suffering throughout the history of mankind lies in separation based on perceived superiority. The holocaust, the stolen children of the British Empire, the racial segregation in the U.S, the Apartheid in South Africa and the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina are just a few of many. Yet I live in hope and optimism that one day this suffering will end. The day will come when all of humanity releases all its artificial barriers and finally see that we are all one. We always have been.