06 February 2009

A political tourist in Kuala Lumpur

In the Malaysian capital over Chinese New Year, my friends and I visited various places of worship, but the politics of race and religion were never far away. Full essay.


Anonymous said...

Americans can be pretty ignorant, but you're giving fellow Singaporeans way too much credit if you think they are generally less ignorant. Evidently the cleric thought so too. On many an occasion I have overheard Chinese Singaporeans speaking in quite mean and ignorant ways about Islam.

Besides, there are not all that many Americans living in KL. Of those Americans (who are pretty much all well-educated expatriates), the few who are interested in visiting a mosque are unlikely to be the ignorant ones. Your words do not seem very kind to either the cleric who took time to speak to you about the building, or to Americans visiting or living in Malaysia, whom you have cast as a broad, ignorant lot. How would your American friends react to that?

yuen said...

>Americans living in KL. Of those Americans (who are pretty much all well-educated expatriates)

americans who go to look at the mosque are probably not KL residents, but tourists going around the main landmarks; if the cleric's discourse was designed for a specific american audience, it would be with the latter in mind

however, I doubt very much that, during their mosque trips, previous american visitors told the clerics about their mistaken impression that Malaysian muslims are "inspired by Wahhabist or al-Qaeda ideology" and future visitors need to be put right; I feel there is just a general concern that, in the current political situation some people, regardless of where they are from, may make such an association

Anonymous said...

Obvious case of low self image, that's why they are constantly being defensive, which ultimately would bring them anywhere, or any good!

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Anonymous, 6 Feb, 14:27 - Re Singaporeans being ignorant, point taken.

Re Americans visitng the mosque, as Yuen said, they are far more likely to be tourists than residents, therefore far more likely to be unfamiliar with Islam than those resident.

The cleric was doubling as a tour guide, equipped with brochures, etc. He therefore wasn't an amateur at showing people around, doing us a favour, but a practised one, doing his job. What surprised me therefore was that he didn't modulate his spiel to suit his audience. If a person doesn't do his job well, why should I bend over backwards and be "kind" to him, cleric or not?

I hope you're not saying that this highly defensive way of speaking about Islam is the correct way. I hope you're not suggesting that the associated victimhood mentality should dominate the way Muslims see themselves.

As for Americans, most of the time, it is Americans who tell me how ignorant their fellow citizens are. And that self-critical attitude is the greatest strength of America. Many other civilisations, Islam and China included, could do with more of that.

John M said...

Hi Alex

I read your comment about the 18-fold star in the National mosque(13 states plus 5 which could not be true as you say).

As I didn't remember being told this story when I first visited the mosque some time ago, I did some research and I found some pictures on the Net. It does appear (from Google Earth and pictures) that the star is 16-fold not 18-fold, does it not?


PS Always question propaganda, well done!

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

John M -

Ha! You're right. I looked at a satellite photo of the roof as you suggested, and indeed, it is a 16-fold roof.

That proves it. I was given crap.