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Visible Minorities: Citizenship and Authoritarian Racism
Shingetsu News Agency, August 21, 2023 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
Subtitle: Authoritarians are once again trying to racialize citizenship. In Asia, that’s quite normal. The problem is that conservative movements worldwide are similarly trying to shore up their dwindling popularity by undemocratically disenfranchising the very immigrants they had once invited over.
SNA (Tokyo) — News Item: On August 1, 2023, Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, tweeted his thoughts on multiracial immigration: “It is normal for migrants wishing to become citizens of any country to identify themselves linguistically and culturally with the definitive people of their adopted country. They would break off and reject their links with their countries of origin. Certainly, the children and grandchildren of the new citizens would have forgotten their previous languages and culture.”
This tweet from a world opinion leader isn’t just wrong-headed, it’s dangerous.
Not only is it trying to disenfranchise entire peoples through racialized attitudes towards citizenship, it’s actually threatening democracy itself.
Can’t see it? You’re not alone. The lack of public outcry is part of the problem. I put this down to a world largely untrained in civics. Racialized attitudes towards immigration and citizenship are normal in Asia, and conservatives worldwide are trying to popularize them in their own societies too. Citizenship is the gateway to political enfranchisement in society, and messing with it means reviving old racist policies all over again.
Let me explain from the perspective of a political scientist.
First, it’s surprisingly difficult to get people to see Dr. Mahathir’s tweet for what it is: racist hate speech.
It would be nice if people could see the long-term implications of this proposal without a long, elaborate explanation. But many people dismiss political science as a science at all, one that develops a skill set and a trained eye. Instead, they throw up their hands and see any political opinion as fair dinkum, or too complicated to deal with due to freedom of speech. That blinds them to the fact that Dr. Mahathir is floating a policy trial balloon to willfully exclude people.
Consider the practical application of this proposal: newcomer residents (and their Visible Minority children) must prove their loyalty to a country by giving up the multicultural and multiethnic sides of themselves.
This isn’t just a dick move by some politician taking political pot shots by saying, “You come here, you speak our language.” When Dr. Mahathir demands people become “full Malay” (with arbitrary goalposts determined, naturally, by Malays), that’s a pretty convenient way to keep all the power in the family.
Then we get to the historical revisionism…
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