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In recent days, Malaysians have been following with much interest the “Carlsberg affair” – an incident at a local hypermarket where a shopper aggressively berated a beer promoter in the non-halal section of the store. It is a compelling story given that it involves issues of race and religion and comes at a time when the nation is deeply preoccupied by the divisive issue of whether or not to ratify ICERD (The International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination).

The beer promoter involved has been hailed as a hero for calmly but firmly standing her ground in the face of what were clearly rude and racist remarks. A hero she certainly is. No Malaysian should be harassed or bullied the way she was.

A culture of racism

In Malaysia we have all grown accustomed to such incidents. Our politicians, particularly those from UMNO and PAS, are the worst offenders. For decades, they have nurtured a culture of hatred and suspicion towards other races. They have thought nothing of fanning the flames of bigoty and religious extremism to advance their own political agendas. In the process, they have led our nation down a dark and dangerous path. The Carlsberg affair is just symptomatic of this wider malaise that extremists have bequeathed the nation.

Witness the whole ICERD controversy, for example. UMNO-PAS appears more than willing to push the country to the brink of instability and chaos for no other reason than to gain political mileage and embarrass the government. They did nothing when billions were looted from the people; they did nothing when the country was about to be pawned to a foreign power, and now, they work themselves into a frenzy over an international convention about eliminating racial discrimination on the patently false pretext that it would adversely affect the position of Islam, the rulers and the Malays.

Truth be told, they care little about bangsa, agama or negara; all they want is to get back to power as quickly as possible, by any means possible, so they can continue the plunder of our nation. With them, it has never been about the national interests; it’s always been about personal aggrandizement.

Cut from a different cloth

Edi Rejang, the man at the centre of the Carlsberg affair, on the other hand, is clearly cut from a different cloth. Yes, he did wrong. Yes, he behaved badly. What sets him apart, however, from all the other racists out there – whatever their ethnicity or religious background – is that when he came to his senses, he unreservedly apologised and sought to make amends for his misdeeds.

How many times have we seen someone in our nation with the courage and the decency to admit he was wrong and sincerely apologise? How many UMNO or PAS politicians, for example, ever apologized to the nation for all their racist taunts, insults and abusive behaviour?

And who among us hasn’t said or done something that we regretted afterwards? Who among us hasn’t had a bad day or experienced circumstances that pushed us to the breaking point? Edi Rejang apparently had one of those days and, by his own admission, snapped. It doesn’t excuse his behaviour, of course, but his abject apology must also be allowed to define this story.

Forgiveness & compassion

Since the incident, Edi Rejang has been fired from his job and is now being investigated by the police. Justice must take its course, to be sure, but I hope that kindness and forgiveness will follow him as well. He’s alone, he’s afraid; one wrong move has wrought so much havoc on him and his family. It must not destroy him too.

It is incumbent on us all now to rally around him and help him get his life back on track. I’m glad he has legal assistance; I hope some kind soul will offer him a decent job as well. We must support him not because he did wrong but because he had the decency to do the right thing afterwards.

Confucius once said that our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall. Let us help Edi Rejang recover from this fall and rise to all the greatness he is capable of. I hope I can connect with him; I’d like to help too.

It’s the least we can do to encourage and promote respect and tolerance in this deeply divided land of ours. Let us be as quick to forgive as we are to cry foul whenever racism or bigotry rears its ugly head.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 23rd November 2018]