About a century and a half ago, the study of Orientalism flourished in the West following Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. Orientalism is a field of discipline that not only tries to dissect the Middle East, but also one that writes a representation of it to be consumed by the rest of the world. What I find funny is the paradox of letting someone else represents us, Muslims, and people of the East. If they have never lived within the society, communicated with the people, and grown up with a certain worldview, how are they suddenly able to represent us, unless wrongly?
This idea of misrepresentation did not end decades ago, neither did it stop with them misrepresenting us. What I see today, sadly, are us, Muslims, with our proud proclamation of one ummah, one brotherhood, yet we reflect unto other nationalities our own (false) ideas of who they ought to be. Worse, this inclination of ours leads to an imagined hierarchy of nations based solely upon the color of our passports.
If I wrote a while ago that I have to stop myself from throwing a punch towards someone who discriminates others based on race, I now realize that the same bodily reactions happened when someone says something to the effect of, “Ew, I’m not Indonesian!” Why must there be an ‘ew’ in that sentence? Why is it such an insult if we Malaysians are mistaken as Indonesians? Once, I asked a fellow tourist, quite innocently, if she’s Indonesian. I was later warned by another that my honest mistake might be seriously taken as an insult. I was very taken aback! How could mistaking one’s nationality be an insult? I wouldn’t mind at all being mistaken as an Indonesian—matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind being mistaken as a Kenyan, Pakistani, or Kazakh!
The only reason why someone would be offended by my question is if they look down on another and think less of them, which is something I could never understand, ever! What makes Malaysians superior over Indonesians? Just because they have to travel the sea to find employment in our country does not make them less than us. In fact, to the contrary, their actions are actually laudable! They had to go through hardships after hardships in order to provide for their family. To me that’s admirable.
But it’s not just the Indonesians who are victims of this cruel mentality some Malaysians possess. I have heard people say things like, “Ew why are there so many Indians and Pakistanis!” What’s wrong with having these people around? If they go to the same school as you do, that means they are as qualified as you are. If they are in the same place as you are, that means they have an almost identical goal as you do. Rather than looking down on them, why not embrace them as your fellow comrades in an alien place?
Maybe I’m reading way too much into things, but maybe I’m not. What I’m trying to say is, if you truly want to call yourself good Muslims, good persons, then belittling others is definitely not the right place to start. If you have this tendency to think lowly of random strangers based upon their nationality, only God knows what you think of those who actually do something you disapprove of, when we know only God almighty shall judge, as only He is all fair.
Currently I’m reading a book by Benedict Anderson called Imagined Communities. We always take for granted that we belong to certain nations and not others. But do we realize that the concept of a nation is a new term in human history? If Israel is a human creation, so are Malaysia, Spain, Chile, and the United Kingdom. We imagined ourselves as belonging to one of the nations. But Islam is beautiful; Islam reminds us that we are all equal in the eyes of God. Our mosques are open to everyone of every race and every nationality. We are brothers in faith. If we deem one of our own as being spoiled, then so are we. So are we.