The two worlds of Malaysia

The two worlds of Malaysia
Premananthini and Tan Lee Fong were denied entry into the state secretariat building for wearing skirts deemed too short.
PHOTO: Facebook of Charles Santiago

The question on dressing and attire, to be honest, does not carry any significant discussional value, and shouldn't have occupied this much of our precious public argument spaces.

The actions of a handful of security personnel could have stemmed from their personal views or perhaps they just carried out their duties according to their institutions' rules and regulations. And since a dress code is very much in place, we shouldn't lash out strong-worded reprimands on these poor junior staff.

JPJ, state government and Sungai Buloh Hospital have all tendered their apologies, and things should just come to a rest now. There is no need for further verbal or written condemnations of any sort.

Of course, we all have the right to question the rationality and appropriateness of such regulations. If they are not appropriate, why put them up conspicuously at the main entrance in the first place?

To avoid public inconveniences and doubts, perhaps the unnecessary dress codes should just be done away with. Amend the ambiguous and excessive parts to be a little more explicit and practical to fit better into the country's cultural environment.

But then here is where the question lies: What exactly is the Malaysian environment or culture?

To get a better picture of this environment and culture thing, I visited several local online forums in different languages.

For Chinese websites, the web users' stand is almost universally against the imposition of dress codes at government agencies, some cursing them while others poking fun of them. Many have gone way beyond by throwing in elements of politics, race and religion. It is more of an emotional outburst than rational inquiry.

This to a certain extent reflects the actual mentality of the Malaysian Chinese community, in particular the younger generation. These people hold a highly liberal attitude on attire. They wear what they like, and leaving the knees exposed is a small matter or non-issue at all.

They despise any form of restrictions imposed on an individual's attire for they believe they have the right to wear the way they want and that any dress code is antiquated, out of place and downright unfit.

The more aggressive will even think these regulations are meant for a specific religious or ethnic group while enforcement on others is an act of sheer suppression.

As for Malay forums, the picture is totally different.

Majority of Malay netizens are of the opinion that it is appropriate and absolutely necessary to impose the dress code.

They feel that since the regulations are already in place, visitors to the institutions should just respect them. The aurat must be covered as a show of respect for other fellow visitors. They also highlight the fact that Malaysia is not a Western country, and it has its own culture. Baring oneself in public is simply unacceptable.

The Malay society has always been more conservative. As if that is not enough, they are also bound by their religious taboos.

The divergent responses on the attire issue has underscored the vast differences in the ways Malay and non-Malay communities look at things.

The Chinese community is getting increasingly liberalized (I wouldn't call it westernization). They adore individualism, and will never understand why a dress code has to be imposed.

The Malay society, on the other hand, tends to be more conservative due to religious influences. They are more community-minded and cohesive, and therefore cannot reason out why they shouldn't conform to the existing rules.

From attire to all other realms in life, we have seen apparent differences and conflicts in everything, an outcome of our different cultural cognitions and religious backgrounds. There is no absolute right or wrong here.

Sometimes I feel we in Malaysia are living in two very distinct worlds.

Instead of enlarging this issue, arguing incessantly over it and deepening further our social conflicts, why not make an attempt to get to know more about the other people, learn more about their culture and religion, and from there unclog our occlusive egoistic world to understand and accommodate the others?

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