Anonymous asked: Wasn't it weird to live in a conservative Muslim country which is really racially divided and hates gay people??
I wouldn’t say weird. It was very interesting to live in a very, very multicultural, theocratic nation and learning about the dynamics of a different country. Malaysia isn’t all that conservative as a whole, particularly in KL (or Sunway, were I was living.) I always covered up a little when travelling in more rural areas just to play it safe and be respectful, but that’s about it. In return, I got to see beautiful mosques and occasionally catch the call to prayer at the most beautiful and serene moments of the day and also talk to a really diverse range of people about their beliefs.
As for racial divides and hatred of homosexuality, it is very true that Malaysia has very visible ethnic tensions and has some horrible laws regarding homosexuality and women. In fact, you have to be Muslim and Malay to stand for parliament, to open a business you must have a Malay as one of your founders. The act of sodomy is illegal, and the few brave same-sex Malaysian couples who have travelled abroad to get married are slandered in the press and public opinion. Several classmates were horrified that the ACT was passing gay marriage, and that sodomy was not illegal in Australia.
But let’s put these prejudices into perspective. For centuries, maritime South East Asia was one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the world. Pre-Islamic Malaysia was influenced heavily by both Buddhist and Hindu philosophies and extraordinarily interlinked with a surprisingly huge region of the world. Traditional concepts of gender were very fluid, many legends incorporate transvestitism, homosexuality, individuals changing gender often several times. Moreover, this was a very multicultural and integrated region. Islam’s influence in Malaysia was very extensive, and changed a lot but I think the most interesting set of changes came later. British colonisation of the region introduced race theory forcibly by separating the ethnically Chinese, Indian, and Malay Malaysians into different lines of labour (the legislation on this is usefully called the labour laws) and creating ethnic ghettos in KL (tourists flock to Petaling St and Little India and talk about it showcasing ethnic diversity, but these are the remnants of the ghetto system.) Western ideas about race and gender which work in binaries and hierachies, and which the difficult process of decolonization failed to remove are at the root of societal divides within Malaysia.
It’s not like I come from a magical land were all conservative values, racial divides, and homophobes have been wiped off the face of the continent. I live in Australia. Going to Malaysia was cool, but actually learning about the country once I was there was absolutely sick.