If one popular culture hook has emerged from SBS’s Go Back To Where You Came From, it’s Raquel Moore, the multi-year dole bludger who doesn’t want immigrants taking our jobs; the bandsaw-voiced tracksuit mannequin whose casual racism and innate sense of privilege has made her the anti-matter star of the show. On a program that actively encourages Twitter discussion (a forum which you know I take very seriously), #Raquel was trending long after #GoBackSBS had dropped away. Brazilian chicks were popping in saying “Hey! I saw my name up here!” I’m not sure if they were happy with what they found.
You’d have to say she’s part of compelling television. Last night on our screens, Malaysian immigration officers stormed a compound by torchlight, scattering illegal foreign workers in all directions. There were people hiding under floorboards, people running into bushes. Babies crying and doors being crowbarred off their frames, people rounded up and quizzed and cuffed and tagged.
In the midst of it all, six gormless Australians, gawping and poking their torches around like they were spotting treefrogs on a night-time jungle safari, one of them unbelievably trying to pitch in during the round-up. And, of course, Raquel. “I think this is great!” she said excitedly. (“I never said that,” she claimed the next day. TV recordings are a bitch.) As one or two of the others looked aghast she elaborated, “I think it’s good. They shouldn’t be here.”
And man, were people spitting chips about her. She may even have prised the mantle of Australia’s Most Despised Bogan Queen from heavyweight champ Kim Duthie. Duthie hates footballers, Raquel hates refugees. If only they could join forces to ruin the life of Majak Daw, they’d create the perfect bogan storm.
The vitriol aimed at Raquel is of course born from fear: the fear of coming to terms with the fact that a big slab of our compatriots share her attitudes and opinions. Yes, her view of the world is pig-ignorant, immature, and selfish in the extreme. But it in way it’s also very natural, very easy to assume.
So after a few deep breaths, there’s no point hating on her – if she follows my Twitter feed, she’ll have got the gist by now. In the end she’s a douchewad, just one in a giant hospital-size septic skip full of douchewads that we can only hope is eventually bound for the furnace.
But it wasn’t any glaring ignorance on her part that most snagged my attention last night. When she said that the right thing was happening, that “They shouldn’t be here,” viewers jumped at her lack of empathy, her feeble grasp of the bigger issue. Yes, and fair enough. But there was a basic and deeper misunderstanding that she could not have been expected to be aware of, one that goes to the heart of the problem with Labor’s proposed Malaysian refugee trade.
When Raquel says it’s good that Malaysian law is being upheld, she could conceivably be right. What most Australians don’t understand is, upholding laws was never the point of the operation. When it comes to Malaysian law enforcement, nothing is ever done because of what is right.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on Malaysia. To the contrary, that whole segment of Go Back made me homesick. The dodgy shophouses, the mamak shop outside the Chin refuge, even the accents of the officials, were things I’ve missed unaccountably. But my time living there also taught me that corruption is endemic in the national way of life. ‘On-the-spot’ fines are much cheaper than traffic tickets, and cops will bring you change from their motorcycles. The roads department offers two licence tests – the more expensive one has an unaccountably high pass rate. Bureaucrats will tell you, “could take some months, you know, depending…” with their heads cocked to one side.
And in a developing economy scraping for every foothold, illegal workers who can be unpaid or underpaid are the lifeblood of the menial labour system. Almost every construction site in the country employs them in numbers. Any project with suitable ties to government would never see a visa check, from the first theodolite reading to when they cut the tape. So when Imigresen raids a site like the one last night, they’re not doing it out of respect for Malaysian sovereignty. They’re doing it because the construction owner didn’t pay the necessary bribes. Or because a rival construction owner paid better ones. They’re doing it so they can get complimentary media coverage about ‘crackdowns’ on criminal elements.
And there is the distinctly real possibility that, unknown to SBS, the raid we saw was entirely orchestrated because a foreign television station wanted to film one. Yeah. Awkward?
Nor is this way of doing business restricted to immigration. Just as bribes are a way of life in Malaysia, so are the raids that enforce them. Just ask any club or bar manager. There are no fewer than four separate jurisdictions that a venue owner has to pay off to avoid being raided in Kuala Lumpur: Drug Squad, National Police, KL City Council, and JAWI – the religious police.
The powers that Malaysian jurisdictions have over their citizens is astonishing. When a club is raided, all entrances are barred and no-one is permitted to leave. The first thing they do is check IDs, and release any foreigners. This means they don’t annoy anyone who could bite them back, and gets rid of any witnesses who foreign media might regard as newsworthy.
If it’s a JAWI raid, they’ll round up or note down every Muslim in the place, going by the race on your ID. If you are Malay by race, you’re Muslim, no arguments. Syariah law exists alongside civil law, and is applicable to any Muslim in Malaysia, local or visiting (though not to Indian or Chinese Malaysians).
A favourite pastime of JAWI is to round up all the young women who are “sinfully dressed” and take them away to be lectured and warned. Every few months there’s a furore about JAWI agents doing the same kinds of things: making the young women do catwalks for them, bending down and striking various poses, so the pious agents can point out to them every detail of why that skirt is too short, that top too flimsy. The month I arrived, one of these scenarios had just blown up: stories from the girls of being held 12 hours with no toilets, dissolving into tears, wetting themselves and being mocked and humiliated for it. It was, I was assured, nothing out of the ordinary.
Drug squad raids are even better, because after releasing the foreigners they demand supervised urine tests be given by everyone in the place. The process takes hours and hours. Malaysian police actually have the right to demand urine samples from anyone if they feel they have grounds for suspicion, and being in a nightclub constitutes it. The best part is, if you’re found to have drugs in your system, you are deemed to be in possession. Harsh penalties apply.
Of course, the raid is not the point. Most the time, after collecting all the samples, the drug squad won’t even bother testing them. It’s simply to cause maximum inconvenience and upset for the club’s customers at the one time. It’s the urinary equivalent of the horse head in the bed. So as a business owner, it’s in your best interests to pay. One raid can dent your business for months. A couple in a row will shut it down. No-one will risk going to places that get raided – even if you’re Hindu, sober, and legal to your back teeth, you’ll still be held up half the night. In Malaysia, avoiding the attention of law enforcement is always best practice policy, just in case.
As hinted at before, these attitudes are now relevant to us given the Federal Labor brain-fart known as the Malaysia Solution. On the list of Great Things We Learned from the Nazis, just behind ‘Russia gets awfully nippy round January’, we’ll find the entry ‘Proposals that end with the word “solution” rarely end up very well for anybody.’ Case in point. After spending much of Howard’s last years (years which passed with the ease and grace of a dog with both hind legs shot off dragging itself through the snow) criticising the dispatch of refugees to various Pacific atolls, Labor came up with the grand plan of sending them to a country with what can at best be described as an enthusiastic ambivalence towards human rights.
Tourists aside, foreigners in Malaysia get a tough deal. Aside from doing the most menial and dangerous jobs for the worst pay, they’re the consistent scapegoat of a political party that has ruled since independence in 1957. Any time a murder looks like going unsolved, especially if the main suspect has links to an important family, Malaysian police will miraculously produce a foreign worker who ‘confesses’. Regular pronouncements are made about getting tough on illegals. There are practical reasons why Malaysia never signed up to anything from the UNHCR.
Largely this spin is to satisfy populist demand: the Malaysian equivalent of the dreaded Raquellian bogan. If you’re someone who thought that ‘we’ were racist against ‘Asians’ and that was that, you have a range of other thinks in the mail. Asian countries, if you’ll permit some generalised racism, are pretty damn racist, and with much less self-censorship or attempt at justification than you’ll see in their Western counterparts. Rich Americans aside, try being black in an Asian country and see how well you’re regarded. Try being Bangladeshi in Malaysia. Try being Burmese. Try being Javanese Indonesian, a race as genetically distinct from Malays as Skips are to Kiwis.
No, believe it or not, Asians don’t like other Asians a lot of the time. Africans don’t always get along with Africans, you may have noticed. During my stay in Argentina, sensationalist TV station Crónica, the car-crash specialists, broadcast this headline from a grisly roadside shoot: “Se mueron: tres personas, y un boliviano.” (Dead: three people, and one Bolivian.)
In Malaysia, racism is not just tolerated, it’s legally enshrined. Malaysian Malays, at 60 percent of the population, get privileged access to university places, low- or no-interest home loans, business grants and banking services, and government jobs, ahead of Indian and Chinese Malaysians. The forebears of many of the latter have been there three hundred years or more. The Malays, at best, have been there six or seven hundred. No matter. That’s just the way it is.
In 2005, when I was there, hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were deported after a populist government amnesty. A few months later, when the labour pool had dried up and construction sites ground to a halt, they sheepishly imported a couple of hundred thousand Pakistanis to take over.
And yes, while all this is happening, Malaysia is a fascinating, fertile place with a rich history. For a young Australian man with prospects, resources, and the backing of his government, it was a wonderful place to study, to meet great friends and fall in love with. For a young Muslim woman with no passport, no money, and no rights, subject to a sexist legal system, and under the care of a fickle and corrupt government with no control over its representatives, it is a dangerous and potentially damaging destination. And if Australians are the ones who hand vulnerable people over, then we are responsible for what happens to them next. This time, it seems Raquel is right. They shouldn’t be here.