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Sunday, 26 September 2010

Malaysia rapper's anti-racism rant causes storm

An ethnic Chinese rapper who enraged authorities with a profanity-strewn anti-racism rant on YouTube says  he was only trying to speak out against discrimination in multiracial Malaysia.

Wee Meng Chee, 27, better known as Namewee to his fans, was hauled in for a police grilling last month over the clip which saw him accused of stirring up ethnic tensions -- a taboo in a country where race is a sensitive issue.

In the three-minute rap titled "Nah", Wee used obscene language to bitterly criticise a Muslim Malay headmistress who is accused of making racial slurs against her ethnic Chinese and Indian students.

"My purpose is to stand up against racism," insisted the flamboyant rapper, who sports a beanie hat and baggy shorts, and who has developed a cult following among young Malaysians who have a growing political awareness.

His official Facebook page has more than 340,000 followers, and his songs have had more than 600,000 hits on YouTube.

"Regardless of what I did was right or wrong, whether you like it or not, I am just giving you an extra choice -- you can choose not to watch it," Wee said.

The rapper, who began writing songs at 15 and graduated with a mass communications degree from a Taiwanese university, first made national headlines in 2007 over another YouTube clip mocking the national anthem.

Authorities condemned the performance as seditious, and pulled him in for what would be the first of three police interrogations during his short career.

The parody touched on abuse of power, corruption, government bureaucracy and controversial positive discrimination policies designed to advance Muslim Malays who dominate the population.

Wee apologised for that incident, and escaped charges.

But last year he ran into more trouble over a song in which he criticised the national power firm over frequent power outages in his hometown in the southern state of Johor.

His latest clip "Nah", which authorities also said was seditious, prompted criticism including from the prime minister who warned of tough action against those who try to provoke racial tensions.

Elements in the ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), called for his citizenship to be revoked and for the rapper to be held under internal security laws that allow for detention without trial.

"He cannot be let off the hook again," Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin, the chief of UMNO's young women's wing who first made the complaint over the "Nah" video, reportedly said at the time.

"We regret that whenever the Malays talk about their rights, they are described as racist but at the same time the non-Malays are free to say anything," she said, calling for a tough response to act as a deterrent to others.

Wee, who would face up to three years in jail if the authorities pursue sedition charges, insists he has done nothing wrong.

"We should be able to speak up and not keep quiet when we have to deal with injustice," he said.

The headmistress he targeted in the video clip was accused of telling her ethnic Chinese students to return to China and compared Hindu prayer strings to dog leashes -- allegations that unleashed a furore.

The government has ordered a probe into the case but no action has been taken against her yet, angering Malaysia's minorities, who complain their rights are being eroded as the country becomes increasingly "Islamised".

Despite the popularity of his cause, Wee has received mixed reviews from commentators who object to the abusive language and boastful comments alluding to the ethnic Chinese community's economic success.

But he has also received applause for daring to tackle head-on an issue that many in Malaysia -- which suffered deadly racial riots in the 1960s -- are too nervous to broach.

 "Malaysia should be a country that treats everyone fairly, regardless of their different background," said Wee, who is working on a film about national unity.

"Don't be afraid, because we are paying the government to work for us. Put it in simple terms, we are their boss, they are our servants."