Apartheid or marketing?

I'M glad His Majesty the Sultan of Johor stepped in to stop the promotion of an exclusive laundromat for Muslims, which was erroneously justified as "to maintain holiness", but it does highlight a sensitive matter that we need to address.

Before that, when I mentioned earlier that there would be halal laundromats in a Feb 13 column, "Paintbrushes and paranoia", I was being facetious and sarcastic. In no way whatsoever did I think that it would be used as a business model.

On top of all this, let us not forget that this is more an issue of marketing, which somehow seems to allow religious overtones – for one religion only. I doubt we will find a pro-Christian product without anyone decrying that it somehow "confuses Muslims".

In the past five years, we have somehow seen a slew of products determined to cater to the Malaysian Malay Muslim crowd.

It goes from Milo Zamzam – made by mixing the drink with zamzam water from Mecca – all the way up to eggs with a "Halal" logo stamped on them, with a poster promising that the producers have maintained the chastity of the hens by preventing the birds from having free, adulterous sex.

I kid you not, these things can be found on the internet. For those not in the know, hens don't have to have sex to lay eggs – I'm just pointing that out for your trivia bank.

There is even a "more halal than halal" slaughtered chicken being sold that its suppliers claim has medicinal qualities and the ability to cure ailments. In fact, we even have a "Halal" web browser that filters out smut and whatever else we can find on the internet.

All of this, whether marketing ploys or truthful testimonies, are under the purview of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) which received some RM820 million for its 2017 budget. Hopefully its officers have been keeping track of these things and undoing false religious promotions.

More importantly, there is a dire need to understand that some religious promotions are nothing more than promotions, using religion as an advertising or marketing gimmick.

It shouldn't happen, but it does. It is part and parcel of having a free market economy and having people, who have been using coin operated laundromats, suddenly realising that there is a need for "extra cleanliness".

Truth be told, there are no sides that can claim innocence when it comes to using race or religion in advertising and recruitment.

After all, race and religion have often been used as measures for marketers and advertisers to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns, to the point that even receipts have codes to determine the race of the consumer who bought a product as a record to see who buys a product.

At the same time, recruitment and property rental ads are full of preferences when it comes to wanting a future employee or tenant. I'm not talking about the ones which list out language requirements such as Mandarin or Bahasa Melayu, but the ones that simply read "Chinese preferred", "Malay Only", or the dastardlier one – "No Indians".

In fact, a clearer form of racism and xenophobia today is being practised by property owners who say en bloc that they will not rent property to Africans.

Let's be frank, xenophobic, racist and religious elements are seen in employment ads, property ads and even in the behaviour of customer relations officers. It shouldn't be the case, but we know it is well established.

So, why does this happen? Why are we still sorting ourselves out by race after spending roughly six decades together as a harmonious, multiracial nation?

The excuses are aplenty. Some would say it is easier to maintain "halal-ness" of a property. Others would say so and so "is very messy and doesn't know how to maintain a property".

Some would say "oh, it's just a preference". And some employers would say it is justified because they would like to cater to a certain race as their main clientele.

Then, there are those who believe that hiring non-Malays is somehow a tit-for-tat for the country's bumiputra policies. I know it is a sour note, but there are employers who believe that they are doing justice by being racist because "the government is racist" too.

So, perhaps there is a need to further study the reasons for such warped preferences and segregation? There seems to be a growing undertone of resentment among citizens of Malaysia that needs to be said out loud, and there are no simple solutions.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com