Archive for the ‘Celebrating Diversity’ Category

Racial unity becoming fragile due to sensational news on social media

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

PUTRAJAYA: The attitude of some individuals who prefer to read and trust sensational news on social media without verifying their authenticity or truth has contributed to racial unity in the country becoming fragile, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P. Waytha Moorthy.

He said the situation was made worse when some people misused the the freedom of speech granted by the government to spread false information to create misunderstanding and tensions among the people of various races in the country.

“Not only in our country, but all over the world, the social media has become a major medium to disseminate news, including false and inaccurate ones.

“Before, the media was controlled by certain groups, but now with the borderless information, some people think that they have the power to disseminate their own personal ideologies and opinions.

“They don’t read many newspapers, or authentic news and books, instead prefer (to read) sensational news. When they are impressed with the news, they will viral it immediately,” he said in a special interview with Bernama in his office here recently.

The minister, who is responsible for the National Unity and Social Wellbeing portfolio, said this group of people had no care to know the news was real or fake.

They are not interested to know the truth, but are happy and more interested to get the sensational news across to netizens, he added.

Waytha Moorthy said some of the issues raised on the social media had undermined the country’s harmony and it had become one of the main challenges facing the Pakatan Harapan government, where precautionary measures had been taken to safeguard the interests of all parties.

The minister also expressed his sadness over the action of previous government leaders for deliberately raising certain issues to build up anger against the current government for their own political survival.

“Therefore, it is the responsibility of the people to remain focus and to live as citizens who practice diversity in a pluralistic society. We have to live with each other and as long as we are focused, we can accept what we have practiced before,” he said. –Bernama

The issue on abuse of the social media was also raised by AirAsia Group Bhd chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes on Tuesday, saying too many negative things, falsities and outrages on the platform had led to the shutting down of his Twitter account.

Commenting further, Waytha Moorthy said the people, especially those in the peninsula, should emulate the close relationships and tolerance of the various tribes in Sabah and Sarawak, enabling them to live in harmony without suspicion for one another.

He recalled his visit to Sarawak and Sabah and was impressed with the understanding and respect for the religious practices and cultural diversity displayed among the people of the two states.

He said the ministry would take into account suggestions from community leaders in Sabah and Sarawak in formulating a new policy to enhance national integration between the people in the peninsula and East Malaysia.

In addressing racial and religious issues, he said the ministry hoped to set up a special commission known as the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission to act as an independent body that would resolve sensitive matters on race and religion.

“This matter is still in the proposal stage and I am looking into the practicality of using existing laws, including the Sedition Act and the Penal Code to resolve related issues raised on social sites.

“This is because I find that some of them are unaware that their postings are offensive to other religions and in this case, the Commission will call on the relevant parties to explain to them,” he said.

by Bernama.

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Harmony in our cultural nuances

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

Children of various races taking part in a lion dance during the Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur last year. FILE PIC

IN Malaysia, after the celebration is before the celebration. No sooner have we packed away the Christmas decorations than the Chinese New Year lanterns come out of the boxes.

They are followed in close succession by Thaipusam, Easter, Ramadan, Wesak Day, Hari Raya and so forth.

Living in Malaysia, we are the envy of our single-culture relatives, if only for the fact that we get far more days off work than anyone back home.

Any reasonably informed resident of Malaysia will agree that, while the roughly 17 national plus a good handful of regional holidays are nice to have, the diversity of cultural celebrations here has an important impact on mutual understanding and respect.

On the other side of the globe however, in its effort to be considerate towards the cultural traditions of others, the Western world struggles with a fairly novel concept that has been coined “cultural appropriation”.

Fashion designers are being castigated for using fabrics and motifs of foreign cultures in their runway shows.

Pop icons are being criticised for propagating dance moves and hairstyles of cultures other than their own.

Tourists are being scolded upon displaying tattoos featuring tribal designs or exotic writing styles.

The cultural, religious or ethnic display of anything outside our own ethnic heritage is viewed as problematic at best, and more often than not, downright offensive.

Hence the expression of “appropriation”.

The British Dictionary’s definition of appropriation reads: “The act of setting apart or taking for one’s own use”, which implies taking something away from somebody else, in other words, stealing.

If that is a fact, then I am guilty of many offences: Two beautiful red paper lanterns have been hanging from my front porch for many years, a stunning painting depicting Buddha adorns our entry hall, and if it wasn’t for my impetuous pets, I’d have a rangoli (kolam) at my house every Deepavali.

I touch my hand to my chest upon greeting someone with a handshake.

Also, I own and have been known to wear a sari, a Punjabi suit, a baju kurung and a cheongsam on various occasions.

It has occurred to me that I really can’t pull off the cheongsam — I like cake and chocolate way too much for that.

It has never occurred to me however, that I shouldn’t be allowed to wear one.

I have had temporary henna tattoos artistically applied on my hands by one of my Indian friends and my left wrist is permanently featuring a gorgeous dragon tattoo.

Does this foraging into foreign heritage make me a cultural appropriator?

An insensitive prick, and a thief? It certainly does not.

Once the topic of cultural appropriation had transited from a sound academic debate to the self-righteous war cry of oversensitive Internet watchdogs less than a decade ago, common sense seems to have gone the way of the dodo.

After all, if nothing of another culture were to be shared, concepts such as democratic discourse, mathematics, or even the modern-day calendar would still be firmly secluded in their originating regions.

Furthermore, let’s briefly touch on the obvious subject of pizza in Beijing, dim sum in New York, and me eating a delicious banana leaf dinner at the local mamak stall.

Respectfully emulating, and therefore celebrating each other’s cultural heritage is a compliment to diversity.

There is a not-so-fine line between this and making fun of our differences. We all know it when we see it.

The fact that different Malaysian ethnicities joyfully partake in each other’s festivities is living proof that cultural appreciation is essential to a harmonious co-habitation.

To put it in the words of Canadian clinical psychologist, author, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson: “The idea of cultural appropriation is nonsense, and that’s that. There’s no difference between cultural appropriation and learning from each other. They’re the same thing.

“Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s no theft between people; there is.

“And it doesn’t mean that once you encounter someone else’s ideas, you have an absolute right to those ideas as if they’re your own.

“But the idea that manifesting some element of another culture in your own behaviour is immoral is insane. It’s actually one of the bases of peace.”

By Fanny Bucheli-Rotter

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A cause to celebrate

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

The tossing of yee sang has become a custom for Farisya’s family during their annual Chinese New Year celebrations.

MANDARIN oranges, red angpow packets and colourful cheongsam dresses – what do these signify? For those who do not celebrate Chinese New Year, these things probably indicate another school break or public holiday.

I was not born of Chinese ancestry, although my strong Oriental features may give you the notion. I am, however, part of the non-Chinese crowd who embraces this celebration.

Growing up, one of my favourite tales to read was a myth about how some Chinese New Year traditions came to be. The story goes thus: A small village in ancient China was terrorised by a frightening sea beast called Nian that only emerged from the waters on New Year’s day.

A beggar arrived at the village seeking food and shelter one particular New Year’s eve but because the village-folk were busy packing up to flee to the mountains before the beast arrived, they paid him no heed. All except for one old woman, who considered it a lost cause to escape.

To repay her for the food she had given him, he vowed to expel Nian once and for all. He did this by brightly lighting up the old woman’s house, putting up bright red banners around the door and donning a robe of the same shade on himself.

When the monster approached, it felt hesitant and fearful. But what really did the trick was lighting up firecrackers! The poor beast fled back to the ocean and never returned.

I adore this legend, and still revisit it from time to time when I am in need of a good read.

For as long as I can remember, my family, who are big fans of Chinese cuisine, have always gone out to have a feast, which includes yee sang, to welcome Chinese New Year. The waiter would explain to us what each element of the dish symbolises.

Pepper and cinnamon powder represent health and youth, plum sauce represents sweetness in life, and crackers represent wealth and prosperity. These are all aspects of life that one would hope for in the new year.

I know this does not hold a candle to the grandeur of how Chinese New Year is supposed to be celebrated – even if it is just a simple banquet in a small family home, the value is so much deeper for those born into the culture.

However, this should not hinder us from taking part in the festivities. Some Malaysians of non-Chinese descent never attempt to join in, aside from hearing Chinese New Year songs and seeing the elaborate decorations at shopping complexes.

This is honestly such a wasted opportunity. As Malaysians, we should try and include ourselves with our brothers and sisters of different ethnicities as often as possible. It definitely promotes a deeper sense of love and understanding.

For instance, my mother always receives a goodie bag filled with sweets and oranges during Chinese New Year from Aunty Agnes, my next door neighbour. In return, Aunty Agnes receives a Tupperware packed full of lemang and rendang during Hari Raya Aidilfitri for her family.

Although the act may be small, the meaning behind it is monumental. You do not necessarily have to splurge and throw massive open house parties to show for a good time.

For any celebration, the true essence behind it is sharing whatever you can. It transcends material offerings, as sometimes the feeling of joy is what truly matters to be shared.

The beauty and sentiments of this auspicious time of the year certainly runs deeper than the physical rites and rituals.

Farisya Azwar Ridzuan is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) team. To read more articles written by BRATs participants, sign up for the NiE pullout. It is published on Wednesdays bi-monthly and available only through school subscriptions. To subscribe, call the toll free number 1-300-88-7827 (Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm). For more information on Star-NiE’s BRATs programme, go to


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Penang church’s Xmas tree-lighting ceremony enchants 1,000 visitors

Monday, December 23rd, 2019
GEORGETOWN 22 DECEMBER 2019. Standing resplendent in the middle of the courtyard was a 5 metre Christmas tree frame which was outlined with coloured lights. Gift wrapped presents were later distributed to the young ones at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Pulau Tikus here this evening during the parish’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. NSTP/MIKAIL ONG

GEORGE TOWN: Festive Christmas decorations and Yuletide carols welcomed parishioners at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Pulau Tikus during the parish’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, on Sunday night.

Attended by over 1,000 people, the inaugural event was held in the church’s courtyard, where a 5-metre Christmas tree frame, outlined with coloured lights, stood resplendent.

Applause and cheers greeted the lighting up of the tree, as the church’s choir led visitors in singing carols.

Gift wrapped presents were later distributed to young ones in the crowd.

Parish priest Reverend Father Jude Miranda described Christmas as a joyous celebration to welcome the birth of Christ – an event which unites Christians and other Malaysians.

“It is a great honour and pleasure for us to celebrate the spirit of Christmas in the company of our fellow parishioners, neighbours and friends.

“The spirit of Christmas can only be felt if we open our hearts to caring for one another, and sharing whatever little we may have,” he added.

Apart from singing Christmas carols, participating in games and indulging in cookie exchanges, parishioners were able to partake in a spot of festive shopping at a Christmas bazaar set up on the premises.

By Marina Emmanuel.

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Malaysia Hall a home away from home

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019
One of the most distinguished names to have walked through the doors of Malaysia Hall was Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj (front row, fourth from right). FILE PIC

MALAYAN and subsequently Malaysian students who studied in the United Kingdom in the 1950s until 2004 will remember the 44/46 Bryanston Square, fondly known as Malaya or Malaysia Hall, as a home away from home.

On June 2, 2004, Malaysia Hall became part of Malaysian history in the UK when the keys of the hall were handed back to the landlord, Portman Estate.

At the handing over of the keys ceremony, the then Malaysian commissioner to the UK, Datuk Abdul Aziz Mohamed, paid tribute to Bryanston Square that had served princes, prime ministers and ordinary people so well in its life of service.

He signed the first page of the farewell book and said it was time to turn over a new page in history.

He then removed the plaque from the door and handed it to the last director of the Malaysian Student Department, Datuk Dr Kamarudin Mohd Nor.

As a student in the UK in the late 1960s, Malaysia Hall was a place to read Malaysian newspapers and catch up on our studies.

The lounge was where music students played the grand piano. The hall was a student-centred place which saw the setting up and establishment of diverse student-led organisations.

These included the nationalist Kesatuan Melayu United Kingdom, the socialist Malaysia Singapore Student Forum, the Malaysian Student Islamic group and Umno.

The hall was also where the country’s independence movement architects used to meet and discuss political events, which led to the country obtaining its freedom.

One of the most distinguished names to have walked through the doors of Bryanston Square was Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

It was reported that when he returned here fresh from negotiations with the British to break the news of Malaysia’s independence, the residents carried him around the building, once home to him when he was a student.

Others that frequented the hall included Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Tun Dr Ismail Rahman and Lee Kuan Yew.

Another aspect of Malaysia Hall that was very dear to students was the canteen at the basement of the building. The food served there was perhaps the cheapest Malay food in the UK.

It was also where most of the students and Malaysians gathered to catch up on the goings-on in the UK and back home.

I remember there were times when some students had to help out in the kitchen, especially when the then cook Encik Hashim was absent.

There were no complaints throughout, perhaps as the food served was subsidised by the Malaysian Student Department.

Let we forget, the memories of having lived and frequented Malaysia Hall during our student days, walking to the Marble Arch tube station, Oxford Street and Hyde Park will be cherished for as long as we live.


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How did we come to this?

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019
Members of the National Students’ Consultative Council standing to attention while singing ‘Negaraku’ before the start of a meeting. ‘Negaraku’ is the national anthem and not just a song. BERNAMA PIC

IT has often been said that race and religion are the two “biggest” factors behind polarisation in Malaysia.

Perhaps it is true to some extent. Yet it cannot be generalised because there have been many instances and situations ‎that have made us proud to be counted as Malaysians.

The last general election was one such time as most would recall, despite many expecting the worst outcome. What is more when Malaysia holds the record for having the world’s oldest prime minister. And a comeback “kid” at that.

In other instances, some research showed that in rural communities, notably the kampung, the situation is far better than in cities, due to the more cordial lifestyle and attitude.

When it comes to sports and cultural events, or when disaster strikes, Malaysia is often united to present her best, like duck to water. There are many others that go beyond the superficialities of “rumah terbuka” or some specially staged events to gain in popularity.

In other words, the said polarisation is shaped more by the hostile and ignorant attitudes of some Malaysians.

Not too long ago, there were times when racial jokes were considered benign even at a tender age. My school and university days were some of those. Ironically, it brought us closer inter-racially because the laughter that resulted required a very high level of trust and confidence to begin with. Without these, the consequences would have been much like what it is today — tense, rude and intimidating. And worsening when race and religion are turned into a convenient target of hatred for some unexplained reasons.

Lest we forget, the fact remains that even in the most developed and best of democracies, racism and religious supremacy exist. International sporting events are not spared either. So what is new?

In the case of Malaysia of late, the attitudes are more convoluted because there is virtually no common identity that binds them. Unlike in cases‎ cited above where trust exists, the contrast is made complicated because people can no longer express freely and openly in a language that everyone can identify with and understand.

This then gives rise to second and suspicious guessing game, deepening the mistrust. Let us take the national anthem, Negaraku, as an example. How many Malaysians share the same notion of what the word means so as to put us comfortably on the same page? What about “tanah tumpahnya darahku” that follows? Is it merely the “land where I spilled my blood” — literally rendered? Or much deeper than that? How then does it actually shape our attitude beyond the confines of our own race and religion?

Consequently, what is intended by “rahmat bahagia, tuhan kurniakan”? What is “rahmat” when it is linked to “tuhan” (the first article of Rukun Negara)? What level of “kurnia” binds Malaysians further? To adequately respond to most of the points raised, all the related nuances must be amply and comfortably felt within the context of Negaraku to enable one to live by it.

Remember that Negaraku is the national anthem. Not just a song‎ to be mimed while standing to attention and then forgotten as soon as the moment is over. In short, it is instrumental to our identity as Malaysians sharing the very same meaning and values in shaping our attitudes before we can truly share prosperity as envisaged by Shared Prosperity Vision 2030. Otherwise, it all comes to naught since nothing is really “shared”. Instead, only hypocritical lip service as alluded to in Robert Kuok’s best-selling memoir.

Take the word “kongsi” that is loaned from another culture into the mainstream Malaysian community. Yet its translation in practice is vastly different from what is observed in the original language and culture. Another clear reason why race and religion remains alive since the act of “kongsi” is virtually flawed as a dominant Malaysian lifestyle. And this further allows the vacuum to once again be filled with the same old hostility.

It becomes even more hostile when education fails to be a common platform to nurture national identity as one of the six student aspirations stated in the Education Blueprint.

Fundamentally, Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (FPK or National Education Philosophy) is intended to provide the framework that nurtures the Malaysian identity first and foremost ground up. But as it stands, the FPK is not shared in a systematic way, when actually it is the most logical place to start.

FPK could be the everlasting philosophy to bridge understanding in a balanced way leading to a more inclusive state of affairs which is equitable and egalitarian in nature. There is no room at all for any form of bigotry and narrow toxic thinking. But where is it today? Unless all this is sorted out we will continue to blame everyone except ourselves.

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak.

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We need to encourage truly multi-racial politics

Thursday, October 31st, 2019
So who is that Adenan-like national leader to calmly carry us forward? FILE PIC

“WE must sink or swim together. When I’m in trouble, you help me, when you are in trouble, we help you.

“This is what the federation is all about.”

So said the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, Sarawak’s fifth chief minister.

In three short years before he died in early 2017, he inspired awe, admiration and respect across the communal divides with his often-witty one-liners.

Ordinary Sarawakians of all ethnicities wept at his funeral.

It is fair to say that his powerful message of social inclusiveness backed up with decisive action resonated beyond Sarawak and across the entire federation.

It is worth being reminded of Adenan’s unrivalled statesmanship at moments such as now with a certain mood of melancholy currently enveloping the nation.

Recall that Adenan won a fresh landslide mandate in May 2016 and breathed new life into the previously almost moribund Sarawak United People’s Party against a highly energised Sarawak DAP precisely because of his highly authentic message of inclusiveness.

His political victory despite over three uninterrupted decades under his immediate predecessor was the precursor to the New Malaysia we ushered in two years later.

How sadly short-lived the very idea of a New Malaysia appears to be now, with the return of overt racially-tinged discourse in our national life.

What is tragic is not the unsurprising fact that racial sentiments reaffirming such a discourse (from all racially extremist sides, it must be stressed) still exist but how easily they ignite or rather reignite deep passions of mutual loathing and perhaps even hatred of fellow Ma-laysians.

It strikes me as particularly sad how Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s typical and valiant call for those harbouring racial sentiments (and let’s face it, such sentiments are almost second nature to all but perhaps a too-tiny segment of truly enlightened, non-racial Malay-sians) to look inward within our own respective groups rather than to blame “outsiders” is all but drowned out in the very predictable and angry recriminations-following-accusations routine of our racialised political debate.

Reactionary political forces may be as inevitable as night follows day over such early days under New Malaysia but, for the sake of our collective future, there is little choice but for fair-minded, non-political or apolitical Malaysians to firmly resist and deny the reactionaries their admittedly still powerful capacity to suck all the oxygen out of any nascent alternative political narratives emerging.

And exactly what could such narratives possibly be?

The most obvious answer is encouraging truly multi-racial politics and political parties.

However, our record thus far on this score is anything but inspiring or encouraging.

The reason why multi-racial politics is having such a hard time making headway is, perhaps ironically, precisely why racially-based politics still holds such widespread appeal: multi-racialism is viewed by a good cross-section of Malaysians as merely a ruse or even a plot by those representing economically powerful minorities to gain a monopoly on power (political and economic) in the country.

If not true multi-racialism in politics, what then?

A national leader in the mould of Adenan Satem may be a pre-requisite stepping stone in a possibly slow, evolutionary process towards the eventual ideal of non-racial Malaysian politics.

As with Adenan, such a national leader must, almost out of the political necessity of the moment, emerge from a political party currently representing the majority racial group in the country.

Without political buy-in from the majority group, any national political leader espousing all-encompassing inclusiveness, as Adenan did, may not realistically prosper.

The nation, to be sure, faces grave perils, particularly in the economic sphere.

A global trade war rages as nations turn increasingly and worryingly insular and protectionist.

Our high national debt, despite being pared down, is a deadweight which we must do our utmost to break free.

Meanwhile, we may be staring the dreaded “middle-income trap” in the eye unless we can fairly quickly find new
economic drivers that afford us the leap to high-income-nation status.

We can thus ill-afford being stuck in the rut of endless political navel-gazing, held hostage to a narrative which cries out for some serious updating, at minimum.

The world will otherwise likely just pass us by. We either sink or swim together, as Adenan reminded us.

So, who is that Adenan-like national leader to calmly carry us forward?

Irony of ironies, it may be the one who acted as the midwife to New Malaysia. Yes, Dr Mahathir. But, of course, we all know that he is 94 years old. A Malaysian Dilemma indeed!

By John Teo.

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Promote unity because you want to, not for incentives, says Dr M

Monday, October 21st, 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: Make it a Bangsa Malaysia because you believe in it, not because the government gives you tax-free exemption for the idea, says Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

He said Malaysians are too dependent on subsidies for everything, even when promoting national unity among themselves.

“If we want unity, the people must show it and not because the money is given to you to show it.

“It is always the same in Malaysia; everything you want to do, the government must do something.

“If you really feel that this country should only have one nationality, then people should be passionate about it, not because the government gives some tax-free incentives etc.

“Everybody is talking about subsidies. Without subsidies, this country will not work. I think it is about time we forget about subsidies and start thinking about our objectives as being honourable and good, and then work towards it,” said Dr Mahathir.

He said this at a question and answer session at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISI) Praxis Conference 2019 on Monday (Oct 21) here.

He further pointed out that Malaysia is unique, as it is unlike any other multiracial countries.

“We are not like the other multiracial countries where they have many races, but they are not considered multiracial, because they have one language, one culture and they then will root for their own adopted countries.

“In Malaysia, we choose to retain our past, and we not only want to retain that but see physical proof that we are from somewhere else and because of that, we allow in the setting up of schools that are non-national. We are quite generous to listen to the people,” said Dr Mahathir.

He was responding to a question from the floor on why the past two national budgets did not have an tax-exemptions for national unity efforts.

KUALA LUMPUR: Make it a Bangsa Malaysia because you believe in it, not because the government gives you tax-free exemption for the idea, says Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

He said Malaysians are too dependent on subsidies for everything, even when promoting national unity among themselves.

“If we want unity, the people must show it and not because the money is given to you to show it.

“It is always the same in Malaysia; everything you want to do, the government must do something.

“If you really feel that this country should only have one nationality, then people should be passionate about it, not because the government gives some tax-free incentives etc.

“Everybody is talking about subsidies. Without subsidies, this country will not work. I think it is about time we forget about subsidies and start thinking about our objectives as being honourable and good, and then work towards it,” said Dr Mahathir.

He said this at a question and answer session at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISI) Praxis Conference 2019 on Monday (Oct 21) here.

He further pointed out that Malaysia is unique, as it is unlike any other multiracial countries.

“We are not like the other multiracial countries where they have many races, but they are not considered multiracial, because they have one language, one culture and they then will root for their own adopted countries.

“In Malaysia, we choose to retain our past, and we not only want to retain that but see physical proof that we are from somewhere else and because of that, we allow in the setting up of schools that are non-national. We are quite generous to listen to the people,” said Dr Mahathir.

He was responding to a question from the floor on why the past two national budgets did not have an tax-exemptions for national unity efforts.

By Zakiah Koya.

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Multiculturalism is our greatest asset

Sunday, October 20th, 2019

IT has been 62 years since independence but many are still ignorant that it was the compromise or “historic bargain” among all races that brought our independence. One needs to wind back the clock to understand the present scenario.

Malaysians at large do not seem to understand the position of the Malays in the country.

The accusation that Malays were pendatang like the Chinese and Indians is preposterous. Before the Chinese and Indians arrived in Malaya in big numbers from the early 20th century, the British had already been dealing with the Malay rulers.

Treaties signed with rulers recognised local Malays as native inhabitants and guaranteed their protections vis-à-vis the non-Malays.

As Tunku Abdul Rahman said, “The Malay’s only chance of keeping their identity in this country alive is to insist on the retention of their inherent rights guaranteed by the Federation of Malaya Agreement, by treaties made between the British Government and the Rulers”.

Before World War II, both Indians and Chinese had not yet even developed permanent interests with the country.

The Indians tended to sympathise with developments in India. The Central Indian Association of Malaya, formed in 1937, purportedly to champion the interests of all Indian immigrant communities, was evidently India-oriented.

During World War II, plantation workers volunteered to Subash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army for Indian independence.

The Malayan (now Malaysian) Indian Congress (MIC) was formed to take up Bose’s call for bolstering patriotic sentiment among Indians in Southeast Asia.

As for the Chinese, their struggle during the Emergency led to the formation of the Malayan (now Malaysian) Chinese Association (MCA), which was primarily concerned with the social welfare of the community.

However, many today are not aware of the help rendered by the Malay rulers to settle the Chinese in new villages on lands reserved for and owned by the Malays. These lands eventually became permanent possession of the Chinese who used it to improve their socio-economic status. Meanwhile, the Malays were suffering in the kampungs.

During the 1955 federal elections, non-Malay members of the Alliance won largely because of political support from the Malays. Tunku in his speech over Radio Malaya on April 22, 1956, said: “17 non-Malay candidates were returned by an electorate the vast majority of whom were Malays and without the loss of a single seat”.

It was based on this mutual understanding that the three races cooperated to finally achieve independence in 1957.

There was also a gentlemanly understanding that whatever enjoyed by the non-Malays under the British will be retained by the independent government. This was clearly stated by Tunku in a speech to the Federal Legislative Council on July 10, 1957: “A formula agreed upon by which it was decided that in considering the rights of the various people, no attempt must be made to reduce such rights which they have enjoyed in the past. As a result you find written in the constitution rights of various peoples they have enjoyed in the past and new rights accorded to new people whom it was the intention to win over into the fold of the Malayan Nation”.

It is pertinent to also register this remark by Tunku: “Under the changes visualised by the new constitution, the Malays were prepared within reason to share those rights with others who owe loyalty to this country. I must ask non-Malays to be fair and be considerate and not to make unreasonable demands, for it is well to remember that no natives of any country in the world have given away so much as the Malays have done. No natives have been friendly to immigrant people as the Malays have been. Nobody need have any fear as to their future well-being in independent Malaya”.

However, in recent years, non-Malays fear there is an agenda to deny significant aspects of their heritages in order to highlight Malay and Islamic elements.

The teaching of jawi in school is the latest contention, but it has its own history which also saw compromises.

When the country got its independence, Alliance party decided to make Malay the national language and the scripts used are jawi and rumi. Tunku could have insisted on jawi but he opted for both. For him rumi could be easily learnt by the non-Malays and they are used to writing roman characters.

He felt this is one of the ways to encourage the non-Malays to learn the language.

The international scenario too was taken into consideration. Indonesia had decided to use Malay as its official language and to use rumi only. Turkey is another Muslim country that has recognised the rumi script.

Non-Malays also find their historical heritages inadequately highlighted in secondary school history textbooks, museums, archives and other cultural domains.

This was surely not what Tunku would have wanted. As rightly pinpointed by Prof Abu Talib Ahmad from Universiti Sains Malaysia in his work Museums, History and Culture in Malaysia, “Islam did not displace Indian or indigenous elements;

the latter have become part of Malay society. In fact, many non–Islamic elements survived the post-Lembah Bujang period well into the 20th century, although from 1979 onwards there were efforts to purify Malay culture as advocated by various quarters, notably religious officials and Malay scholars”.

Before independence, the British had felt the history of the country was a reflection of all communities and not of one particular race.

It is within this context that Malaysians should understand the existence of vernacular schools.

Article 152 of the Federal Constitution clearly provides the constitutional provision for mother tongue education: no person is prohibited from teaching and learning his own mother-tongue; every person has the right to use his own mother-tongue for non-official purposes and; the government has the right to preserve and sustain the use and study of the mother-tongue of any other ethnic minority communities. Why then is the existence of vernacular schools criticised as a disuniting factor?

However, since independence, vernacular schools have been unfairly treated in terms of budget allocation and priorities in planning and policy.

The Chinese community has been taking care of Chinese schools without much financial assistance from the government, relying on donations and other resources. Dr Kua Kia Soong, a proponent of vernacular schools, rightly said that it is the Chinese who have been contributing in subsidising Malaysian education.

What is not known is that 100,000 non-Chinese students are attending 1,350 Chinese primary schools. These schools are nurturing productive human resources for the country. It is therefore regrettable there is petty name-calling of Chinese educationists.

In the case of Tamil schools, it is very unfortunate that higher allocation only began from 2008.

The allocations under Malaysia plans from 1990 until 2010 were low (within the range of RM10-50 million).

It was only in 2008 that the government allocated RM440 million for the period 2008-2012.

In 2000, 50pc of the total 523 Tamil schools were built of wood and lacked basic facilities.

The low level of performance among Tamil school students and high level of dropouts could be associated with the social problems faced by the community. This should not happen in a country that has been upholding inclusive development since 1957.

It is vital for non-Malays to understand the historical position of the Malays and for the Malays to understand that the non-Malays have contributed in equal measure to the building of the Malaysian nation.

As rightly pointed out by Sir Gerald Templer, the British high commissioner when he launched the Malaysian Historical Society in 1959, “a nation which does not look with pride upon its past can never look forward with confidence towards its future”.

Prior to independence, all races had also participated in events organised by the British without harbouring any ill-feelings.

Racial harmony was considered to be Malaya’s most precious heritage. Multiculturalism is still our greatest asset. We should continue to nurture and celebrate it harmoniously.

by Associate Professor Dr Sivachandralingam Sundara Raja, heads the Department of History, University of Malaya.

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Focus on eradicating poverty, not causing disunity, says Bersatu leader

Friday, October 4th, 2019
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia disciplinary board chairman Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas says political bickering and backbiting will only distract Putrajaya from addressing the issue of poverty. PIC BY INTAN NUR ELLIANA ZAKARIA

LAWYER and veteran politician Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas stressed the importance of the people’s economy and wellbeing for any nation to progress.

“Economy, economy, economy,” he said in an interview with the New Straits Times, when asked on the three things that any politician should focus on.

He said political bickering and backbiting between the government and the opposition would only distract Putrajaya from its main focus, which was to eliminate poverty and boost the economy.

Citing the recent United Nation’s report on Malaysia’s poverty rate, he said it was high time the government had a clearer picture of the situation in the country.

“Last Ramadan, I went to visit my village and I was shocked to see that there were poor people there.

“That’s the reality on the ground, and this include Sabah and Sarawak.

“I agree with the UN’s report that we have understated our poverty problem.

“We cannot have Malaysians who do not have enough to eat because it will only give the impression that we are a poor country.

“This (eradicating poverty) should be the focus instead of fighting religious and racial issues.

“How is playing up the drama helping our people?”

In August, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, disputed Malaysia’s assertion that it had nearly eliminated poverty, saying that official figures were vastly inaccurate and did not reflect realities on the ground.

Najmuddin, who is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia disciplinary board chairman, urged the government to resolve the income disparity to elevate the poor into the middle-income earners’ bracket.

Asserting that the poor were mainly the Bumiputeras, he said anyone who spoke up on empowering the Bumiputeras should not be labelled as racists.

“The government must focus on the bigger picture. The macro, not the micro.

“All political parties should work together on eradicating poverty and see it as a problem because it is real and depressing.

“Stop playing the racial card or asking (Prime Minister) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to step down.”

He said this in response to former PKR deputy president Syed Husin Ali, who recently called for Dr Mahathir’s resignation, allegedly accusing the Bersatu chairman of being power hungry.

Najmuddin said as an older person and experienced politician, Syed Husin should have known better than playing up sentiments that could divide Malaysians.

“We have people who barely have enough to eat and here we are playing divisive politics.

“Are you prioritising politics or helping people to deal with problems?

“You have to have focus. Be patient and let the people in power do their job. Enough with the politicking. You can’t expect Dr Mahathir to perform a miracle in one year.”


Najmuddin said the government should focus on improving food security as a way to boost the economy.

At the moment, he said, efforts being made in the area were underwhelming.

He said a proper plan should be in place to get the younger generation involved in food production, such as farming.

“If you go to villages today, you will see that there are mostly old people around (doing agricultural activities) because the youngsters have migrated to towns and cities to earn a living.

“Our food production is receding because the old people are not able to look after their farms anymore.”

He said initiatives to resolve food production issues should take precedence over short-term economic solutions.

“We import almost everything, including sugar, flour, beef and salt.

“The only things we don’t import are poultry and cooking oil. But you can’t eat cooking oil.”

Najmuddin cautioned that issues surrounding food security needed to be resolved soon, as the people could face a serious problem if any untoward events occurred.

“Imagine a war erupting. What will happen? Will we be starving like how it was during the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945)?”

As the 2020 Budget draws near, he expressed hope that the government would address the people’s issues by providing more jobs instead of handouts.

“It boils down to the adage, ‘if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime’.

“There must be a workable economic structural model to help them boost their income, because by doing so we can ensure that the people can be proud of earning their own money.

“The begging syndrome (through handouts) is embarrassing. Islam teaches us to stand on our two feet and work hard.”


During the interview, the former Umno Disciplinary Committee member said his biggest concern was disunity among Malaysians, adding that politicians who continued to play the race card would destroy the country.

Najmuddin billed the recent merging of opposition parties at the Umno-Pas Himpunan Penyatuan Ummah as unhealthy, adding that the alliance of the two strange bedfellows could signal a “dangerous game”.

A week after the event, it was announced that four universities and one non-governmental organisation would hold a congress to promote unity among the Malays, called Kongres Maruah Melayu (Malay Dignity Congress).

With Dr Mahathir scheduled to officiate the event at the Melawati Stadium in Shah Alam this Sunday, Umno leaders had claimed that the congress was an attempt at copying the Umno-Pas initiative.

When asked about this, Najmuddin said: “Let’s not play fire with fire by saying I am more Malay than you.

“Let’s just fight poverty and make that our priority.”

He urged Malaysians to steer clear of racial issues and rejoice in the fact that the nation was built on the tenets of unity.

“We are in this together.”

“I appeal to all politicians and the people to stop playing the race and religious cards because you will doom us all.”

He recalled the May 13, 1969 race riot tragedy, which happened when he was a student.

“The younger generation did not go through May 13, 1969. I remember because I was a student when it happened.

“It was during the semester break.

“During the riots, I was in Ipoh. I remember taking my father’s shotgun to go to sleep at night so that I could protect my family. It was terrifying and we were living in fear.

“Please don’t let this happen again. Stop all the blame game. We are all Malaysians.

“We are polite people and are not racists.

By Arfa Yunus.

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