In the land of milk and honey

pic by TMR FILE

NOW, presumably, that the ants have crawled out of the systems of those who were triggered by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s analogy about chopsticks vis-à-vis race relations, it is probably an opportune time to address the elephant in the room.

In the first place, it is doubtful those who were clamouring over each other to give their two cents worth had bothered to listen to the interview where Dr Mahathir uttered those words that offended them.

What came out of them were none other than attempts to prove how “Malaysian” they were, from among the liberals and Malay apologists, and those keen to prove they were not racist and by labelling Dr Mahathir as one.

While such flippant reactions are expected of them, self-styled intellectuals like former Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik whom Dr Mahathir had entrusted with the coveted position could have done more to the debate but chose to be no better, offering a facile mock instead of wit.

Then again, many would remember his fame was glib, of black shoes not more.

Whether Dr Mahathir’s reply was satisfactory or otherwise, the question leading to the reaction of Indonesia’s assimilated population and why not Malaysia.

It is an issue that continues to haunt Malaysians because until today, there is no real solution offered other than seeing politicians and opinion makers playing to the gallery without any substance.

To expect Malaysia to be like Indonesia and Thailand is an attempt to turn back the clock and may cause a lot of damage to achieve the objective.

Forget about assimilation, even efforts to teach tolerance and acceptance were rejected, and a good example would have been the Sekolah Wawasan or Vision School which was mooted by Dr Mahathir when he was prime minister the first round.

The idea was to have all the three schools — national schools, Chinese and Indian schools — in one compound, intending for them to interact with each other during breaks and sports, while still attending their own school of choice. That was outrightly objected to and ended up only as a concept.

A friend took some pictures of buntings hanging along Jalan Kuching and Jalan Ipoh, which were totally in Chinese characters except for the word Freehold, RM580k and the phone number. He showed it to another friend who promptly asked if the picture was taken in Shenzhen.

Such blatant disregard of national policies and disrespect for the national language contributes further to the divide. It then leads to the issue of why can’t non-Chinese learn the Chinese language.

This is used as a factor to justify employment being offered to only Chinese-speaking candidates, even by local companies operating locally, on grounds that their clients are mostly Chinese.

It is actually quite a weird reasoning as shouldn’t these clients, being Malaysians, be able to speak Bahasa Melayu.

The justification is then taken one level further, that these clients are Chinese from China. Surely these tourists will figure their way in communicating as they do when they travel to other parts of the world where Chinese is not spoken.

And local, if exposed to such clients will eventually learn the language and diversity taking its natural course.

It sounds good to claim to subscribe to the philosophy of unity in diversity and it is not much different than what Indonesia’s national motto is, the Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, but it has a singular, leading pillar to it which is Javanese/Indonesian that supersedes all other language and cultures.

Present day Indonesia allows for other cultures and languages to be practised privately, but not for public consumption.

What is missing in present day Malaysia is that while on paper everyone seems to subscribe to the idea that the national identity is the Malay language and culture, it is accepted grudgingly and any attempt to strengthen it is met suspiciously.

Take the example of Jawi scripts that was being proposed as a minor addition to the study of Bahasa Melayu. It was opposed vehemently that, in the end, despite making several compromises in reducing the number of pages to making it an elective, it was withdrawn.

The opposition is that it was linked to Arabic and hence an effort of Islamisation. But Jawi is the script of the Malays which was deeply rooted in the Malay empires and kingdoms. It is no different in terms of its cultural values as the Chinese and Indian scripts which are used in vernacular schools.

The present-day Romanised scripts used for the learning of Bahasa Melayu is not the Malay script and only popularised during the British colonisation.

What makes it worse is any attempt to urge that Malay become the central pillar of the nation’s philosophy; pursue policies of rights and privileges; would be met with derision and those raising them would be deemed racist and derogatorily dismissed as Ketuanan Melayu, which is intentionally interpreted as Malay supremacists.

Firstly, the term Ketuanan Melayu needs to properly defined and Malay Sovereignty had been described as apt.

That being the definition, it should then only belong to the Rulers. The non-Malays should be able to accept it as surely no one would dispute that a Ruler in Malaysia, including the King, can only be a Malay.

And surely most of the leading non-Malays who had accepted titles and honourifics from the Malay Rulers would accept the Ketuanan as how readily they observed the royal protocols of addressing the Rulers as Tuanku, the equivalent of my lord, an acknowledgement of his sovereignty.

If that is accepted, then the debate of whether a Malay is Malay or Malaysian first does not arise, as a Malay being a Malaysian is a given.

But raising issue about Malay or Malayness will draw rebuke and accusations of being racist, and these shouts effectively drown the issue and strike fear on anyone who even dared to think about it.

And tying up pursuits for Malay privileges and rights as an act of supremacy is totally off tangent because these provisions are extended as a leg up. In other words, it is an admittance of being lesser and lacking, hence the need for extra support.

It cannot be used against them just because some of the recipients had abused these privileges. They are crooks and cheats. Otherwise, it is an affirmative action.

Racism can only stem from a sense of superiority, that one’s culture, language and race is better than the other, hence the refusal to accept the national identity and philosophy.

But victim playing can effectively hide the truth.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.