Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Merdeka! Stand up and be counted, Malaysia; Stop feeding rats and racists, What the NEP meant and means? Rethink the spirit of Merdeka

Stand up and be counted, Malaysia

BRAVE NEW WORLD
By AZMI SHAROM

It is strange that in the 21st century, we are still having to face the problem of institutionalised racism.

"Article 153 of the Federal Constitution is seen as the holy grail for those who hold this view"

OVER the past week or so, there have been some developments in our country which are more disturbing than usual.

In particular, the two cases of alleged racist remarks by school heads; the accusations that Penang mosques have replaced the Yang di-Pertuan Agong with the Chief Minister’s name in their prayers; and the continued insistence that Article 153 of the Constitution is equal to an inalienable right that could not be questioned.

These events are interrelated and it seems to me that they indicate that there is a battle of ideology going on in the country now.

On one side is the idea that a person’s ethnicity and religion entitles him to be treated better than anyone else who is different. On the other side is the idea that equality is an aspiration that is both noble and necessary for nation building.

It is strange that in the 21st century we are still having to face the problem of institutionalised racism.

Looking at our history, one can see why this has occurred. The combination of race-based politics and poorly interpreted constitutional provisions have meant that the idea of racial and religious superiority has been allowed to grow and become the norm rather than something undesirable and out of the ordinary.

How else can one explain the possibility that teachers, the very people to whom we entrust the education of our children, can have such warped values and also have the gall to express those views publicly?

How else can we explain the near rabid attack on the Penang Chief Minister for something which he and the state religious department have vehemently denied and in fact would have been insane to attempt?

Let’s analyse this one step at a time. When the dominant political parties in this country do not have any political ideology to speak of and are instead, based on the principle that each race-based component has a duty to safeguard the interest of its community, what one has is a recipe for the kind of policy and rhetoric that divides rather than unites.

Historically, one can see the reasons why the politics of the nation was forged in this way. It was a necessary evil in the face of the divide-and-rule policy by the British to show that even when separate, the three major communities of the nation can still work together politically.

However, it is an unsustainable model and what started life as a fairly rosy example of racial cooperation too easily descended into crude racialist type politics.

Which is why the early aspirations that our founding fathers had for a society treated with equality has now been all but buried by the idea that one race is superior to others and in fact is the only race with any right to be here in Malaysia.

This is because in the battlefields of politics, it is easiest to appeal to base racialist emotions, especially when without those types of ideas, a party based on race will have no collateral to work with.

In this kind of political atmosphere, it is of no surprise that what has been forgotten is that the basis of this nation was one of justice and equality. And the document that is meant to protect that, the Federal Constitution, has been misinterpreted to the extent that there is no longer any trace of this aspiration in the mainstream discourse of the day.

Let us be absolutely clear on this matter, the Constitution does give powers to the government to take affirmative action and it does acknowledge the fact that Islam has a special place in the public life of the nation.

What it does not intend to do however is create a perpetual system of ethnic-based favourable treatment nor does it advocate the idea that all other religious beliefs must be subservient to Islam.

However, instead of this reasonable position, what we have today is the idea that affirmative action for Malays is unquestionable and to be continued in perpetuity becoming the norm.

This cannot be further from the truth as there are no legal justification for it at all.

Article 153 of the Federal Constitution is seen as the holy grail for those who hold this view. However, if we examine the provision closely we will notice two things.

Firstly, affirmative action is not a Malay right. Article 153 does not endow a right. What it does is to merely give government the power to take affirmative action despite the overarching ideal of equality which is enshrined in Article 8 of the Constitution.

To support this contention, we see that Article 8 clearly states that all citizens in this country are equal except for situations specifically provided for in the Constitution. Those “specific provisions” are found in Article 153 and there are not many of them.

They include the power to establish quotas for the civil service, permits and licences, scholarships and education.

Therefore anything other than these areas should not be subjected to affirmative action.

Furthermore, any affirmative action has to be reasonable. The idea of what is reasonable must surely be open to research and debate otherwise there will always be the risk of abuse and wastage of resources.

This being the case, although questioning the existence of such a power to have affirmative action is moot, discussion on the efficacy of affirmative action policies and programmes surely is not.

The way the discourse is today, and not merely by the racialist fringe but by mainstream politicians in power, is that even the implementation of Article 153 is not to be questioned at all.

This is surely wrong based both on the meaning of the Constitution as well as the principle held by the founding fathers that Article 153 was an unfortunate but necessary aberration from the ideals of equality and that it was to be used not in perpetuity.

With these kinds of distortion of law, is it any wonder then that we still get people actually classifying whole swathes of the citizenry as having no right to be here?

Is it any wonder then that a crazy accusation against a Chief Minister whose government has given twice as much money to the Islamic bodies in the state than the previous administration, can give rise to the belief that he is a threat to the faith?

If this country is to have any future as a true nation, the time has come for those who believe in the ideals of equality, ideals which were held by the political founding fathers of the country as well as the traditional Rulers of that time, to stand up and be counted.

To not be cowed by the bigots and to say that this is our country and it stands on noble humanitarian ideals, not opportunistic racialist thinkin

Stop feeding rats and racists


ALONG THE WATCHTOWER
By M. VEERA PANDIYAN

Failure to act promptly and appropriately against racism will only encourage more racists in the country.

"Over the past two decades, our leaders have shown their inability to mend old tears and prevent new frays"

IN five days, we will mark 53 years of Merdeka but frankly, how many Malaysians are in the mood to celebrate? The political milieu is sickening; no thanks to the raving racists and their apologists who help fan the flames of hatred.

It is the season of the Hungry Ghosts when the gates of hell are supposedly cast open for the spirits of the dead to enter the realm of the living, according to believers.

The real scare, however, is not from any such spirits but from rats and the filthy folks among us who help the rodents spread leptospirosis.

The water-borne disease caused by bacteria in rats’ urine has already killed more than 10 people, the latest being a 17 year-old boy from Kedah who swam in a river.

Parks located near rivers and waterfalls have barred to members of the public who have also been warned against wanton dumping of rubbish (which the rats feed on) and wading in flood waters.

But while the threat that the rats pose can ne handled with medication, the other diseases that’s really gnawing at the very fabric of the country – the scourge of racism – is a far more difficult one to handle.

Over the past two decades, our leaders have shown their inability to mend old tears and prevent new frays. The latest flare-up involves two school heads.

The first principal, who is from SMK Tunku Abdul Rahman Putrain Kulai, Johor allegedly called the non-Malays penumpang (passengers) during a school assembly to launch Merdeka celebrations.

The headmaster of SMK Bukit Selambau in Kedah allegedly accused Chinese students of being insensitive to the Muslims for eating in the school compound during the month of Ramadan by telling them “to return to China” if they could not respect the cultures of others.

Politicians from both sides of the fence have called for disciplinary action if they are found to be guilty.

At the directive of Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Education director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom has set up a panel to probe the matter, although he initially said that it was a “misunderstanding”.

About 20 police reports have been lodged against Siti Inshah, who is currently on leave and the case is being investigated under Section 504 of the Penal Code for provocation, which carries a maximum imprisonment of two years, a fine, or both.

But the Kulai school principal is getting her fair share of support from a group of vocal bloggers who believe that she has done nothing wrong.

She’s also creating a stir on Facebook through a fan page with more than 1,900 people supporting her. A tit-for-tat page against her had more than 400 fans as of early Wednesday.

The strongest response from someone within the government has come from Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz. Kudos to him for saying that there should be “zero tolerance” for racist educators, irrespective of where they are from.

“If it had been my teacher, I would have smacked his (sic) face. You are a teacher and you are supposed to be teaching us right things but yet, you talk like this,” he was quoted as saying by a portal.

But as Nazri noted, the Government’s failure to respond quickly and appropriately on racism has only encouraged more of such acts.

However, how can it respond when many government servants and agencies are not sensitive to the feelings of the people and have little understanding of 1Malaysia concept.

As in the case of the rats, we need to stop feeding this source of national debility and discord.

A friend of mine who is known to be a dedicated teacher, underwent a course (it is compulsory as a prerequisite for upgrades in salary and promotions) in June and returned utterly devastated.

She said there was no emphasis on national unity throughout the course, only a sense of intimidation and being “put in her place” through the emphasis of “Ketuanan Melayu” and the unwritten social contract between the races.

In her email she wrote: “The epitome was in the last module where a video was screened with a tinge of racial slurs, depicting the fall of the Islamic empire and the building of churches, Hindraf, communist memorials in Chinese cemeteries and finally a Muslim extremist killing a child. There was a weeping voice-over asking:
 “What else do you want?”

What right-thinking Malaysians want is quite simple: mutual respect, a sense of fairness and acceptance that all of us belong to this blessed country.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this observation by H. G. Wells: Our true nationality is mankind.

What the NEP meant and means?

Question Time
By P. GUNASEGARAM

We need more debate and less rhetoric in ironing out the real issues of affirmative action.

WITH all the brouhaha over Malay and non-Malay rights and the relentless rhetoric of race-based politics coming to the fore in the economic arena yet again, it is time to revisit the tenets of the original New Economic Policy (NEP) and separate fact from fiction.

Sadly, the major problem with the NEP is that the 30% equity target for Malays and other bumiputras became the very visible and de facto criterion for measurement of the very success of the NEP.

The other contentious part was quotas for all manner of things and preference given to bumiputra companies and individuals when it is related to procurements and contracts from the Government, often as a means to achieve that 30% target.

Both of these were administrative measures and targets and did not even form part of the policy aims of the NEP.

Very few people, if any, are likely to disagree that the broad twin aims of the NEP, formulated in the wake of the racial riots of 1969, were to eradicate poverty irrespective of race and to eliminate the identification of race with economic function.

The first aim, according to government figures, was very much achieved with hardcore poverty being virtually eradicated. And there have been major strides made in terms of Malays and bumiputras, and jobs with them making major inroads into all areas.

These are achievements of the NEP which no one can deny, although there are valid arguments and concerns such as whether the poverty line figure is a realistic one and whether there is too high representation of Malays in Government services even as they made inroads into the private sector.

While no one questions the twin aims of the NEP — everyone, including the Opposition, is in agreement — the problem is with the administrative measures that have been put in place.

These are being challenged by all sides: some sides want more and some less, some want them to be dismantled and others want them to not only be continued but reinforced.

So, let’s agree on the aims – and move on from there.
Thus, it will not be seditious if someone questions the 30% bumiputra equity target or says the measurement criteria are seriously flawed.

If someone said quotas should be reconsidered given the progress that Malays have made in some areas, that should not be interpreted as questioning Malay rights. Under the Constitution, the Government has the right to undertake affirmative action provided it is justified and it has the right not to.

The NEP (technically, the NEP has expired but the present policy still relies on the original NEP) and its future form will benefit substantially from the right kind of debate about it without emotions clouding the issues.
But there are some bodies and people who are bent on bringing in emotions precisely because it will cloud the issues. They must not be allowed to have their way.

Let’s take the 30% equity target for instance. It cannot be taken as the sole or even the most important part of NEP achievement because there are other things which are far more important – poverty eradication and racial balance in employment to name just two.

There is therefore nothing wrong in asking that this target be reviewed so that we can have better measurement of Malay and bumiputra participation in the economy and to avoid all the perils of patronage that come with this.

The same applies to quotas and bumiputra discounts for high-end property.
It is because the NEP has done so much in narrowing the gap between the races that there is a need to review some of its administrative targets to ensure that the wrong people do not benefit from it.

Bumiputras who have already made it don’t need quotas and affirmative action anymore. But others might.
But we must expect that some of those who will lose their so-called privileges will fight a rearguard action to preserve them, for that’s a way to quick riches when abused. These are the people who will benefit most by obscuring the real issues under a cloud of emotional rhetoric.

The time has come for all Malaysians to see beyond these and do what is right for everyone. Help everyone who is needy and if any particular race is more needy than another, it will automatically be helped more too.
Move to a needs-based system and you eliminate racial posturing and fighting just like that.

> Managing editor P Gunasegaram believes too many sins are committed in the name of race.

Rethink the spirit of Merdeka

Putik Lada
By H. R. Dipendra

Merdeka must now include independence of thought, ability and nation building in a globalised environment where each and every one are important stakeholders.

THE Merdeka month, at best, can be described as an opportunity for Malaysians to remember and understand the events leading up to Merdeka Day.

It usually encompasses the role played by various politicians, the forgotten heroes and culminating in a re-enactment of the raising of the right hand by our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

To further instil a sense of patriotism, Malaysians are exhorted to drape buildings with the Jalur Gemilang, wave mini-flags or fly these atop cars at every conceivable opportunity.

To top it all, Malaysians get to enjoy various heartwarming advertisements extolling what a proud nation we are, and how we can all live harmoniously under one roof. No doubt, the Merdeka message is clear.

Then, it is back to business as usual.
This begs the question: What should celebrating Merdeka be all about? Hasn’t 53 years of independence brought about any other reflection?

Would it be presumptuous to suggest that we are an independent modern developed nation given that we have mostly all the physical attributes normally associated with a modern developed nation?

What if we were to explore deeper into the social and cultural fabric of current Malaysian society, would we then be brave enough to suggest that we are truly independent and modern?

Given that time and again we have this fascination to revert to the history of Merdeka, it would seem, albeit an unfair one, that our major achievement after 53 years of independence is simply managing to emancipate ourselves from the British.

My consternation is really about how we have continuously failed to realise that Merdeka is more than just a mere physical event to be celebrated.

It should be about Malaysia and a celebration of what the nation is about and not what it was. No one really celebrates Malaysia for its thoughts, aspirations and assimilation of a nation.

I realise the value of the historical events leading up to Merdeka day. But I would be failing as a patriot if I do not recognise that we have somehow lost our way in making us a proud nation.

Politics and socio-economic matters have become fraught with divisions. Perhaps the politicians are too embarrassed to admit this, but we should take heart that something is being done about it.

The noble initiatives put forward by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in making us a high-income country and his concept of 1Malaysia are indeed positive starts.

But it is disappointing to note that many of his initiatives have been met with derision and been reduced to sloganeering.

This should not be the case at all when we should be doing all that we can to make Malaysia a proud and strong nation.

It is easy to get trapped in a deep racial and social malaise.
A good starting point would be to do away with the prevalent siege mentality, a mentality where we feel it is a case of us vs them.

We cannot be constantly afraid of our own shadows as doing so will only make us a nation of cynics and sceptics.

The time is ripe for all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion and persuasion to embrace a new thinking about what Merdeka is all about.

We have come a long way from being reliant on mining and agriculture.
The economic growth in the 1990s bore testament to that. Since the Asian Financial Crisis, we have struggled to create a value and niche for ourselves.

The fact that we are abundantly blessed with natural resources should not lull us into a false sense of wealth as ever so often this can be viewed as a curse because it impedes us from actually moving out of our comfort zone and casting a strong future for the coming generations.

My Merdeka Day message is simply that we have to confront our shadows, banish them and forge ahead. This country needs character as it strives to be independent.

As Abraham Lincoln once said: “You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.”

We simply must not be held back by prejudices and the wanton desires of small-minded people that only seek to gain from other’s misfortune.

Merdeka must now include independence of thought, ability and nation building in a globalised environment. It must include how we can all contribute to nation-building, how we treat each other and how kind we are to our animals.

It is a time to recognise that all of us are important stakeholders and not merely squatters or rent-seekers.
Malaysians know deep down that there is no nation like ours. As much as some of us feel that the grass is greener on the other side, nothing beats the lifestyle choices offered in Malaysia.

It is time that Malaysians once and for all decide how we want this country to be shaped in the years ahead.

If the Germans are known for their automotive technology, the French for their food, the Italians for la dolce vita (the sweet life) and the South Koreans for their embracing of the Internet, what should Malaysia be known for?

Is it not time that we define what Malaysia should stand for?

> The writer is a member of the National Young Lawyers Committee of the Bar Council. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, please visit www.malaysianbar.org.my





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