Saturday, September 27, 2008

Let racial harmony prevail - Malaysiakini

Let racial harmony prevail even without Race Relations Act

THIS letter published in an online portal caught my attention this week. Let me share the writer’s views with you all as I find it interesting and worth a discussion here.

“It puzzles me to see the government’s efforts to improve race relations through the enactment of new legislation. While the goals of the proposed law are noble, we must not forget that creating a harmonious multi-ethnic multi-religious society begins with equality.

“Recognising that all Malaysians are created equal, that all our forefathers had toiled and bled for our nation and therefore enjoying equitable rights in Malaysia is fundamental to achieving the stated goal.

“Secondly, value-based education as espoused by former president of India, APJ Abdul Kalam who visited Malaysia recently, beginning at homes and continued in schools, reinforcing that all of us are Malaysians with different cultural backgrounds but equitable rights in this country, is essential.

“We also need political will to ensure that race-based politics, ethno-discriminative laws and practices are abolished. For example, I have primary-school going cousins who are made to feel the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims from a young age.

“Even the school time table is adjusted for Muslims and non-Muslims and I have difficulty answering to their numerous ‘Why is that so?’ questions. I particularly remember a Standard 6 cousin of mine who was ecstatic when she found out that she and her best friend, a Malay girl, had both signed up for a school camping trip.

“However, upon arriving at the pick-up point, the teacher announced that non-Muslims were not allowed to participate in the trip. How can we promote race relations when children are denied the opportunity to mix, even at such a tender age?

“For the record, there is no such thing as non-Muslims. There are however Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Taoists and others. We need to educate our young children, not insulate them from learning about other religions, cultural beliefs and practices. Remember, ignorance breeds danger.

“Until all Malaysians feel they have equal rights in this country and are taught to respect one another, to learn about each others cultural background and religion, enacting legislation to promote race relations would be futile.

“Politicians making grand announcements such as ‘Malaysians respect each other’ or ‘We are all equal’ will merely be spouting rhetoric, until all of us Malaysians actually feel that way. Sadly, that is not the case today.”

Isn’t it ironic that after 51 years of independence (45 years for Sarawak and Sabah) we now find it necessary to legislate laws in order to inculcate racial harmony among Malaysians?

Sad as it may be — it is true that race relations in our country is something that we can no longer be proud of, at least in Semenanjung Malaysia.

Call me a biased Sarawakian if you will, but isn’t it true that racial issues (or even religious issues) have never been a major problem in Sarawak. The last time I heard of murmurs of the racial kind was the drinking of ‘Ribena’ — depicted as the blood of a certain community. But understandably, that was during the heat of an election campaign many many years ago and after that, it was no longer heard nor made an issue.

Those who disagree with me, please relate a recent incident in Sarawak where a racial issue had gotten so ugly that warranted government intervention. Honestly, I can’t think of any.

I can agree totally with the two points brought up by the letter writer — one, that creating a harmonious multi-ethnic multi-religious society begins with equality and two, value-based education beginning at homes and continued in schools, reinforcing that all of us are Malaysians with different cultural backgrounds but equitable rights in this country, is essential.

Let us look at years gone by. During my school days in Kuching, there was no such thing as racial segregation of any kind. The writer’s narration that his primary-school going cousins are being made to feel the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims at such a young age is something unheard of during my time.

Indeed, having the Race Relations Act may not solve the fundamental issues at hand. It all boils down to our education system. A good education system must nurture in its students a desire to live in peace with people of different races and religion, and to contribute to national unity.

Back then, we were allowed to ‘roam’ freely, so to speak. There was freedom to choose between taking Mandarin or Malay (then known as Bahasa Kebangsaan) classes. And as ours was a Catholic school, even Malay students were given the option to choose Scriptures as a subject for a public examination. No one complained because it was clear that other than for academic purposes, there was no motive to convert anyone into any religion.

Above all, I think everything was okay because no rowdy, racist politicians of the kind you find today existed during that time. Yes, I blame racial tension in the country today solely on politicians — the kind who have no right to be in politics in the first place.

And I am truly concerned that some of these people are now involved as legislators in the process to enact the Race Relations Act. These politicians are the last people on earth who should be involved in the drafting of the proposed Act, as they should take 100 per cent blame for the current poor race relations in Malaysia. I believe readers are aware of the kind I’m referring to here. Honestly, I shudder at the thought of their involvement in the proposed legislation.

My solution to the strengthening of racial ties among Malaysians is actually very simple, yet a monumental task too.

It is incumbent upon all of us, young or old, to play our part in maintaining and improving racial harmony in our neighbourhoods, schools, universities, work places and in the public sphere. Seriously, there is no way we can depend on the Race Relations Act or any legislation to ensure racial ties among Malaysians are strengthened.

Yes, it is really up to us to let racial harmony prevail. No law can force us to do that.

(Comments can reach the writer at

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