Let cool heads prevail (NST)
THOSE of you who have been in Penang long enough can surely attest to the fact that racial unity is becoming extremely fragile. Truth be told, after the 2008 general election, there has been a marked increase in the number of street demonstrations in the country, something one never imagined would happen.
In Penang, almost any issue will be blown out of proportion and trigger a street protest, which threatens racial unity. In fact, the state has witnessed its fair share of people openly venting their frustration and rage at the DAP-led administration ever since it assumed power.
At its peak, one could see a street protest once every few months. For those who have lived through both the Barisan Nasional’s and the current state government’s reign, we dare say that life was much more peaceful before.
Over the past seven years, we have seen how the various segments of society took to the streets to defend the Malay traders, who they alleged, were discriminated upon over the illegal stalls issue.
Policemen at the entrance to the Komtar building in Penang after reports emerged on social media that Red-Shirt protesters would gather there to demonstrate over a proposal on the partial ban of loudspeakers at mosques and surau.
The sentiment they had played up then was that the so-called DAP Chinese government only demolished illegal stalls of Malay hawkers and not those belonging to the Chinese.
Then, there were the heinous attacks on the numerous religious houses in the state, with pork being thrown into the compound of the Telaga Air Mosque in Butterworth and a molotov cocktail being hurled into the compound of the Church of Assumption in Lebuh Farquahar on the island.
There was also the desecration of a Siamese Buddhist temple and a Hindu temple in Tanah Liat and Tasek Gelugor, both on the mainland, respectively.
During all those incidents, there had been repeated calls for all to keep calm in the face of those out to incite religious or racial clashes.
Recently, another issue — the proposed partial ban on the use of loudspeakers at mosques and surau except for the azan (call to prayer) and iqamah (prelude to the prayer) purposes — has once again put the state’s racial unity on edge.
The ban on the use of loudspeakers was stated in a leaked official letter from the Penang Mufti’s Department, dated Sept 1, to the state Islamic Religious Affairs Department, following the decision by the Penang Fatwa Committee.
The issue came to light after the letter found its way into social networking site, Facebook, recently. Since then, there have been allegations that the state government had something to do with the committee’s decision, although the state government had denied this.
At least 10 complaints had been registered with the state Islamic Religious Affairs Department on the use of loudspeakers in mosques and surau between January 2012 and May 2015.
Pas Permatang Pauh, which called for a review of the proposed ban, had said that the decision, if accepted, would result in counter-reactions. It also cautioned that the Malays may protest in future when the other religious communities organised open events which may disrupt the life of the people.
There were even rumours of a Red-Shirts rally, planned for last Friday, to oppose the proposed ban. It however did not take place, although there was heavy police presence together with the media and curious onlookers.
Penang Mufti Datuk Wan Salim Mohd Noor had assured that the proposed ban would not affect the sanctity of Islam and added that it was, in fact, in line with passages from the Quran and al-Sunnah.
Perlis had introduced a similar ban a few years ago. Former Perlis Mufti Dr Juanda Jaya had said that the practice of turning up the volume on the microphones, especially before dawn, went against the prophet’s teachings because it disturbs those still asleep.
There were also mixed reactions from the ulama themselves on the matter, with Perlis Mufti Dr Asri Zainul Abidin defending the proposal while Pahang Mufti Dr Abd Rahman Osman was against it.
The people should leave it to the wisdom of the ulama to come out with an amicable solution to the issue. Until then, let’s all remain calm and not further threaten the already extremely fragile racial unity, the very fabric on which the Pearl of the Orient and the nation, was built upon.
The leaders in the state, irrespective of their political affiliations, have a crucial role to play to ensure that unity among the people is preserved at all cost.
May cool heads prevail in this latest controversy and may we walk away from this storm fast enough.
Let cool heads prevail (STAR)
Malaysia cannot afford to be distracted by racial politics at this time and the thuggish behaviour of some lower level leaders has resulted in individuals fighting with fellow Malaysians and even thinking of taking on a giant.
OVER the last few years, I have had the opportunity to visit many primary schools, as part of my work in promoting the use of newspapers to learn English, in particular The Star’s Newspaper in Education programme.
This is also part of our corporate social responsibility outreach.
What struck me the most, when I show up at the Chinese primary schools, is the increasing number of non-Chinese students at such schools.
They include tudung-clad Malay pupils, Indians, the occasional Caucasian-looking kids and even a few with African parents. I have seen, with my own eyes, how the shape of these Chinese primary schools has transformed.
The teachers are just as multi-ethnic as well, which is quite a contrast to some national schools which have become predominantly mono-ethnic and even religious in nature.
If there are doubts over what I have said, then visits can be organised for our politicians to some of these schools. They can talk to the children and parents themselves to find out why they picked Chinese primary schools.
The reason is clear – parents want their children to be able to speak and write Chinese, besides Bahasa Malaysia and English. It is clearly an advantage to know an extra language.
The Chinese schools are also known for instilling discipline and maintaining standards, and their method of teaching mathematics is highly efficient.
But many Malaysians of my generation, who are now in their 50s and above, went to English medium schools.
I had my primary and secondary education in a Catholic school. My parents, although Chinese educated, insisted I had to go to an English medium school because it would help us in our future.
England was then the economic power house. Being proficient in English would determine our career prospects.
It was just pure economic consideration and my parents, both local born, had no sentiments with China or the Chinese language.
One of my three elder brothers was enrolled in a Chinese school but he did not do so well and his command of English was poor. It was enough for my father to make the decision.
Twenty years ago, I decided to send my daughter to the Puay Chai primary school in Petaling Jaya because my wife and I could see the emergence of China as the new super power.
English remained our medium of conversation at home and it would not be wrong to say that it was my daughter’s first language as well, despite her going to Puay Chai.
I cannot even write my name in Chinese and I remain the classic Yellow Banana – white inside and yellow outside – where I am more close to Western countries than China.
So, don’t even ask me to migrate to China – because I don’t have any relatives there and I won’t fit into mainland China. So, stop being ridiculous.
Again, sending my daughter to a Chinese primary school was made solely on economic reasons. Not because of racial sentiments.
Today, China has indeed become a super power and it would be extremely foolish for any country or any half-baked racist politician to pick a fight with China.
Malaysia remains China’s top trading partner among Asean’s 10 member nations despite the slowdown in the volume of trade in 2014.
Trade between Malaysia and China reached US$102bil (RM363.5bil), down 3.8% compared with an 11.8% hike registered in 2013, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs (GAC) recently.
Last year, trade between Malaysia and China hit a historic high of US$106bil (RM467bil) with the trade volume exceeding US$100bil (RM441bil).
Malaysia has been China’s largest Asean trading partner for six consecutive years since 2008, and is also China’s third biggest trading partner in Asia after Japan and South Korea.
The two nations pledged to increase bilateral trade to US$160bil (RM705bil) by 2017 after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s official visit to China in May last year.
Chinese tourists are certainly needed at this juncture, especially when our depreciating ringgit has made it easier and cheaper for foreigners to come. Tourism is our saviour.
We want to make the Chinese tourists, whose number has already dropped by 27%, feel welcome and appreciated in Malaysia.
The events of the past weeks have been damaging and they need to be stopped. China – and the rest of the world – is watching how we are handling this diplomatic hot potato with regard to the Chinese Ambassador’s remarks in Petaling Street. It must be diplomatically resolved and we do not need some of our nitwit politicians to worsen it.
Let’s be blunt. We need China but China does not really need us. We are just a small country but we have been lucky because of our historic ties and also the far-sightedness of the late Tun Abdul Razak who forged official ties with China.
More importantly, Malaysia, with its huge Malaysian Chinese community, has been able to cement the economic relations with China because we understand the Chinese language and culture – putting us above other Asean competitors except Singapore.
This is an asset because when we are able to speak Chinese, we win the minds and hearts of the mainlanders.
This is not something to politicise. And we should be thankful that the Chinese schools have been guaranteed a place in our education system.
We must credit Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, as Education Minister then in 1999, for removing Section 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 which allowed the minister to convert a national-type primary school to a national primary school.
This surely indicated that the Government was sincere in recognising Chinese education and it must be recorded here that the Government also recognises the existence of the 60 Chinese independent schools.
Over the past few weeks, some have questioned the position of Chinese primary schools, suggesting that they are a cause of racial disunity.
I am an advocate calling for the return of English medium schools because I consider it neutral ground. But I do not subscribe to any ill thoughts about Chinese primary schools. They have a place in our system.
Furthermore, non-Chinese today make up over 13% of the student population in these schools and the number is increasing.
The racial disunity premise is not a sound argument because the reality is that Mara colleges, until some years back, were exclusively for Malays and in many science residential colleges, the students are almost entirely predominantly Malays.
Going by this argument, all our schools, colleges and public universities should be more multi-racial instead of being mono-ethnic.
Our government lacks the political will to open up English medium schools and yet the reality is that if you can afford it, there is the private and international schools option – and we are sure many of our politicians, despite spewing remarks about race and nationalism, send their kids to these privileged schools or overseas.
The events unfolding in our beloved Malaysia over the past weeks have been painful. From raising racial slurs to bullying small-time traders trying to eke out a living in Petaling Street, and threatening to slap people, we are all left wondering why we have gone down so low.
We should be putting our energy to revitalise our economy and to strengthen our weakening ringgit but precious time and resources are spent dealing with the pathetic racist and thuggish behaviour of our lower level leaders. More regretfully, they have not been reprimanded by their superiors, which gives rise to speculation that their behaviour is endorsed.
We really cannot afford to be distracted by racial politics, which has resulted in individuals picking fights with fellow Malaysians and even thinking of taking on a giant, which happens to be our biggest trading partner.
Have some of us gone mad? Why do we want to throw away what we have built together, as Malaysians of all races, religions and cultures?
Malaysia belongs to all of us, and not just some politicians. We have to remain rational even when they are not.