Sep 23, 2010

tanahair thursday | our place in our home

1st article is a frank and OBVIOUS common sense...
Thuan Chye Responds to “Orang Cina Malaysia, apa lagi yang anda mahu?”(Utusan Malaysia article)
By Kee Thuan Chye

Every time the Barisan National gets less than the expected support from Chinese voters at an election, the question invariably pops up among the petty-minded: Why are the Chinese ungrateful?

So now, after the Hulu Selangor by-election, it’s not surprising to read in Utusan Malaysia a piece that asks: “Orang Cina Malaysia, apa lagi yang anda mahu?” (Trans. Chinese of Malaysia, what more do you want?) Normally, something intentionally provocative and propagandistic as this doesn’t deserve to be honored with a reply. But even though I’m fed up with such disruptive and ethnocentric polemics, this time I feel obliged to reply – partly because the article has also been published, in an English translation, in the Straits Times of Singapore. I wish to emphasize here that I am replying not as a Chinese Malaysian but, simply, as a Malaysian. Let me say at the outset that the Chinese have got nothing more than what any citizen should get. So to ask “what more” it is they want, is misguided. A correct question would be, “What do the Chinese want?”

All our lives, we Chinese have held to the belief that no one owes us a living. We have to work for it. Most of us have got where we are by the sweat of our brow, not by handouts or the policies of the government. We have come to expect nothing – not awards, not accolades, not gifts from official sources. (Let’s not lump in Datukships, that’s a different ball game.) We know that no Chinese who writes in the Chinese language will ever be bestowed the title of Sasterawan Negara, unlike in Singapore where the literatures of all the main language streams are recognized and honored with the Cultural Medallion, etc.

We have learned we can’t expect the government to grant us scholarships. Some will get those, but countless others won’t. We’ve learned to live with that and to work extra hard in order to support our children to attain higher education – because education is very important to us. We experience a lot of daily pressure to achieve that. Unfortunately, not many non-Chinese realise or understand that. In fact, many Chinese had no choice but to emigrate for the sake of their children’s further education. Or to accept scholarships from abroad, many from Singapore, which has inevitably led to a brain drain.

The writer of the Utusan article says the Chinese “account for most of the students” enrolled in “the best private colleges in Malaysia”. Even so, the Chinese still have to pay a lot of money to have their children study in these colleges. And to earn that money, the parents have to work very hard. The money does not fall from the sky.

The writer goes on to add: “The Malays can gain admission into only government-owned colleges of ordinary reputation.” That is utter nonsense. Some of these colleges are meant for the cream of the Malay crop of students and are endowed with the best facilities. They are given elite treatment.

The writer also fails to acknowledge that the Chinese are barred from being admitted to some of these colleges. As a result, the Chinese are forced to pay more money to go to private colleges. Furthermore, the Malays are also welcome to enroll in the private colleges, and many of them do. It’s, after all, a free enterprise.

Plain and simple reason

The writer claims that the Chinese live “in the lap of luxury” and lead lives that are “more than ordinary” whereas the Malays in Singapore , their minority-race counterparts there, lead “ordinary lives”. Such sweeping statements sound inane especially when they are not backed up by definitions of “lap of luxury” and “ordinary lives”. They sound hysterical, if not hilarious as well, when they are not backed up by evidence. It’s surprising that a national daily like Utusan Malaysia would publish something as idiosyncratic as that. And the Straits Times too.

The writer quotes from a survey that said eight of the 10 richest people in Malaysia are Chinese. Well, if these people are where they are, it must have also come from hard work and prudent business sense. Is that something to be faulted?

If the writer had said that some of them achieved greater wealth through being given crony privileges and lucrative contracts by the government, there might be a point, but even then, it would still take hard work and business acumen to secure success. Certainly, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, who is one of the 10, would take exception if it were said that he has not worked hard and lacks business savvy. Most important, it should be noted that the eight Chinese tycoons mentioned in the survey represent but a minuscule percentage of the wider Chinese Malaysian population. To extrapolate that because eight Chinese are filthy rich, the rest of the Chinese must therefore live in the lap of luxury and lead more than ordinary lives would be a mockery of the truth. The writer has obviously not met the vast numbers of very poor Chinese.

The crux of the writer’s article is that the Chinese are not grateful to the government by not voting for Barisan National at the Hulu Selangor by-election. But this demonstrates the thinking of either a simple mind or a closed one.

Why did the Chinese by and large not vote for BN? Because it’s corrupt. Plain and simple. Let’s call a spade a spade. And BN showed how corrupt it was during the campaign by throwing bribes to the electorate, including baiting a Chinese school in Rasa by promising RM3 million should it wins the by-election.

The Chinese were not alone in seeing this corruption. The figures are unofficial but one could assume that at least 40 per cent of Malays and 45 per cent of Indians who voted against BN in that by-election also had their eyes open. So, what’s wrong with not supporting a government that is corrupt? If the government is corrupt, do we continue to support it?

To answer the question then, what do the Chinese want?

They want a government…
a. that is not corrupt;
b. that can govern well and proves to have done so;
c. that tells the truth rather than lies;
d. that follows the rule of law;
e. that upholds rather than abuses the country’s sacred institutions.

Because BN does not fit that description, the Chinese have learned not to vote for it. This is not what only the Chinese want. It is something every sensible Malaysian, regardless of race, wants. Is that something that is too difficult to understand?

Some people think that the government is to be equated with the country, and therefore if someone does not support the government, they are being disloyal to the country. This is a complete fallacy. BN is not Malaysia . It is merely a political coalition that is the government of the day. Rejecting BN is not rejecting the country.

A sense of belonging

Let’s be clear about this important distinction. In America, the people sometimes vote for the Democrats and sometimes for the Republicans. Voting against the one that is in government at the time is not considered disloyalty to the country.

By the same token, voting against UMNO is also voting against a party, not against a race. And if the Chinese or whoever criticize UMNO, they are criticizing the party; they are not criticizing Malays. It just happens that UMNO’s leaders are Malay.

It is time all Malaysians realized this so that we can once and for all dispel the confusion. Let us no longer confuse country with government. We can love our country and at the same time hate the government. It is perfectly all right.

I should add here what the Chinese don’t want:
a. We don’t want to be insulted,
b. We don’t want to be called pendatang
c. We don’t want to be told to be grateful for our citizenship.

We have been loyal citizens; we duly and dutifully pay taxes; we respect the country’s constitution and its institutions. Our forefathers came to this country many generations ago and helped it to prosper. We are continuing to contribute to the country’s growth and development.

Would anyone like to be disparaged, made to feel unwelcome or unwanted? For the benefit of the writer of the Utusan article, what MCA president Chua Soi Lek means when he says the MCA needs to be more vocal is that it needs to speak up whenever the Chinese community is disparaged? For too long, the MCA has not spoken up strongly enough when UMNO politicians and associates like Ahmad Ismail, Nasir Safar, Ahmad Noh and others before them insulted the Chinese and made them feel like they don’t belong. That’s why the Chinese have largely rejected the MCA. You see, the Chinese, like all human beings, want self-respect. And a sense of belonging in this country they call home. That is all the Chinese want, and has always wanted. Nothing more.

The Utusan Malaysia article: Orang Cina Malaysia , apa lagi yang anda mahu?

Dramatist and journalist Kee Thuan Chye is the author of ‘March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up’. He is a contributor to Free Malaysia Today.

"To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of people” - Emily Cox
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them" - Walt Disney
2nd article is about everyone's place in the Constitution...

If It's a Problem, Don't Recognise It! By Kee Thuan Chye

Idris Jala is a good speaker. If you listen to him and you don't watch it, he will sell you an idea.

That's what he did - or tried to do - when he gave the keynote address at the “We Are Malaysia” event hosted by UCSI University on Malaysia Day.

He spoke of 1Malaysia and its aims, and how national unity can be achieved. One of the central aims of 1Malaysia is upgrading the diverse population's attitude towards one another from tolerance to acceptance and, eventually, the celebration of diversity. And one of the central strategies of achieving that is the recognition that, in Idris' own words, “in life, there are only two types of issues”.

Sounds rather pat, as if coming from a self-enrichment guru. But as I said, Idris Jala (left) is a seller of ideas.

What are these two types of issues?

Problems and polarities. A problem, expounded Idris, is something that can be solved. A polarity is something that cannot be solved but must be managed. The examples of polarities he gave are old and young, urban and rural, good and evil, rich and poor. Like the North and South Poles, they cannot be removed; therefore a balance must be struck between them.

To illustrate further, he gave the example of his wife and him. She is fastidious in wanting him to place his socks in a proper basket for washing, but he is used to leaving them all over the house. Despite her repeated attempts to get him to conform, he is incorrigible. She on her part takes an inordinate amount of time to get ready when they have a function to attend. It annoys him that because she can't decide on what to wear, they often turn up late.

“That's the situation,” said Idris, “but if we tried to solve it, we could end up in divorce.”

Extending the idea to a wider realm, Idris said race and religion are also polarities, which means they cannot be solved.

“If you try to solve them,” he said, “you could get something like Hitler's Final Solution and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.”

On that UCSI occasion, Idris got away with not having to answer questions from the floor as there is usually no provision for such in a keynote address. But if there had been, the key question would be: Isn't this all just a game of semantics? How do you decide what is a problem and what is a polarity? Or is there really no difference between the two?

Let's look at the issue of race in the present context. Let's bring in Perkasa, which insists that the 30 percent equity for bumiputeras must be upheld in the New Economic Model (NEM). For want of an opposing camp, let's bring in the MCA, which recently called for the 30 percent to be gradually reduced.

Is this situation of two opposing viewpoints over a racial issue a problem or a polarity? What does it translate into when from this dispute, policy has to be made?

Policy is policy. It provides a guideline for operations to be performed and actions to be taken. It provides a clear-cut solution. It does not merely manage. So how will it solve this Perkasa-MCA dispute?

If Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak decides to listen to Perkasa and includes the 30 percent in his NEM, the MCA might have something to say. Not to mention other groups opposed to Perkasa as well. But since the MCA is a Barisan Nasional partner, Najib or his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, can ask its party leaders to shut up and toe the coalition line, and chances are they will obey. Is that managing the issue or solving it?

While we mull over this, let's consider another point - for an issue to be resolved, it calls for negotiation and sometimes arbitration. There was negotiation between the two differing groups over the ge tai issue in Penang last week and the outcome was satisfactory to both sides. Do we say they found a solution to the issue or that they merely managed it? Does it matter what we call it?

It's all semantics. And semantics are of no practical use. Sometimes, semantics create further problems. In any case, the fact that you enter into a negotiation shows that you want to find a solution. If after negotiating, you still can't find it, you may seek an arbiter.

For racial disputes, there is already an arbiter. And that, plain and simple, is the constitution. So how we solve or manage - whichever word you want to use - racial disputes should be guided by that arbiter.

Article 153 of the constitution is the bone of contention. But as lawyer Azzat Kamaluddin (left), who also spoke at the “We Are Malaysia” event, astutely pointed out, there is no mention in that article of special rights for the Malays.

Clause 1 of Article 153 states: “It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article.”

Note that there is only mention of “special position”. And the second part says, significantly, that the Agong shall also be responsible for safeguarding “the legitimate interests of other communities”. It's not all one-sided.

Azzat pointed out that “everyone stops at Clause 1”. But if they were to look at Clause 2, they would see clearly that the special provisions for Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak pertain only to positions in the public service; scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities; and permits and licences for the operation of any trade or business.

And in these areas, the provisions have to be “of such proportion as [the Agong] may deem reasonable”. In other words, it's not carte blanche.

Look also at Clause 5, which states that Article 153 “does not derogate from the provisions of Article 136”.

What does Article 136 say?

It says: “All persons of whatever race in the same grade in the service of the federation shall, subject to the terms and conditions of their employment, be treated impartially.” This is another limit to the scope of Article 153.

If the government follows the rule of law and interprets the constitution as it should be interpreted, we wouldn't have a racial problem. Yes, problem. Let's call a spade a spade. The racial problem we have now is mostly the result of what the government has done and not done.

It has not followed the rule of law. It has not told Perkasa to grasp the proper provisions of Article 153. Instead, it has been affirming that Perkasa's doing the right thing - only a few days ago, Deputy Education Minister Puad Zarkashi said Perkasa was championing the people's rights as spelt out in the constitution. Perhaps Puad hasn't read beyond Clause 1. Perhaps he doesn't understand it fully.

In terms of what the government has done, it has chosen to take sides to formulate policies that are contrary to the spirit of the constitution. For instance, is the discount for bumiputeras purchasing property constitutional? If so, where is it written in that sacred document?

The government favours one race and marginalises the other races. With regard to the civil service, it has not upheld Article 136 of the constitution, which calls for impartial treatment for civil servants of all races. Over the past four decades, the promotion of civil servants to the highest positions has been almost totally confined to those of one particular race. Is that impartial treatment?

As for religion, it is again the government that has created problems. Just to name two, one is its action to deny Christians the right to use the word “Allah”; the other, and more far-reaching, action is declaring Malaysia an Islamic state, as Najib did in 2007 when he was Deputy Prime Minister.

“Islam is the official religion and we are an Islamic state,” he said.

He must surely have read Article 3 of the constitution but chose to ignore what it says: “Islam is the religion of the federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the federation.”

Nowhere is it stated that Malaysia is an Islamic state.

But by his declaration, Najib caused fresh anxieties to surface and made the issue of religion more contentious. In extreme situations, the provisions of Article 3 have been disrespected. A recent example is Perkasa's lodging of a police report against a church in Shah Alam for planning to stage a Christian play during Ramadan on the grounds that it was seditious and insulting to the sultan.

That police report became a problem to the church. How would it be solved? In an ideal Malaysian setting, the government would have stepped in and told Perkasa to respect Article 3. But of course, it did not. For the church and other Christian groups, these problems will continue to crop up in future and there will be no solution in sight if the government stays silent.

Is the government silent because it now believes it can call such a problem a polarity? And with a polarity, which cannot be solved, the less said about it, the better? Similarly, in the case of the Johor school principal who allegedly made racist remarks, it is better to let the issue be until the public forgets about it?

If so, 1Malaysia is not about taking a radically honest approach towards national unity and the celebration of diversity. It seems to shy away from calling a problem a problem and solving it. Calling it a polarity merely adds a new twist to the propaganda.

So, if Idris Jala comes to your neighbourhood and tries to sell you that idea, be sure to ask him some difficult questions. He's a good speaker and can easily mesmerise his audience. His words may sound pretty until you probe them for substance. If you do, you might find that they amount to nothing more than public relations prattle.

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