After 60 years of Malaysia, it is time to raise tough questions and to review certain assumptions that have taken hold of some people.
The whole question of Malaysian Malaysia and the word secularism has to be intelligently discussed. What is wrong with the “Malaysian Malaysia” slogan? How is this different from the “One Malaysia” slogan?
Just because Malaysian Malaysia was introduced by a then opposition party does not make it wrong. What about those who proclaim they are Malay, Chinese or Indian first? If so, what does it mean to be a Malaysian?
Secularism does not today mean an absence or negation of God. Nations like Indonesia and India are secular in style but allow freedom of worship.
We need as a people to do more thinking rather than fall victim to knee-jerk reactions or conditioned responses. The ethnic impasse created by former governments is now coming to roost.
So it’s time for fresh thinking that contributes to the building of a cohesive society in Malaysia. All of us need to broaden our mindsets.
We in Malaysia respect Islam as the official religion of the country. But we also need to have greater sensitivity to the freedom of other faiths and for interfaith engagements. The Islamic party Pas should not dictate the status of the Federal Constitution, the Rukun Negara (National Principles) or the status of Islam in Malaysia.
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We are all bound by this framework, and the state should be strong enough to hold irresponsible politicians accountable. To call other Malays “kafir” (infidels) is to go beyond what is permissible, not to mention how this derogatory term is used against ethnic minorities.
All of us need to grow. Part of that growth requires an understanding of our diversity as a nation. We are born as human beings and our several identities are acquired as we grow. Depending on our parents, we often take on an ethnic and religious identity. As a nation, we are united as Malaysians.
The journey is one of transcendence. We grow in understanding and move from an ethnic identity to a national identity. The more inclusive we become, the more we treat the other with respect and understanding.
When we transcend, we do not negate. By being a Malaysian, I have not negated my ethnic identity but have grown to become a Malaysian. This mindset change is much needed, otherwise we remain as ethnic bigots.
Over the last 60 years – from the days of the Rukun Negara to today’s “Malaysia Madani” (Civil Malaysia) – we have been challenged by several visions. These visions were well articulated and presented.
But the most critical factor was the absence of practitioners, role models who put into action what they believed. Many expressed their beliefs but were not congruent.
If Malaysia Madani is to write a different chapter to the progress of Malaysia, then we have to see this put into practice in action, conduct and behaviour.
The New Economic Policy was a 20-year experiment, with the Rukun Negara as a guide to enhance national unity. No one begrudged this policy. However, those who rode on the tiger of the NEP could never dismount, regrettably. Ethnicity then became the basis for its prolongation.
The failure lies not in the policy but in its implementation. If we are serious, we must evaluate this reality. With so many institutions – Mara, Felda, Felcra, Petronas, Risda, Perkim, Jais and the many government-linked firms that have spawned policies – by now, a vast number of bumiputras should have gained economically.
Yet, what is the net result? The political elite have had a field day. The disproportionate wealth held by these politicians and the many CEOs of government-linked companies have deprived the poor of a fairer share.
Such policies were part of a muhibah (spirit of goodwill) venture, and so the Barisan Nasional and its various leaders should be held accountable for their abuse. They condoned the rapacious behaviour: before long, self-interest took the lead against the wishes of the vast majority of bumiputras for whom the NEP was framed. The abuse has continued.
The time has come to set up another independent national consultative committee. This committee should discuss and frame the future while conducting closed-door honest conversations about our collective failures. No more white-washing and condoning the wrongs that have been perpetuated on racial grounds.
None of this can be changed overnight, and politicians alone cannot do it. We need a wider consultative group.
The education system is in a mess. No where is it more polarised, and unless firm action is taken, we will prolong this mess. Public and private universities are ethnically polarised.
Mediocrity is replacing meritocracy. The lack of exams as a basis of evaluation severely undercuts the quality of education. The school system is so fragmented with national and vernacular schools, religious schools, private schools, church-based schools, home schools and tuition centres.
We need more meritocracy. Otherwise, we will compromise the standards of the nation’s doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. We have for years heard of some bumiputra candidates being passed who have not met the required standards. We have to stop kidding ourselves.
The Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools seem to be doing well and their enrolments are increasing. The national schools, which should have been the schools of choice, have gone down. So today, many parents sacrifice their hard-earned savings to send their children to private international schools.
If we do not shift national policy, an even more polarised Malaysian society will emerge before long.
Look into the civil service as well. The delivery system is lamentable. Instead of being a service that facilitates, the civil service has bloomed into another regulatory service. It has too many employees, and the need to keep them occupied has resulted in superfluous requirements. As a result, ‘little Napoleons’ have sprouted in many departments.
I have personally experienced difficulties in meeting even the education minister, despite several reminders. Then we met another official who requested us to bring their challenges to the attention of the minister. We are not just critical individuals, but individuals in civil society who would like to see Malaysia Madani make a difference.
Let’s have an ombudsman too – someone to whom we can raise our concerns.
Without an effective and action-oriented civil service, Malaysia Madani is in grave danger of losing the plot.