We should start developing an anti-discrimination policy in this country, said Ambiga Sreenevasan at a recent Aliran fund-raising dinner.
Impressed with Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s recent speech in the United Nations, which derided discrimination and subjugation, and promoted inclusive politics and co-existence of faiths, Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan now wants it to be used as a basis for nation-building at home.
The former Bar Council president and now patron for people’s movement, Negara-ku, said the prime minister had managed to capture the strength of the nation in the speech delivered on 26 September.
“We must use this. We must say to all the people who are trying to divide us, this is what the prime minister of this country has said, and this is what we should do,” she said, in a veiled reference to right-wing groups inflaming racial issues in Malaysia.
She said four particular paragraphs – marked as paragraphs 23 to 26 in his official transcript – should be adopted verbatim to guide programmes and policy in Malaysia.
Commending Najib for uttering them in the international arena, she also invited the prime minister to make the very same delivery on home soil.
In the speech at the 69th UN General Assembly in New York, Najib had said: “We must break the cycle where one group gains power only to wield it against the other. Where marginalisation leads to radicalisation, as people lose confidence in the state’s ability to provide both security and co-existence.
“Individuals and ethnic and religious groups need to feel they have a stake in a nation’s success, not its failure. So we should commit to more inclusive politics. This is difficult work; it demands pragmatism and compromise. And it must come from within.
“Malaysia stands ready to share its experience; of marginalising extremism; maintaining a multi-religious country, where different faiths coexist and prosper; and showing that Islam can not only succeed, but drive progress and development in a pluralistic society.
“Like all nations, we have had our growing pains. Stability is never permanent; it must be actively maintained. But in Malaysia, there are streets in which mosques, temples and churches stand side by side. Ours is a society in which religions may differ, but do so in peace; in the knowledge that we are all citizens of one nation.”
Speaking at a fund-raiser for human rights NGO Aliran in George Town on 11 October 2014, Ambiga said what was needed was for Najib to say the exact same words in Malaysia. The call sparked applause from the crowd of more than 500.
“I only regret the prime minister will not make a speech like this in Malaysia,” she said. “Because that’s all we need.”
“He has captured the strength of this nation. He knows, in other words, exactly what is needed in this nation.
“They all know,” added the former co-chair of electoral reforms group Bersih 2.0, referring to politicians in Putrajaya.
She also said the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) should come up with a blueprint for an anti-discrimination programme, based on UN guidelines, for children in schools.
She said this in light of recent allegations by Umno and hard-line Malay leaders that Chinese schools were impeding racial harmony.
On 5 October, Umno Petaling Jaya Utara division deputy head Mohamad Azli Mohamed Saad had reportedly said that the party’s general assembly next month should debate whether Chinese vernacular schools should be abolished.
This, he said, was because Chinese schools were being used by the opposition to breed racial and anti-government sentiments.
Cheras Umno division chief Datuk Seri Syed Ali Al Habshee reiterated the call on 7 October, urging the government to abolish vernacular schools and to set up a single-stream school system which, he said, could help in fostering national unity in the country.
“Why don’t we introduce this programme in every school?” Ambiga asked.
“I think we should start developing an anti-discrimination policy in this country.”
She said the UN has guidelines for programmes among pupils in schools “to reverse the effects of the brainwashing and discrimination”.
She said such a programme has been adopted by many countries where people were genuine about fighting racial discrimination.
“Because when we free their minds from this, from the shackles of bigotry and racism, it will be a different Malaysia.”