An honorific title should not be accorded to an individual simply because he or she holds an official position of power or wealth in society, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
The debate over honorific titles took a predictable turn – thanks to former Federal Territories Umno Youth chief Mohd Razlan Rafii who got his knickers in a twist.
Razlan contended that the DAP leadership’s insistence that their politicians should not accept state honours was tantamount to disloyalty to royalty.
Nothing could be further than the truth.
THE rationale put forward by the DAP leadership – and, for that matter, all right-thinking Malaysians – is that politicians and other citizens of repute must have made recognisable and sterling contributions to society before they are awarded a title by the state.
And it is only reasonable to expect that ruling politicians should accept state awards for doing more than is expected of them in their respective offices.
To be clear, an honorific title should not be accorded to an individual simply because he or she holds an official position of power or wealth in society. It must be for contributions and achievements over and above the responsibilities that come with that position. In other words, there must be a real cause to celebrate the individual concerned, and one that ought to earn our collective respect.
The state authorities concerned, on their part, should be judicious about who they bestow their awards upon. Otherwise, we will continue to bear witness to embarrassing incidents that are opposite to our expectations of individuals of such standing. Such as a datuk being found guilty of a crime. Or a datuk who cuts queue at a highway toll just because he has his title on a plaque above his number plate.
In short, the culture of entitlement gets into the head of those who should not have been awarded in the first place.
To put it another way, En Razlan, this is an attempt at restoring the dignity that is supposed to accompany the titles that have been degraded by those who wear their honorifics on their sleeve.
Worse, those who abuse these titles perpetuate a feudal-like culture where a datuk is to be respected, if not feared, no matter what unsavoury acts he or she might have committed.
The problems associated with honorific titles afflict other areas of Malaysian society as well, and this includes the academia – of all places. Quite often we notice that a datukship is given to individuals in the top management of a university after a mere year or so in office.
It is here you wonder what substantial contributions they have made other than shouldering the usual responsibilities of their respective office, and whether they are worthy of the title. Unless, of course, the academic being honoured has made major contributions in their fields of expertise, the benefits of which are not only felt by the academic community but also and especially the larger society. Just as a professorship should be earned, so should a datukship.
In an environment where ideas are supposed to be freely debated in the spirit of intellectual robustness, the abuse of titles can throw a spanner in the works. An anecdote will suffice to illustrate the point. In an academic forum, a datuk – a professor to boot – was incensed that his views were challenged by mere mortals who were guilty of being interested in exchanging ideas and getting to the truth.
So, as we can see, the award of datukships must not only be transparent, but also requires high standards that are not easily assailable by all and sundry.
Otherwise, some rotten apples will simply spoil the whole barrel.