By Ng Boon Ka 2006
Centuries of bloodshed in the Holy Jerusalem, years of tension between the Fijian majority and the Indian minority in Fiji, endless confrontation between Israel and Palestinian, the war in Sri Lanka which is rooted in the grievances of the ethnic Tamil minority against the ethnic Sinhalese, the atrocious genocide in Darfur and Rwanda, the civil warfare between Croats and Serbs, turbulence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis had immensely plagued human society for ages. Hitherto, one may still question as to what exactly is the casus belli for all these mayhems which had proven a worldly albatross to all.
Malaysia, being a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious nation, is accredited for peaceful maintenance of its national unity in such a vibrant and pluralistic society. Such pluralism had further augmented and enriched our tolerance, understanding and respect for one another. Uniting as a single man, the Malaysian people of different ethnics and backgrounds are working assiduously to make Malaysia a modern, prosperous, highly democratic and civilised country in 14 years time by 2020.
In this industrious pursuit, many policies have been drawn up and many actions have been taken. The National Unity and Integration Action Plan under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department aims to build the nationality of ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ with the Malay, Chinese, Indian and other minorities living proudly and sheltering harmoniously under one big umbrella of Malaysia. This is what makes Malaysia truly Asia!
China, despite its multiple cultures in various provinces, is able to co-exist in diversity. Muslims population alone in China is more than triple the whole of Malaysia. Its cultural integration amongst the Muslims and Han Chinese had started since the Ming Dynasty. What then is the raison d’être that China is still able to exist and prosper peacefully in the face of its gargantuan population of 1.3 billion? In this regard, leaders of our country must think and re-think, learn and re-learn from the past history and current development of China.
VISION SCHOOLS-THE NEW WAY FORWARD:
There is no shred of doubt that education is the key instrument in the promotion of social and cultural integration. It is also a human machine that churns out our future leaders. Our education system is a combination of at least 2.3 million primary pupils in national schools, 640,000 in Chinese schools and more than 97,000 in Tamil schools. Be that as it may, a study in year 2000 at the University of Malaya shocked the nation when it revealed that only 10 per cent of students see themselves as Malaysians and the rest identify themselves as Malays, Chinese or Indians. (Asiaweek, January, 2001).
The Student Integration Plan for Unity (RIMUP), being the brainchild of our Prime Minister, Dato Seri’ Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he was the Education Minister in 1986, provides for primary schools of different streams to interact with each other. Notwithstanding that 1,387 primary and 540 secondary schools had signed up to join the programme since July 2005, the response on the ground was rather lacklustre thus far. This plan is of paramount importance as it is deemed as an alternative to the Vision School (Sekolah Wawasan). Under this plan, platforms are arranged for participating schools to report on their progress such as sports and other activities between schools which further commit them to inter-racial programmes.
Nonetheless, the main stumbling block to its progress is due partly to the strong antagonism from a small number of ‘conservative and orthodox’ Chinese educationists who perceive this plan as a threat to the erosion of their mother tongue and identity. But, these prejudices and uncalled for fear are very wide of the mark and should be corrected in line with the country’s vision and mission. Truly, we should not burn the mosquito net if we are angry with the mosquito. It, therefore, takes magnanimity to look beyond communal interest. In this regard, Ye Lin-Sheng in The Chinese Dilemma stated that, ‘Fighting to safeguard Chinese-language education is fighting for residual rights in another guise. Indeed it may be seen as the Chinese community’s last stand’. At a more nuanced level, the taboos which cultivate ignorance and hidden discontent cannot be seen as an impasse which impedes our progress to becoming a developed nation in a not too distant future.
In this flat globalized world, the learning of other languages has gone beyond any ethnic and cultural barriers. Indubitably, its probative value far outweighs its prejudicial effect as, for instance, there are 85 countries with more than 30 million people learning Mandarin hitherto. Therefore, there should be no fear as the Chinese language has been in existence for millenniums, what more when there are many other countries like the UK, US, France and so forth that are making beelines to learn this international language. At present, there are approximately 2,400 schools in America alone providing Chinese (Mandarin) as an elective subject for all students in which their grades can be used for consideration into their university entrance requirement. In this respect, similar laudable efforts have been taken in our local context where our Prime Minister had proposed to make Chinese and Tamil languages as elective courses in national school.
Indeed, the best way for our children to get a taste of multiracial, multicultural and multireligious concoctions is in the Vision Schools. In view of today’s segregation in our education system whereby most of the Malays study in national schools, the majority of the Chinese in Chinese primary schools and Indians in Indian primary schools, it is a ticking human time bomb which may explode even before year 2020. Therefore, the respective political party leaders, be it UMNO, MCA, MIC, Gerakan, DAP or Keadilan must put their heads and pool their resources together to address this volatile issue. Let us learn by heart. If we cannot stay under the same roof, at least we shelter under the same big umbrella!
In this crusade, I humbly opine that we must move ahead rapidly to set up more Vision Schools in all major towns and cities to attract pupils from all races to study in such schools. Accordingly, the Government may establish after-school clubs to look after students whose parents are working so that they can be picked up after their parents finished work. These after-school clubs are very common in the United Kingdom. In fact, I was a product of these after-school clubs in London whereby after normal school hours, I went to the after-school club until 6pm. My parents would pick me up after their daily work.
The Government may offer more ‘carrots’ such as sport complex, swimming pools, IT facilities, foreign expertise such as English teachers from the UK, Chinese teachers from China, Indian teachers from India and Arabic teachers from the Middle East to teach the respective languages. Certainly, a common sport complex and a common play field for all races to interact is the best form of early social integration as sports transcend culture, religion and race. Hence, we would not rest on our laurels and relax in the valley of complacency but would start preparing vigorously for this benevolent integration as the old Malay adage says ‘Melentur buluh, biarlah dari rebungnya’.
Similarly, the recent birth of the National Service Programme has also indubitably forged greater bonds amongst the participants from diverse backgrounds. As the saying goes, ‘Together we stand strong, apart we fall’! I always believe in ‘unity in diversity’. During my days in the prestigious Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court World Competition in 2005 which was held in Washington D.C., although I was the only Chinese in the team, we worked as a team regardless of racial or religious differences. Though we ‘slept on different beds, we shared the same dream’- to win the Jessup Cup and to set a new benchmark in the Malaysia’s Book of Records.
Islam Hadhari, among others, is an educational approach which seeks to protect the minority group and women. It aspires to uphold the dignity of human beings without any discrimination and without differentiating between majority and minority groups. The Quranic verse states,
“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that who has more piety. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware (of your condition and deeds).” (Surah Al-Hujurat 49:13).
‘And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know.’ (Surah Al Rum 30:22).
Islam considers all humans the same as it makes no distinction between one group and another. This is evident in Surah an-Nahl 16:90, that “Allah has enjoined justice and righteousness.” In addition, Islam is based on principles which are accommodative, just, fair, and responsible towards everyone in the society regardless of race, background and religious belief. The minority groups have the right to partake in the development of the country in terms of political, economic, social, educational, and religious activities. In addition, historical evidence stands firmly to show that the non-Muslims were treated well and protected under covenants in States governed predominantly by Muslims especially during the governance of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. In the same vein, one may also witness the same peaceful co-existence of both the majority and the minority groups in Malaysia.
Everybody must maintain cordial inter-racial relations. We can reap bountiful benefits from racial harmony in the country. Only then will disunity be removed, and we can rest assured that we will move in the era of globalisation with great alacrity. Our diversity mould us into who we are. Though we may echo idiosyncratically, we tone at the same chord of harmonization. We, as Malaysians, should live and dream as Malaysians!