Archive | Social Justice RSS feed for this section


1 Feb

by Ng Boon Ka 2006

Equal Distribution

Equal Distribution


Prof. C.K. Allen in Aspects of Justice stated that, ‘Ever since men have begun to reflect upon their relations with each other and upon the vicissitudes of the human lot, they have been preoccupied with the meaning of justice.’[1] Justice is therefore not only an ancient terminology but a practical concept which governs the life of men from all walks of life at any place and time.

This article seeks to chart the theory of justice in the light of our economic integration in Malaysia. It is of paramount importance that coherence, tolerance and balance should be the predominant ingredients in upholding social justice. It shall first begin with understanding the essence of justice rather than the forms of justice and see how it can be practised in the general social context. Two contrasting theories of justice are outlined below, namely Rawls and Nozick’s theory. In addition, there is also a highlight from the Islamic perspective where the zakat and amanah principles are illustrated in brief. Just distribution will be discussed critically in the context of our New Economic Policy which had undoubtedly stirred many controversies hitherto. Eventually, it is the just and equitable sharing of a bigger pie in the economy which serves as the hallmark of a peaceful and balanced society.


Equality is the essence of justice. Thus, achieving equality and not preserving inequality is the fundamental function of justice. Justice is supposed to be applied to all people and in all circumstances to which it relates without fear or favour. Justice applied in this manner is no more than a formal principle of equality. However, it cannot be regarded as a principle of equality without qualification. The reason being so is that justice cannot mean that we are to treat everyone alike regardless of individual differences such as the financial or social backgrounds of a person. In other words, the like should be treated alike and not like chalk and cheese so that everyone who is classified as belonging to the same category for a particular purpose is to be treated in the same way. This can be summed up in the aphorism of, ‘Treat equal things equally and treat unequal things equally’. Thus, formal justice requires equality of treatment in accordance with the classification laid down by the rules.

As one should look at the substance rather than the form, justice can be further understood in its substantive essence. Substantive justice is concerned with the question of whether the actual rules are just themselves. Being concerned with the content and substance of law, this notion endeavours to solve queries on what basis that the society should be operated and what political institutions should be allowed to create laws.

In the past, the rule of Apartheid was adopted in South Africa where discrimination was allowed on the basis of colour. One may argue that its legal system at that time was procedurally just. Nonetheless, there was only formal justice but no substantive justice as the content of the law itself was bad and oppressive. Similarly, the United States’ capture and detention of alleged terrorists in Guatanamo Bay and Abu Ghaib prisons may be procedurally just according to their laws, if they ever claimed to be, but surely their actions in the guise of war on terrorism had indubitably harassed human dignity which was against substantive justice.


Aristotle (384-322 BC) has classified justice into distributive justice and corrective justice. Distributive justice is based on the principle that there has to be equal distribution among equals.[2] Distributive justice is concerned with the allocation of rights, duties and responsibilities among the members of the community so that the equilibrium is maintained. Aristotle spoke of the distribution of ‘honours or money or other things that fall to be divided among those who have a share in the Constitution.’

It is the cornerstone of justice that a difference ought to be made in a way that rights and duties, advantages and burdens are distributed with proper consideration in each and every circumstance. Hence, just distribution among and within classes of people signifies distribution according to a given criteria of discrimination which is allowed provided that the following conditions are satisfied, namely:-

  1. The classification is reasonable and not arbitrary;
  2. There is an intelligible differentia;
  3. The object of discrimination must be determined; and
  4. The object is achievable.

One may complain of injustice if he or she is treated worst than the other within that class itself. However, can the same person complain if he or she is treated better than others within the said class? It is humbly submitted that in both instances, there is still injustice.

On the contrary, corrective justice is justice that corrects any disequilibrium or any imbalance in the society by restoring whatever equality existed before a wrong was committed or to achieve a desirable form of equality in the future.

One may find it illuminating to see how the principles of corrective justice have been aptly adopted by the judiciary in the United States (U.S.). The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka (1954) had not only opened the gates of all white school to Linda Brown, a little black girl but also put a full stop to the ‘separate but equal’ policy. The coming into force of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 had also forbidden segregation in all public facilities.[3] Similarly, the Court’s decision in Regents of University of Carlifornia v Bakke (1978) had witnessed a corrective justice which was designed to redress any unequal and unfair distribution that existed through past discrimination.


The aim of justice as a social virtue is to preserve equilibrium in the society and a state of harmony in all human affairs. In the social framework, justice is a quest for achieving justice for those who are exploited, oppressed, suppressed, discriminated, deprived and underprivileged. Social justice provides justice not only for the ‘haves’ but also the ‘have-nots’. It is an all-embracing ideology and theory which aims to obliterate and break the social barriers between the affluent and the impoverished, the powerful and the weak, and between the privileged and the disadvantaged. In this regard, justice ensures the equitable distribution of the social, material and political resources. Therefore, law and policy should be utilized as instruments of social change to achieve social justice in line with the social purposes of each and every society.

Although Aristotle observed justice as equality, the establishment of absolute equality or absolute uniformity is nigh an infeasible task. Justice in its realistic sense is concerned with substantial equality or equitability. Furthermore, Plato’s view of justice is that, ‘democracy distributes an odd sort of equality to equals and unequals.’ Given this view, it is often said that unequal distribution of resources is indispensable to equalise benefits in the case of unequals. In this context, the principle of need dictates that one should be judged according to his or her own peculiar circumstances. As such, there should be different treatments for different people which are carried out on a case-to-case basis. In other words, there should be varied scales of need realization where resources should be apportioned in different portions among different people.

The concept of egalitarian justice demands the concept of just distribution, not equal distribution of benefits. It ensures the just distribution of goods in the favour and well-being of all, giving paramount attention to the least served and backward segment in the society. In a broader context, a just and fair society aspires to protect the common good of all its members. What then is the common good? Briefly, common good is the hallmark of a just society which guarantees the total enjoyment of benefits by all participants in the society. It is, therefore, social justice which lays down the foundation and sets a benchmark of common good which extends not only to the society, but also to the political and economic systems of a nation as a whole.


In Nicomachean Ethics[4], it was put forward that goods should be distributed to individuals on the basis of their relative claims. Thus, goods might be distributed according to needs or deserts or moral virtues and so forth. In this respect, John Rawls in his book ‘A Theory of Justice’ (1972) rejects the basic structures which incorporate arbitrary inequalities but he does not espouse egalitarianism. What he defends may, however, be described as a qualified egalitarianism.[5]

Justice is based on fairness in accordance with those principles which result from the ‘original position’. In this original position, the parties agreed on the principles by which their society should be organised subject to conditions which are considered as reasonable and fair. It is, therefore, not simple fairness but fairness from the original position. In this context, the conditions of the original position put everyone in the same position.

Rawls uses a ‘refurbished’[6] version of the social contract argument to establish his principles of justice. The free and rational persons concerned to further their own interests would accept in an original position of equality as defining the terms of their association. The intuitive idea is that since everyone’s well being depends upon a scheme of co-operation without which no one could have a satisfactory life, the division of advantages should be such as to draw forth the willing co-operation of everyone taking part in it, including those less well situated.[7]

The parties are supposed to live behind the veil of ignorance whereby they should not be acquainted with their own political, economic and social backgrounds. The veil of ignorance provides for an agreed choice which eliminates any prejudices. This is akin to a scenario where a person cutting the cake should only cut it in the same size to which other people may enjoy. Thus, it seems reasonable and generally acceptable that no one should be advantaged or disadvantaged by natural fortune or social circumstances in the choice of principles. It also seems widely agreed that it should be impossible to tailor principles to the circumstances of one’s own case.[8]

There are things which every rational person is supposed to acquire. These are called primary social goods which include, inter alia, rights and liberties, opportunities, power, income, self-respect and wealth. These primary goods are the fulfilment of rational desires of each individual which are the necessary means to achieve one’s ends.

In this spectrum, there are two principles of justice which are derived from the concept of primary goods. Firstly, each person is to have equal rights where the basic liberties are maximised. These liberties include freedom of expression and speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement and so forth which are theoretically available in all democratic countries. Nevertheless, liberty for all may have to be restricted but only for the sake of liberty itself. For example, freedom of assembly may be curtailed in line with the regulation and maintenance of public order. It is the latter which speaks volume of a greater order, peace and liberty for all. In other words, it is the lesser liberty which is restricted for the attainment of a greater liberty.

Secondly, social and economic inequalities are to be arranged to the greatest benefit of the least advantage consistent with just saving principle. This arrangement must be attached to all offices and positions open to all under conditions of fairness and equality of opportunity. The just saving principle can be discerned by looking at how the US is exploiting the natural resources in the oil-rich Middle East even though the US itself has sufficient resources in its own country. In fact, the recent price hike of petrol prices in Malaysia was not only a reduction of subsidy by the Government to finance other development projects, but was also aimed to safeguard the country’s reserve for the future generation.

Virtually, there are people who may be conscious of the reality of disparity and differences among individuals in the original position. In this aspect, Rawls does not advocate that resources and wealth are to be divided equally. However, any lopsided division can only be validated if such division results in favour of all people. Injustice, then, is simply inequalities that are not benevolent to all. Notwithstanding his validation, one may try to resolve this difference in principle by applying the maximum rule. This maximum rule indicates how to rank alternative by their worst possible outcomes and to choose that worst outcome which is superior to other worst outcomes. In sum, it is the maximum alternative out of the worst outcome.

The social system is to be designed so that the resulting distribution is just however things turn out. To achieve this end it is necessary to set the social and economic process within the surroundings of suitable political and legal institutions. Without proper arrangement of these background institutions, the outcome of the distributive process will not be just.[9]

In short, fair distribution for Rawls hinges on fair procedure which is the core idea of ‘justice as fairness’. What Rawls hunts out are mutually acceptable ground rules which are ideals for all. Given this connecting link, Rawls reasons that his principles would be preferred to others, since they favour the least advantaged members of the society.[10]

Be that as it may, Rawls’s theory can be aptly applied in moderate scarcity and deficiency. If there is too much sufficiency, justice will loose its hold and significance. On the other hand, when there is extreme penury, there can be only room for the survivor of the fittest as might is right. Thus, just distribution would only be meaningful in a moderate society which is neither self-sufficient nor too poor.

onetheless, this theory is not without flaw. The original position advocated is hypothetical, artificial, illusionary and difficult to realize. How can one imagine a person from whom individual history and values have been taken away? Such person no longer remains. In fact, Rawls’s model of economy takes into consideration only distribution but not production. Such one-way theory is further discredited as there is no elaboration on what institution arrangements that the distributions can be carried out.


Nozick’s treatise as projected in his book ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’ (1974) eulogizes the virtues of the eighteenth century individualism and nineteenth century laissez-faire capitalism. Therefore, this theory rejects any form of governmental interventions in the distribution of wealth. A State which excessively intervenes so as to alter the pattern of wealth distribution is an immoral State as it involves continuous interference with the individual’s actions and choices. Hence, justice is a matter of entitlement which is not patterned as opposed to the goal-based theory of justice. Distribution based on entitlement is established from this formula, ‘From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen’. Simply put, as might is right, justice is the right of a strong man.

In actual fact, the duty of the State is not to redistribute resources but rather to protect a person’s natural rights in what they already possessed. In relation to these natural rights, they cannot be infringed without the approval of an individual as these rights are exclusive within a person himself and not extendable to that of others. What is imperative is that we abstain from peculating into the rights of others in the industrial pursuit of our own interests and objectives.

However, Nozick does not put paid to an idea of the presence of State. Otherwise, it will lead to anarchy and chaos that do not favour any States especially those poor ones. He advocates a minimal State which operates in a minimum manner and functions as a night-watchman. It protects the society from force, fraud, theft, enforcement of contracts, and enjoys monopoly of force. Nozick offers a speculative Utopia consisting in ‘a system of diverse communities organised along different lines and perhaps encouraging different types of characters, and different patterns of abilities and skills’.[11] In Nozick’s view, the only possible framework for such a system is the minimal State which ‘best realizes the utopian aspirations of untold dreamers and visionaries’.[12] It allows us, individually or with whom we choose, to choose our life and to realize our ends aided by the voluntary co-operation of other individuals possessing the same dignity.[13]

Indeed, he argues there is no such meaningful concept as the goods of society but only the goods of particular individuals and society has no prima facie right to shuffle those around between individuals.[14] How is destitution to be prevented and relieved? Nozick’s answer, naïve in the extreme, points to the free operation of the market, voluntary uniting and private philanthropy.[15]

Moreover, Nozick has likened taxation of the earning of labour with forced labour. Those who created wealth themselves have sacrosanct and inviolable rights over their own possession and wealth. As such, redistribution on the basis of social justice and social good is unjust, unmerited and untenable.

Many criticisms have been levelled against this theory. The concept of minimal State is a wishful and imaginative thinking as it cannot withstand against internal and external security threats by only carrying out its basic functions of a night-watchman. In addition, Nozick’s equivalence of taxation and forced labour is nothing but a figment of the imagination. Taxation is dissimilar from forced labour and slavery as it is different in terms of the burden it imposes. In fact, one may avoid different scales of taxation by freely opting for any employment according to one’s own choice as opposed to forced labour where there is no free choice at all. In forced labour, it stealthily robs an individual of dignity and rights. On the contrary, taxation is not an indecorous infringement of one’s rights but a lawful and rational contribution to the welfare of others. In short, taxation is for a just cause, not only for oneself but for the society as a whole. One must ponder as to what would happen if a person is incapacitated by an accident, who would support him financially?

This theory is non-altruistic as it shows no concern for others. Its winner-takes-all principle is purely an individualistic approach which is analogous to a tyrannical mastery of greed and wealth. In the diversity of interests, it is the collective interest and social good of the most disadvantaged which holds the flag and not that of an individual’s good.

Hence, it is humbly submitted that Nozick’s theory of justice is only a one stage process. As an illustration, imagine there is a job recruitment selection which demands a graduation degree as the basic requirement. Would this requirement in the process of selection benefit those without it? Surely it would not. How about those who come from the rural areas where the highest education that is available is only up to the level of secondary education?

On the other hand, Rawls’s theory of justice is a two-stage process. In the same example, the first stage would be the requirement of a graduation degree. Notwithstanding this, the second stage would allow an allocation (quota) that is based on the circumstances of each candidate. In a nutshell, one should be judged by the opportunity that one can enjoy.


Justice in Islam does not function according to the contingency of time. What was once considered fundamentally just in the past is treated likewise in the current state of affairs. Islam is not merely a religion per se, but it is a way of life which seeks to establish peace on earth by regulating the society with principles of justice. Justice in Islam is the value of being morally and consciously just in giving every man his due. On top of that, justice does not only mean to give each person his due but it also means to be merciful in its due distribution.

It is true to a certain extent that one may be allowed to enjoy whatever one deserved. But, one should not enjoy rapaciously at the expense of others. The concept of philanthropic sharing and giving in Islam is evidenced by the paying of zakat to the poor. Fundamentally, zakat is the third after tawhid and prayer in the five pillars of Islam. It is obligatory on every Muslim who owns the nisab, regardless of race, colour, social status or sex.[16] In addition, Adam Smith defined justice in the sense that all citizens of the State must share in financing government expenditure, each according to his ability, which is protected by the State. The concept of zakat is stated in the following verses:-

“Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.” (Verse 9:60)

“And be steadfast in prayer; practise regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship).” (Verse 2: 43)[17]

Furthermore, the theory trust (amanah) imposes social, political, economic and religious obligations upon man as the vicegerent on earth. These obligations which are based on trust must be discharged sincerely and honestly to the fullest extent as possible. We should tailor our own interests with those of others in a just manner and administer the trust in all sincerity as if it is an act of devotion as the Quran states that,

“Allah doth command you to render back your Trusts to those to whom they are due; And when ye judge between man and man, that ye judge with justice: Verily how excellent is the teaching which He giveth you! For Allah is He Who heareth and seeth all things.” (Verse 4:58)

“O ye that believe! betray not the trust of Allah and the Messenger, nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you.” (Verse 8:27)

“Those who faithfully observe their trusts and their covenants.” (Verse 23:8)[18]

“We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish.” (Verse 33:72)

Justice in Islam is to undo injustice as the saying goes, ‘Do not do injustice and do not accept injustice’. The following Quranic verses illustrates how justice plays a pivotal role in Islam, viz.:-

‘‘We have sent down to thee the Book in truth, that thou mightiest judge between men, as guided by Allah: so be not (used) as an advocate by those who betray their trust.’’ (Verse 4.105)

‘‘O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.’’ (Verse 4.135)

‘‘O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.’’ (Verse 5:8)

‘‘We sent our Messenger with the clear signs and sent down the Book and the Balance with them so that mankind might establish justice.’’ (Verse 57:25)

“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).” (Verse 49:13)

Therefore, justice is the bond which holds the society together and transforms it into one brotherhood. It underscores the principle of universalism enshrined in Islam which abhors individualism with no regard of others. Having stressed that, it is the collective duty for collective welfare which aims to decrease the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ in order to create a balanced society.

In this context, Islam Hadhari, being a model approach for development and progress, focuses on a balanced and comprehensive economic development which enjoins all communities to take the opportunities available under the Malaysian concept of partnership in order to improve our economy. Undoubtedly, a mature and stable political system coupled with a sustainable economic development and a just society would surely make the rope strong enough to tie the people together.


Having perused justice in a general framework, let us delve with its application and practicality in the context of our country’s economic integration.

Under the expurgated British divide-and-rule regime in Malaya, different ethnics were divided and identified by way of employment and geography. This thwarted racial conflicts but it also preserved the cultures of the different racial groups almost intact. However, it was a policy which saddled the plural society with differences, resentment, distrusts and even animosities in people who live in the same country. Since then, much muddy water has flowed under the bridge until the disastrous May 13 riot in 1969 which gave birth to the controversial New Economic Policy (NEP).


A Government White Paper issued in 1971 entitled Towards National Harmony stressed that the ‘economic factor’ was the main cause of the May 13 riot. The Second Malaysia Plan also noted that,

‘National Unity is unattainable without greater equity and balance among Malaysia’s social and ethnic groups in their participation in the development of the country and in the sharing of the benefits from modernisation and economic growth. National Unity cannot be fostered if vast sections of the population remain poor’.

In line with this novel nation building philosophy, the NEP was born. It was an ambitious endeavour of social engineering aimed at redistributing wealth, eradicating poverty, and restructuring society. There was a necessity to ‘restructure Malaysian society’ in order to rid of the identification of race according to economic activity. The raison d’être behind this policy was, inter alia, to dilute and ultimately dispel the spells of jealousy that stirred up racial odium and hostility which at one stage unfortunately shoved Malaysia into the vast chasm separating rich and poor.


The NEP aims to: 1. restructure the economic imbalances in the society and eliminate the identification of race with economic function; and 2. increase employment opportunities and eradicate poverty of all Malaysians irrespective of race.

The initial target was to move the ratio of economic ownership in Malaysia from a 2.4:33:63 ratios of bumiputras, other Malaysians, and foreigner ownerships to a 30:40:30 rations. The NEP plans to achieve its target in 20 years, namely by 1990 in order to enable the bumiputras to own 30 per cent of the corporate sector of the economy. It plans to reduce poverty among the bumiputras neither by robbing Peter to give to Paul, nor by robbing Ah Chong to give to Ali; but by enlarging the national cake.

Our former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir once said, ‘It is better to have a portion of the big thing than the whole of a small thing, or worse still, the whole of nothing’. The whole economic pie should get larger and be cut more evenly so that everyone, whether Malay, Chinese or Indian would get a larger slice.

The NEP purportedly ended in 1991. Nonetheless, the policies continued in the form of other programmes such as the National Development Policy. Moreover, the current Ninth Malaysia Plan also allows all ethnic communities to advance collectively and work together to increase the overall size of the economic pie.


The Asian financial crisis in 1997 which sparked off the racial turmoil in Indonesia fortunately did not take place in Malaysia. Despite the tremendous hardship undergone by many Malaysians, our people had grown stronger together which had impliedly endorsed a resounding triumph of policy transformations in Malaysia since 1969. Let us give ourselves a big round of applause!

Practically, although the affirmative action in Malaysia is still far from the ivory tower, it had nevertheless helped in stabilising the country from arrays of external and internal turbulences. Besides Malaysia, India’s long war on caste has also provoked India’s federal Cabinet to expand the affirmative action to include the backward classes who wants a slice of the globalisation cake. By comparison, our positive discrimination is working better than those in the United States, India, Sri Lanka, Fiji, just to name a few.

Malaysia’s exemplary model of economic crisis management has been adopted in the Pacific Islands no more obviously than in Fiji. To this end, the nationalist-minded Fijian government has implemented policies projected to apportion 50 per cent of business into the indigenous Fijian hands by 2020 which is now dominated by the Indian, the white and the Chinese.

Plato, in his book The Laws stressed that, ‘If a State is to avoid civil disintegration, extreme poverty and wealth must not be allowed to rise in any section of the citizen body because both lead to disasters.’ In this regard, Ye Lin-Sheng in The Chinese Dilemma averred that, ‘The NEP favours a particular interest group in the name of the general interest, namely a better economic balance, which in turn makes for greater stability.’[19]

On the other hand, our former Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman who opposed against the 30 per cent target, wrote in the 1980s that, ‘an attempt was made to fill the target without thought for the ability and the capability of attaining it… Some became rich overnight while others became despicable Ali Babas and the country suffered economic set-backs’.[20]

One of the NEP’s reproaches is that it no longer helps the poor but instead is a protectionist scheme which shield and shelter the biggest ethnic community in Malaysia. Ostensibly, the bumiputras classification itself does not discriminate based on economic disparities. For sure, those well-off bumiputras could always do away with their so-called privilege in favour of those needy, regardless of whether they are bumiputras or non-bumiputras.

Recently, it was said by our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that, ‘The struggle to strengthen the economy of the Malays is an economic mission that has to become a national mission and only after the economy has been strengthened would the pride and honour of the Malays be more meaningful’. However, he also stated that, ‘This can only be done when Malays adopt the approach of helping other Malays such as the rich helping the poor’.[21]

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in his maiden speech as United Malays National Organization (UMNO) president to the UMNO general assembly in 2004 stated, ‘Let’s not use the crutches for support all the time, the knee will become weak’. It was further emphasized that the continued usage of crutches would eventually result in needing a wheelchair instead. Indeed, no one who wants to walk tall would want to talk with crutches. On the same token, Tun Dr. Mahathir’s book The Malay Dilemma was quoted to have stated that, ‘they (Malays) are not proud of the ‘privilege’ of being protected by law like cripples. They would like to get rid of these privileges if they can, but they have to let pride take second place to the facts of life’. In this regard, the NEP has raised self-worth rather than self-doubt.[22]

Furthermore, Khairy Jamaluddin, an investment banker and the Barisan Nasional deputy youth chief, has also written that, ‘if developing human capital is the heart of the Ninth Malaysia Plan, levelling gross inequalities is its soul…But instead of simply reintroducing targets for ethnic communities, Abdullah has clearly spelt out that distribution of income and opportunities will go to those who deserve it, judged by need and merit.’[23]


In reminiscence of the infamous bloody May 13 incident, we should not be oblivious to such an event and its significance. We should not ignore at our own peril the danger of economic imbalances among our people. The vicious circle must be broken. Poverty should not be the hallmark of our country. Indeed, history is a good teacher but never a good master.

Therefore, it is ripe time that we put thoughts of lack behind us. It is time for us to discover the secrets of the stars and to open up a new heaven where our spirits can soar. The privilege given under the affirmative action should be used as an incentive to nurture our competitive streak. We should leverage on our harmonious diversity to explore the neoteric opportunities and develop new markets. As learning is a life-long process, each of us must learn from each other. The Malay Muslim may aid in bringing the rest to tap into the oil-rich Islamic nations (‘so-called the Camel’); the Chinese may help to bring others to capture the booming market in China (‘so-called the Dragon’); and the Indians may assist in taking the Malay and the Chinese to explore India (‘so-called the Elephant’). All this augurs well for the future of Malaysia.


Aristotle argued that human beings are politikon zoon, political or social animals, to wit, individuals who are inclined by their nature to live in groups and ultimately in societies. There arises from this an inevitable conflict between individual wish and collective interests. As such, any emphasis which is so individualistic as to deny the collective, or so collectivist as to deny individuality will omit half the terms of equation. Justice, ultimately, is about a concept of ‘right relations’ in society and the choice is not between individualism and co-operation but rather a choice to be made for the expression of the individualism of human beings as social creatures.

Since there is no one-size-fits-all policy which favours everyone, the implementation of the NEP and its ensuing progresses must be carefully scrutinised. As it takes two to tango and it also takes two hands to clap, any disgruntlements are to be settled peacefully and diplomatically taking into consideration of all parties. No doubt, it is a balancing act on a tight rope, a delicate balance that has to be struck in balancing the interest of all communities which form the very existence of a sustainable society.

The 30 per cent target is merely a numerical and designative label. What lies beneath its true letter and spirit is the propitious effort to uphold a more equitable and just society for the overall benefit of each and everyone in Malaysia. Surely, the quest for unlimited wealth by the avaricious could destroy the tranquillity of life and without a just distribution anchor, man would have despair. As Winston Churchill had once said, ‘we make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give’

Can we really feel contented if in the midst of our wealth, there are still pockets of people suffering from hunger? Definitely we can’t. We must be the champion of the weak, the powerless and the disenfranchised against the outwardly overpowering dominance of the rich and the powerful. Let us together sacrifice to create new opportunities for the poor to hop on the gravy train and have a bigger pie!

As charity begins at home, we should not hesitate anymore to share our material and non-material wealth with others on our road to a peaceful and balanced society. Truly, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. There must be a beginning of any great value, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly achieved yields the true glory. John F. Kennedy once said,

‘Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slow eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, the pursuit must go on’.

Let me end here by quoting the proclamation by the Yang di-Pertuan on the occasion of Independence Day celebrations, 31st August, 1970 where the Rukunegara was worded in the form of a pledge that,

‘OUR NATION, MALAYSIA, being dedicated to achieving a greater unity of all her peoples; to maintaining a democratic way of life; to creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared; to ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions; to building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology…’.

In sum, just distribution will be a myth if the right theories do not come up to scratch. Conversely, it can be a reality if the right theories are practised earnestly. The future is not only about growth and material prosperity, as history had taught that the world would be a better place wherever good universal values of fairness, compassion, justice and tolerance prevail. As we enter the new millennium, as always, the hope for a brighter and peaceful future reigns eternal.


[1] CK Allen, Aspects of Justice, 1958, p. 112.

[2] Nicomachean Ethic V 3.

[3] Ye Lin-Sheng, The Chinese Dilemma, East West Publishing Pty Ltd (2005).

[4] Book 5.

[5] Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence

[6] Per N. Mac Cormick (1973) 89 L.Q.R. 393.

[7] A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press.

[8] A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press.

[9] A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press.

[10] Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence

[11]Anarchy, State and Utopia’, Basic Books Inc., p. 317.

[12]Anarchy, State and Utopia’, Basic Books Inc., p. 333, Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence

[13]Anarchy, State and Utopia’, Basic Books Inc., p. 333

[14] Per C. Fried, ‘‘Distributive Justice’’ Social Philosophy and Policy, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 45 at p. 49.

[15] Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence

[16] Dr. Yusuf al-Qardawi, Fiqh az-Zakat.

[17] See also Verse 2: 83, 110, 177, 277; 4: 162; 5: 12, 55.

[18] See also Verse 70:32.

[19] Ye Lin-Sheng, The Chinese Dilemma, East West Publishing Pty Ltd (2005).

[20] Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, Political Awakening, p. 98. Pelanduk Publications (1986).

[21] New Straits Times, 7th June, 2006.

[22] Ye Lin-Sheng, The Chinese Dilemma, East West Publishing Pty Ltd (2005).

[23] New Straits Times, 1st April, 2006.



1 Feb

By Ng Boon Ka 2006

Social integration

Social Integration in Malaysia


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.


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!