Politics of Myopia
This past week has seen several incidents that seem to indicate to me that after more than 50 years of independence, our nation is still perched on the dangerous cliff called ‘racism’. Our moral integrity as human beings hanging on for dear life, as the political forces of myopia diligently plot our fall.
Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s suggestion for UiTM to open up 10% of its intake to other races was met with a generally hostile response since the move was seen as challenging the special rights of the Malays. The general argument is that if UITM opened its doors this would lead to a situation where many Malay institutions will disintegrate. This would lead to the special rights of Malays being eroded.
Racism has been a part of our culture since the country’s inception. It’s very much an open secret. The secret part of it is largely due to the provisions of the Sedition Act which make it an offence to incite or inflame racial sentiments. Yet over the past one week, I have heard prominent Malay politicians say things like, “Don’t push the envelope with the Malays or be prepared to face the consequences – you don’t know what’s coming”. “Don’t challenge the Malays.”
I think I have been living in a fantasy world (but I am convinced I am not alone). I don’t and never have thought of my friends by reference to their racial denomination. A Malay, a Chinese, an Indian, etc. They are my friends, Ahmad, Peter and Samy. I have never attached any special significance to their race because it really does not matter. People are good or bad, or sometimes a bit of both. Race does not prequalify a person to any special claim or right in relation to character, integrity or virtue. In my mind the average Malaysian does not think about race either. Most people are thinking about how to improve their conditions of living and surviving mostly, in what is a grossly inequitable world.
Embracing cultural diversity, with tolerance, respect and understanding should be the fundamental principle of any nation that aspires towards greatness. These laudable principles would probably be applauded by many but the question is how do we deal with this complex, emotive and at times, divisive ethos without causing further conflict or merely treating it in a superficial manner? My main concern is that we must deal with our multiculturalism in a manner which avoids tokenism.
This is the course that the Malaysian leadership has embraced over the past 40 years. At least in my living memory. A path of tokenism.
For Malaysia to be truly Asia (as the song goes) our society must embrace multiculturalism wholeheartedly as something that strengthens us not the contrary. It requires a tolerance of difference and a pluralistic view of culture. For these attributes to be part of a society’s psyche there must first exist empathy and a willingness to examine one’s own perspectives in the light of alternate perspectives. Our education system lies at the heart of this process.
Educators are in a unique position to foster and facilitate those personal characteristics necessary to accept change open-mindedly and with a willingness to incorporate the aspirations of all for the wellbeing of all. This sort of attitude to life is one which must evolve. It requires a particular approach to life and learning – a sincere and courageous quest for truth and meaning in all facets of one’s learning. A pluralistic view of life can only be gained through a desire to understand and respect the experiences of others, and this can only be achieved effectively when it is incorporated automatically into one’s reflections about life.
It is shameful when the very education system and educators who should be promoting critical thinking and open mindedness, skew the system to achieve very short term and myopic political aims.
Racism as a social toxin, the origin of which can only be found by delving deeply into the social unconscious. Differences of opinion on the complex issues of religion, law, morality and customs will always exist between varying cultures. We have to be respectful of each other and develop a sense of conviction that we have a common history and a common destiny. We must believe in the power inherent within us to remove some of the barriers and render those that remain more transparent, thus providing a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of those who live on the other side. There is no antidote to the toxin but we could help pave the way for an increase in tolerance and an enrichment of our lives, gained through an everwidening range of possibilities from which to choose when determining our beliefs, codes of behaviour, and our direction as a society.
“Affirmative action” means positive steps taken to increase the representation of Malays in areas of employment, education, and business because they have been historically disadvantaged. In my view this is both necessary and desirable to create social equilibrium. Nothing will endanger our society more greatly than our unwillingness or inability to provide opportunities for people who are socially disadvantaged.
This is different from saying that because I come from a particular race group, I am entitled to certain rights even though I don’t need such preferential treatment. Such an assertion will make a sham of the fundamental principle of equality enshrined in Art. 8 (1) of our federal constitution. The principle of equality is the most fundamental of human rights and has been described as the “starting point of all liberties”. International human rights law reflects this belief. Art.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR) declares that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. The UDHR is not a treaty but it embodies a moral authority and sets out a common standard of achievement of all peoples and nations. The UDHR is the root document from which the international human rights treaties have grown.
(TO BE CONTINUED)