Friday, October 31, 2008

For More Road Signs comments ...from Ktemoc

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Malaysians - so similar yet so far apart!
Yesterday I posted Penang road signs - signs of ethnic division? based on an Utusan Melayu news article.Today Malaysiakini tells us in Backbenchers rap Penang's multi-lingual road signs that UMNO man, Mohamad Aziz from the Sri Gading ....

click here

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Road Signs Not A Good Sign by Dr Chandra

ROAD SIGNS NOT A GOOD SIGN! by Chandra Muzaffar

The decision of the Penang state government to put up road signs in different languages within the island's heritage enclave is ill-conceived as it is unwise.

That it will help foreign visitors to the enclave to understand Penang's heritage better is a facile argument. In many of the heritage cum historical sites that I have visited in other countries, the authorities provide some explanation of their significance in an international language such as English. This practice of providing information to the foreign visitor in an international language should be encouraged. However, it should be distinguished from the proposal to have road signs in different languages.

Road signs whether they are in heritage enclaves or elsewhere are often in the language of the land. Since Bahasa Malaysia is our sole official language, it is the language that should be used for official purposes which under article 152(6) of the Federal Constitution include the activities of local authorities like the Penang City Council. Putting up road signs in other languages such as Chinese, Tamil or English conveys the impression that they are also "official languages", on the same level as Malay.

This in fact diminishes the status of Malay since the language --- unlike all the other languages --- has a special relationship with the land. It is the language that defines the nation's identity. It is the language that is most intimately associated with the history and evolution of what is today Malaysia. For centuries it has served as a language of inter-ethnic communication a lingua franca --- within the larger Malay world. Today, it is perceived as a principal channel for forging solidarity among Malaysia's multi-cultural population. It is because of what Bahasa Malaysia means to the nation that the decision of the Penang state government has elicited such an adverse reaction from writers, academics, activists and politicians.

The truth is putting up road signs in Chinese has been part of the politics of Chinese based political parties for a few decades. As soon as the Gerakan came to power in Penang in May 1969, party functionaries sought to put up road signs in Chinese. Because of the Emergency and NOC (National Operations Council) rule, the plan was abandoned. In the March 2008 Election campaign, the DAP pledged to put up multi-lingual road signs if it captured the state. The Gerakan, now in the opposition, taunted the DAP by putting up six road signs in Chinese in July. Through subtle manipulation of Georgetowns heritage status, the DAP is now seeking to prove to the electorate that it has kept its word.

Communal posturing of this sort is a bane upon ethnic relations. After 51 years of Merdeka, one would expect DAP and Gerakan leaders, and indeed, all Malaysians, whatever their political hue or ethnic affiliation, to possess a more profound understanding of the foundations of the Malaysian nation. It is because they lack such a perspective that many of them cannot appreciate what primacy of Bahasa Malaysia means in the psychological and sociological sense.

Chandra Muzaffar.

Kuala Lumpur.
28 October 2008.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cancer, Color Blindness and Race Relations

Sunday October 12, 2008(from The Star)
Spreading the message

Creating cancer awareness is a continuing mission.

OCTOBER, by tradition, is the month when cancer advocacy groups throughout the world go pink to build awareness of breast cancer issues.

The first Breast Cancer Awareness Month programme took place in October 1985 in the US as a week-long event to fill the information void in public communication about breast cancer.

In the past two decades, many countries around the world, including Malaysia, have embraced the programme.

Although the primary focus is on breast cancer, this programme has also successfully created awareness on other cancers.

As a cancer survivor myself, I look forward to this month because it provides great opportunities for several national public service organisations, professional medical associations, and government agencies to work in partnership to build breast cancer awareness, share information and provide access to screening services.

Cancer patients also take this opportunity to share their experiences at this time of the year.

I was reflecting on how different this month will be from previous years and it struck me that if all our politicians were to take a breather from the world of politics, they will learn many useful lessons from the world of cancer.

Those who lament about how tense ethnic and religious issues have become in recent months have probably not stepped into the oncology wards.

I have been to many, both in public and private hospitals, and I can assure you that no one patient, doctor, nurse, caregiver thinks or acts in ethnic or religious terms.

We patients are united as one. We do not need a Race Relations Act to remind us how to act and speak to one another.

My own journeys, first in 1999 and then last year, have reaffirmed my conviction about this wonderful mosaic of Malaysia that is truly caring and truly muhibbah.

Anyone needing blood will realise that while we may have different blood groups, the colour of blood is red and it can flow into the veins of anyone irregardless of race or religion.

When I was undergoing chemotherapy last year, my fellow patients used to laugh about the fact that we were taking in similar drugs and growing bald around the same time.

There was one day when I was totally bald and the three women in the same room took off their wigs to be in solidarity with me. One was Chinese, one Malay and one Indian.

I am much encouraged that through events in Pink October, there is so much more awareness on the need to recognise the symptoms early and go for treatment fast.

The various groups and individuals who come out in full force this month are truly the unsung Malaysian heroes.

For all that they do, and continue to do, may God bless them in all their endeavours.

To all the politicians who seek to grab headlines for all the wrong reasons, I would encourage you to drop by one of the many cancer-related events to be held this month and see for yourselves what is being done and reflect on what you can do in the political sphere to complement the work in this area.

Monday, October 27, 2008

When is it Racial? When is it Racist? Part 2

Here is another article on the subject....

Tuesday June 10, 2008 ( from The Star)
The difference between racial and racist

By Halimah Mohd Said

IN THE light of current political developments, the words “racial” and “racist” need to be explicated and put in the right context.

The word “racial” is a derivative adjective from the root noun “race” which has several shades of meaning according to the Oxford Dictionary.
Its meaning include: (i) “each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics” and (ii) “a group of people sharing the same culture, language etc; an ethnic group.”

The adjective “racist” is derived from the noun “racism” which according to the Oxford Dictionary means: (i) “the belief that there are characteristics, abilities or qualities specific to each race” and (ii) “discrimination against or antagonism towards other races”.

While “racial” has a neutral, non-emotive meaning, “racist” has emotive undertones.

The word “race” has become unpopular because of its associations with the now discredited 19th century theories of racial superiority exploited indiscriminately by certain quarters.

Today the term “ethnic group” is preferred to describe a community of people sharing the same physical and cultural characteristics.
While being partial to and protective of one’s own ethnic group is natural and should be seen as an extension of loyalty towards kin and kind, being antagonistic and discriminatory towards people who do not share one’s physical make-up and culture is not.

Speaking up for your own community is not an act of racism. It should be seen as a positive force, especially when the intention is to inspire and drive them to greater heights of achievement.

Asking the Malays to protect their own interests should be seen in this context, as it is natural for the Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups to consolidate their respective positions.

It is only when a government is prejudiced against particular ethnic groups and imposes discriminatory policies against them that it can be said to practice racism. It is only when you consistently accuse another ethnic group of being lazy or incapable that you can be said to be racist.

Kuala Lumpur.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When is it Racial? When is it Racist?

Here is a good article I read recently.

I would like to highlight a pertinent view the writer correctly pointed. The need for us to be less high strung and be able to laugh at ourselves and each other; something we use to be so good at.

We need to know the difference between a racial joke and a racist one.

Remember all the racial jokes we use to laugh at when we watched “Mind Your Language” and as the writer noted, Lat’s cartoon?

But is it true that Malaysians have lost this ability? Who are they who have lost it? How many are there?

My job provides me the opportunity to meet hundreds of Malaysians from all walks of life, from CEOs to clerks each month.

I am glad to record that whenever I share racial jokes to note certain points that is pertinent to a particular group of people – for example during explaining the psychographics of the Malay, Indian, Chinese, etc for market segmentation in my marketing class, none was offended.

Mostly because they were not racist jokes but more so because my participants do not have racist minds.

Thursday October 23, 2008
Let’s strive to

be Lat’s Malaysia again
Taken from The Star - Letters to the Editor

REMEMBER Datuk Lat’s comical and hilarious depiction of Malaysian life? When was the last time you laughed at the multi-racial characters that he portrayed?

The Chinese schoolteacher with butterfly-rimmed glasses, Punjabi security guard, the oversized Malay housewife and her puny husband, the Indian shopkeeper, the mamak roti canai seller?

The assorted characters from the bus driver to the Prime Minister? Was it quite some time ago that you were amused because the characters resembled many people around you?

If you are scratching your head trying to recall the last occasion you laughed, let me tell you why. Something has gone wrong with our psyche, the Malaysian psyche. We seem to have lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. We seem to have become highly-strung, sensitive, paranoid even.

And all this seems to coincide with the heightened racial tensions that we are apparently going through. I don’t know about you but for me if it is true that we are getting polarised, I will feel ashamed, utterly ashamed.
I will feel guilty too because we are being irresponsible to the future generations. Do you think they will thank us for bequeathing upon them a legacy of disunity and polarisation? Of a country unified in name only? Of a society that operates on differences, not similarities?

It is a big shame, really, for not too long ago, we were like Lat’s Malaysia.
I know my childhood schooldays were such. Those days of playful abandon and childhood innocence with my best friends, Siva and Swee Cheong. Of blissful times roaming the rubber estates in my hometown of Teluk Intan.
The days of great discovery in school under strict but wonderful teachers who, incidentally for me, were mostly non-Malays.

The portly headmaster, Mr Hari Singh, was feared but knew how to make us laugh with funny remarks during his address at the weekly assembly. He was ably assisted by Mrs Maniam who, despite her matronly disposition, just needed to stare at us when we were mischievous.
My class teachers, Ms Santhaletchumi, Mrs Ng, Mr Pua and Mr Yu were utterly dedicated and professional. To be sure, they were strict disciplinarians and some of their methods of punishment may be called torture by today’s teaching standards. But they were effective educationists to whom I shall forever owe a debt of gratitude.
The point is that never once did I feel discriminated against by any of them. On the contrary, I know they sacrificed time and money to see me and the other students succeed. Mr Yu, for example, used to buy nasi lemak and tea for the top student in the monthly Maths test.

Naturally, yours truly won the coveted prize many times, the additional honour being to enjoy the treat in the privacy of the sports storeroom.
Why reward a student with nasi lemak and tea in the storeroom, you may ask? Mr Yu, you see, was also
our hockey master. Did you think he was buying nasi lemak and tea because he actually thought I might be the next Einstein? I also had to polish the hockey sticks and hockey balls!

Granted, childhood nostalgia may have put a gloss on the realities of Malaysian life back then. I am not saying the country was perfect socio-economically or otherwise. Of course, there were imbalances and inequalities which could cause social and political tensions and therefore had to be addressed.

But the multi-racial orientation of Malay­sian life was very pronounced in all spheres, which made for a more colourful, interesting and vibrant nation. Not to mention a stronger nation, harnessing the full potential, talents and calibre of all its citizenry.

Undeniably, much has changed since our founding fathers left us this cultural melting pot of a country called Malaysia.

Question is, in our hearts and minds, are we as a people celebrating our diversity like we used to? Do we see multi-racial pop groups, sports teams, school administrators, government officials and security forces like we used to?

Oh, how I wish Malaysian life was colourful and interesting again. Easygoing, laidback, unassuming, charming, original again. Inclusive and inspiring again. I say let’s be Lat’s Malaysia again.

Kuala Lumpur.

Have A Meaningful Deepavali

“A few heart-whole, sincere and energetic men and women can do more in a year than a mop in a century”
Swami Vivekananda

This year my organization featured Swami Vivekananda for our Deepavali advertisement. The topic is about bonding. It is a relevant topic today as our nation is moving apart in race relations; something we must arrest, repair and make good.

I wrote the Team Bonding Workshop (of which this advert was based on) some year’s ago with the goal of answering these questions,

- How to get people to feel like they know each other since childhood?
- How to unite their hearts and minds?
- How to make them understand and accept each other better?
- How to make them appreciate each other’s uniqueness and make their
complimentary skills work for the organization?
- How to help them reflect and take stock of the past and present and move
forward positively into the future?

It was a way of bringing our vision of Unity into reality, a class at a time.

Many of our clients could see how the program makes sense in making their people work better together. In the program we featured many sharing sessions and one of the highlights is a shared prayer session – a getting to know session explaining what each of us pray for during our daily prayers. It was no doubt an eye opener to most participants as we Malaysians understanding of each others traditions are almost at zero.

Now, how to bring this program to the nation?

Have a meaningful Deepavali

Anas Zubedy

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Ahmad Ismail Experience - Let us do some self check

Anyone can become angry - that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way - this is not easy.

If you are a Chinese, were you angry with him as a Chinese or a Malaysian Chinese? If you were angry as a Malaysian Chinese, were you equally angry when the Hindraf leaders wronged the Malays; like saying the Malays were practicing genocide?

If you are Malay, were you angry with the Hindraf leaders as a Malay or a Malaysian Malay? If you were angry as a Malaysian Malay were you equally angry when Ahmad Ismail wronged the Chinese?

If you are a Malaysian Indian, were you equally angry when he wronged the Chinese and when the Hindraf leaders wronged the Malays?

Reshape yourself through the power of your will …
Bhagavad-Gita (6:5)

To conquer others need strength;
To conquer oneself is harder
Tao Te Ching – chapter 33

Though one should conquer a million men in
battlefield, yet he, indeed, is the noblest
victor who has conquered himself.
The Buddha (Dhammapada 103)

Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own
eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the
speck that is in your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:5

Verily never will God change the fate (condition)
of a people until they change it themselves.
Quran 13 : 11

And Guru Nanak said, to conquer the world, we must first conquer our own mind. Good night Malaysians :)

Prim@Farim - A Good Man I Know, A True Malaysian, Too!

Prim aka Farim was a client when he was in Maybank. Now he is a friend. A wonderful person; let me elaborate. His expensive pair of Bally shoes were stolen after Friday prayers. Most people will get furious, typical Prim, he smiled and said that the thief probably needed the money more than he (Prim) needed the shoes and he walked away barefooted smiling :)

So do read on ....

Saturday October 4, 2008
The long road to success
Taken from The Star BizWeek

Life is never easy, says Prim Kumar @ Farim Umar, president and chief technology officer of Dibta Group, but it can also be one long journey of discovery and learning.

“PLEASE come to my open house on the first day of Raya,” says Prim, barely five minutes into the interview. This friendly man’s warm personality can put anyone at ease.

Dibta Group’s humble office is cozy and minimalistic. Prim explains that most of his staff works from home, therefore the office is relatively small. With offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Jakarta and Malaysia, you’d expect Prim to be a busy man running the show. But his eldest son Faroze Nadar helps him out in his regional business of setting up corporate universities for clients like Shanghai Volkswagen and Maybank, so he can take some time out once in a while to enjoy the fruit of his labour.

Learning from the school of hard knocks

“It’s hard to believe that many years ago, I walked almost 3 km along this little road to school,” he says while gesturing towards the window that overlooks a construction area. “I stayed at Old Klang Road and my school was right across the other side.”

Prim studied till Form Five; he had to stop schooling due to financial reasons. To help his family out, he had to work in a sawmill. And as luck would have it, he inherited a roti canai stall.

“I learnt the basics from my uncle who left me the stall and I started out with RM10 to buy the ingredients. I did this for three years and through the three years I experimented with different types of recipes for my roti. Making roti canai is a skill I am proud of till today,” says Prim, who proudly says his roti canai have been enjoyed in China, the US, Japan and South Korea.

“My friends and colleagues will demand it whenever I visit them in their home countries and I am more than happy to oblige.” But manning the stall didn’t stop him from studying. He’d study in the public library from 12 pm to 6 pm, following which he would work in the sawmill, carrying bags of saw dust to earn extra income for the family. Then he would go home and prepare the ingredients and dough for his roti canai stall for the next day.

A new direction

Through his hard work and determination, he finally completed his Form Six and by which time, he managed to secure a job in Motorola. “I was hired as a factory hand but within a few years I was promoted to a managerial position in the operations side. And while working for Motorola, I obtained my Masters with the help of the company. I used to go for weekend classes while working. I was very aggressive,” he says.

But something happened that changed his perspective of life. “There was an opening for a higher position and there were two others vying for it. The two were my friends. I wanted the job so badly that I actually bad-mouthed them. In the end, when the company hired someone else I realised I did something really bad,” he says.

He took a week off and told his wife he was going for a short holiday by himself.
He took a bus where he met a stranger who recommended him a spot somewhere near Kuala Besut where he stayed for the next six days. He stayed with a fisherman who taught him a thing or two about life. “We had meals together and when I saw him sharing a fish with his children, I asked myself when was the last time I had dinner with my family? I was so focused on work that I neglected everything else. I went home a changed man,” he says.

“When I went back to work, a colleague of mine approached me and asked if I wanted to be a trainer. I said yes immediately. I wanted to teach and impart knowledge to the future generation,” he says, while adding that it was ironic that he taught university graduates when he himself had not been to a university.

A sign

After being in Motorola for 25 years, Prim decided that he should go in search for greener pastures. He eventually joined Maybank to set up their corporate university and after two years in Maybank, he planned to go to China.
Within the next few days, a friend of his from China called and told him that she’s got a contract to provide training for a large Chinese company and wanted him to be part of it.

“It was like a sign. It was too much of a coincidence,” says Prim who believes everything happens for a reason. He packed his bags up and headed to China. Unfortunately, the deal fell through and he was left with almost nothing. “It was so bad that we had guys coming to tow our cars off. Just imagine that for someone who was earning a five-figure salary and could afford three cars, I suddenly had nothing,” he says.

“But on the last few days when I was in China, I learnt one of my biggest lessons in life from a beggar. I wanted to take a picture of her because she looked like my daughter but she hid behind a car when I tried. When the translator asked her what was wrong and she said “What would this foreigner’s countrymen think of China if he were to take a picture of me like this?” I remember those words till today clearly because this girl, a beggar, was still proud of her country. But I had lost my investments and wanted to give in...?” he recalls.

Lucky for Prim who persevered in China, he did make back what he lost and more. “I am glad I stayed on because I’ve learnt so much from China. Their sense of pride in their country is amazing,” he says. Dibta Group has since gone from one office in China to several countries in the region.

Closet Poet

As busy as he is, Prim still finds time to pursue his interest. “I like writing poems and I chat a lot on Skype. What I usually do is write poems spontaneously over the chat program. I also like cooking for my family. Of course, I make my famous roti canai whenever I have time,” he says. He also confides that he would like to write a book.

His philosophy in life is to keep an open heart and learn from everything. “Of course, there are gurus who teach marketing and give those rousing talks to thousands of people, but I found in my life the greatest gurus are fishermen and beggars,” he says.

“Life will never be easy. It’s like the mountains. After scaling one mountain, you’ll find there will be a bigger mountain before you. But what makes this journey worthwhile is that you stop and smell the flowers. Sometimes you have to look for these flowers, but I believe you will always find what you look for,” he smiles.
“And life is such that you won’t know when you have go back to that little 3 km road you have to walk every day in the hot sun. So always be grateful of what you have and appreciate them,” Prim says while looking out from his comfortable air-conditioned office.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Malaysia: The Present Political Situation By Dr Chandra


Recent political developments in Malaysia suggest that the reverberations from the March 8 electoral earthquake are still strong.

The Clamour within UMNO

The decision of UMNO President, Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to expedite the transfer of power to his Deputy, Dato Seri Najib Abdul Razak, is perhaps one of the more significant of those reverberations. UMNO and its coalition partners in the Barisan Nasional had suffered an unprecedented setback in the 12th General Election. The BN not only lost its two-third majority in the federal parliament for the first time in history but was also ousted as the ruling party in four states ---Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor--- besides failing yet again to regain control of Kelantan.

After such a colossal debacle, it was not surprising that many people expected Abdullah to assume full responsibility for the ignominious performance and to quit gracefully as president of UMNO, the leader of the BN and the Prime Minister. Of course, a variety of reasons explain the BN’s electoral losses but accountability demands that the captain of the team takes the rap and bows out. When I was asked by RTM (television) to give a brief comment on the election results in the wee hours of the 9th of March, I stated quite candidly that it was a vote against the BN leadership. The next day at a post-mortem on the election organized by a leading think tank, I expressed the view that as a person who values ethics in politics, Abdullah should act in a principled manner and take responsibility for the BN’s performance. Otherwise, there would be rapid erosion of confidence in the leadership and this would have an adverse impact upon the nation’s politics.

When Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim won the Permatang Pauh by-election with a bigger majority than what his wife had secured in the March 8 polls, a lot of UMNO leaders realised the truth about Abdullah’s standing: popular confidence in him was at a nadir even in his own home state, Penang, in a constituency that was adjacent to his own. There is no doubt that the hefty increase in the price of petrol at the beginning of June and the consequent escalation in the cost of living had also undermined Abdullah’s credibility severely. The quiet clamour from within UMNO to persuade him to step down reached a crescendo by September.

Abdullah is now expected to make an announcement about his future in politics that will take into account the feelings of UMNO members and the public at large. If he quits --- as he is expected to--- Najib, it is speculated, will obtain nominations from the majority of party divisions to enable him to contest the party presidency. An incumbent president paving the way for his deputy to take over through some sort of succession plan has now become an established practice in UMNO. It started with the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, also in the wake of an electoral debacle, handing over the presidency to Tun Abdul Razak, over a period of time stretching from May 1969 to September 1970.

As Abdullah relinquishes the party presidency, one hopes that he will act decisively in a couple of areas that are important for UMNO’s future. One, he should get the UMNO Supreme Council to abolish the quota regulation for nominations to the Council. It curbs the right of choice of the members. As someone who has attempted to expand democratic space within Malaysian society, Abdullah should eliminate this undemocratic hurdle within the party. Two, he should also ensure that intra-party corruption, euphemistically called ‘money politics’, which allegedly is still serious is fought vigorously. Corruption within UMNO distorts the will of the membership.

There is a third, more immediate task that awaits him. He should rescind the recent UMNO Supreme Council decision to postpone the party general assembly to March 2009 and instead stick to the December 2008 schedule. Postponement will mean that once nominations to Supreme Council positions close in early November 2008, contestants will be able to campaign for four months before the general assembly votes in March next year. It will certainly give rise to intense politicking over a much longer period of time. Since a number of the contestants are bound to be Ministers and Deputy Ministers, they will be distracted from their ministerial duties. This is something that the nation can ill afford especially when we are confronted by a massive global financial crisis whose full impact upon our people has yet to manifest itself. The people want Ministers and their deputies to concentrate upon this and other related challenges and not be preoccupied with their own political careers!

Crossover Politics

Indeed, a prolonged campaign with all its adverse consequences may even encourage Anwar to intensify his manoeuvres to lure UMNO and other BN members of parliament to cross over to his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). In other words, the uncertainty within UMNO exacerbated by a prolonged campaign could help revive Anwar’s crossover politics which has been in the doldrums since his much trumpeted September 16 deadline for the formation of a new government through defections turned out to be a total farce.

If he succeeds in reviving his game, the atmosphere of uncertainty that has characterized Malaysian politics since March 8 will deteriorate further. For a lot of people, this uncertainty is unsettling. As I had pointed in an earlier article written on August 4 2008 unethical and undemocratic politics of this type also affects the morale of the public service and impacts negatively upon both local and foreign investors.

This is why in order to check crossover politics, UMNO as the biggest party in parliament and as the backbone of the government will have to demonstrate as quickly and as effectively as possible that its leadership is decisive, and has a clear sense of direction. It must also prove through deeds that it has a sincere commitment to fundamental reforms in all spheres of society--- reforms which many of us have been advocating for decades. Unfortunately, UMNO as it is does not seem to be helmed by a strong, dynamic reform oriented leadership.

However, neither leadership nor reforms will stop Anwar from continuing to entice parliamentarians to cross over since his real goal is to become Prime Minister of Malaysia in the shortest possible time. Incidentally, in a couple of state assemblies BN leaders have also been trying to induce PKR and other Pakatan Rakyat members to join them in order to topple the PR government in the state. It underscores the urgent need to introduce a law at both federal and state level that will prohibit defections in our legislatures. Again, this is something that has been proposed some 15 years ago. Since it will require constitutional amendments, both the government and the opposition in the federal parliament and in the state assemblies will have to cooperate on the proposed anti defection legislation.

The Ethnic Situation

If crossover politics and the clamour for change within UMNO are connected to March 8, so is the ethnic uneasiness that has become more pronounced in recent months. While issues such as the BN’s corruption, its abuse of power, its failure to curb the spiraling cost of living, its inability to tackle the escalating crime rate, and its sheer incompetence, provided fodder to the mass protest against the ruling coalition in the recent General Election, there was also undeniably an ethnic dimension to both the Malay and non-Malay vote for the opposition parties. A segment of the Malay community was unhappy with the UMNO leadership because it was perceived as allowing non-Malays and non-Muslims to challenge the Malay position and Islam. More specifically, non-Malay articulation of certain concerns pertaining to freedom of religion and non-Malay rights for instance were interpreted as an affront to the Malay community. For a lot of non-Malays, on the other hand, their major grievances against the state have always revolved around what they regard as Malay dominance through UMNO and alleged discrimination against them especially in education and in the economy. They were thrilled therefore when for the first time, a major Malay leader --- Anwar Ibrahim--- was prepared to champion their cause by promising to abolish the New Economic Policy (NEP) and to promote equality for all.

Since the General Election, both these sentiments have found expression in the political postures of certain individuals and entities. Immediately after becoming Chief Minister of Penang, Democratic Action Party (DAP) leader Lim Guan Eng for instance pledged to set aside the NEP in the state’s socio-economic programmes. Some of his party officials also put up multilingual road signs in parts of the state’s capital, Georgetown, in defiance of the established policy of having road signs in only the official language, Bahasa Malaysia. In Selangor one of the first projects announced by the PR state government was a centralised pig farm. In another PR state, Perak, a huge tract of land was gifted to independent Chinese language secondary schools so that it could become a source of revenue for them.

These and other similar issues have been exploited by UMNO politicians in order to instill fear among the Malays that their political position is in jeopardy and that power is slipping away from their hands. A couple of Malay newspapers appear to be working hand in glove with these politicians. It is because of this fear that a middle level UMNO politician who uttered some malicious communal remarks against the Chinese and refused to apologise became an instant hero among a segment of the Malay community.

The spread of communal sentiments in the post March 8 scenario has to be checked immediately. There should be a more concerted effort by both state and society to make all Malaysians aware of the history of the country, the contemporary situation, the sensitivities of the various communities, their hopes and their fears. Accurate information about issues that impinge upon ethnic relations should also be made available to everyone. Most of all, as I have emphasised so often in the past, it is only when every Malaysian is convinced that he can expect justice from the system regardless of his religious or cultural background that the communal cancer can be eliminated once and for all.


Laws alone, whether punitive or preventive, cannot combat communalism. This is a pertinent point to make in view of the recent detention under the ISA of three individuals who were connected in one way or another with situations and circumstances which had communal overtones. From past examples we know that individuals who have been detained under the ISA for “causing ethnic and religious tensions” have seldom changed their positions or attitudes on ethnic issues after their release. Similarly, the law has not been able to prevent the outbreak of ethnic riots such as ‘May 13th’ or the Kampong Medan incident in 2001.

If we have succeeded in maintaining a certain degree of inter-ethnic peace over the years it is not because of the ISA per se. Political power sharing, some scope for dissent, economic growth with equity, a workable public delivery system, and acceptance of religious and cultural diversity have been far more important factors. Rather than apply the ISA, it is the underlying causes of ethnic unhappiness that we should address.

In any case, the ISA, whatever its purported goals, is an unjust law. Since I entered public life in the early seventies, I have consistently advocated its abolition. It denies a human being a fundamental human right: the right to a fair trial. It bestows unfettered powers upon the Executive. It is a law which in its application has been abused right from the outset. If the ISA was meant to fight communist terrorists when it was re-enacted in 1960, how does one explain the detention of the late Burhannuddin al-Helmi or the late Abdul Aziz Ishak during the Tunku’s administration?

It is encouraging to see that more and more people are now coming out against the ISA. When Anwar was arrested under the ISA in 1998, many ordinary Malays for the first time began to oppose the ISA. After Hindraf leaders were incarcerated under the ISA, a significant segment of the Indian community has started to criticize the law. The brief detention of a Chinese journalist who had merely reported a communal speech by a Malay politician that had hurt the Chinese has now triggered widespread condemnation of the ISA within the community. These episodes show how powerful the ethnic emotion is in our country and how intimately linked it is to human rights issues.

It is important to sustain the present momentum against the ISA. We should continue to campaign not only for the release of all those who are now in detention in Kamunting but also for the abolition of the law before it attains its fiftieth birthday!


If the state should not use the ISA to deal with ethnic problems, neither should it underestimate the gravity of yet another trend that has become more marked in the post March 8 environment. This is the increase in acts of violence which appear to have political connotations. The latest was the dastardly petrol bomb attack upon the family home of DAP member of parliament, Teresa Kok. Before this, improvised explosive devices were left at the doorstep of the Bar Council premises; Molotov cocktails were tossed into the compound of the previous residence of the present Bar Council president; and reporters covering political ceramahs and events were physically assaulted by what appear to be political functionaries. Even prior to March 8, the home of the chairman of the Election Commission was paint bombed and there were reports of violence in pre-election activities in Trengganu.

There is no need to emphasise that each and every one of these incidents should be thoroughly investigated. Prompt and effective action should be taken against the culprits. The influential stratum of society --- this includes business, professional, religious, cultural, academic and NGO leaders, apart from politicians --- should condemn acts of violence in unambiguous, uncompromising language. Politicians in particular should be as vocal and as vehement in denouncing violence committed by their own party or their own supporters as they are in savaging alleged perpetrators on the other side of the divide.

Adopting a principled approach to the question of political violence is critical since it is one of the most effective ways of curbing the phenomenon. That political violence in Malaysia is minimal is, as I never cease to argue, one of the great achievements of our nation.


Our reflections on five major, inter-related concerns reveal that government and opposition, Malays and non-Malays, are both part of the problem and the solution in the current political situation. This is why in analyzing the situation and in articulating solutions we should avoid the temptation of castigating one group as the villain while eulogizing another individual as the saviour. If we use certain criteria to judge a particular group or individual we should be prepared to employ the same criteria to evaluate another group or individual in a similar circumstance. We cannot close an eye to the wrongdoings of those we endorse while condemning the same ills in our adversaries. Neither the abuse of power nor communalism is the monopoly of a particular group or community.

Civil society actors and the media in particular should be honest and truthful in their analysis. It is their honesty and integrity that will serve as our compass as we navigate our journey into the future in these difficult times.

Chandra Muzaffar
October 3, 2008
Professor Chandra Muzaffar is a political scientist who has authored a number of books on Malaysian politics and society.