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Malaysia: Ethnic relations course causes furore

All this while, as a multi racial and multi cultural country, Malaysians exist in perfect harmony as the mutual tolerance, acceptance and celebration of the multi-ethnic communities and cultures in Malaysia are traits that have been successfully inculcated throughout Malaysia's history. These multiple facets of Malaysia are what make Malaysia so colourful and fascinating to others.

Despite diverse cultural and traditional backgrounds, the people of Malaysia have been able to coexist peacefully in unity and harmony.

However lately, the "Ethnic Relations" course that was introduced into the curriculum at University Putra Malaysia (UPM), has caused uneasiness among the public and a heated debate in the parliament. The course is said to contain inaccuracies in its course material relating to the May 13th 1969 racial riots, where the unfortunate incident has always been considered a taboo subject.

Famous Malaysia historian Prof. Dr. Khoo Kay Kim commented that ethnic relations is a sensitive subject that needs to be handled with care, and universities should not rush to get their teaching materials and content out.

Why do we always fall into the typical Malaysian pitfall of rushing into something, only to discover that the results are not up to expectations? Historical facts, for instance, need to be easily verifiable.

Writers dealing with historical facts must be able to give the precise source of where they get their facts. If the source is vague, then their facts will be highly questionable.

It is a rash statement because there is no evidence of who started the riots. It is a complex issue that needs to be studied from all aspects. It is important for historians not to pass judgment and be able to deal with hard facts coldly.

While blogger Ktemoc called it a half-past six book, blogger Penthesilea questioned the need of a text book for a class of ethnic relations. A simple Malaysian is wondering when Malaysians will learn to pick the good from the bad. Blogger Siva hopes Prime Minister will send correct message over the ethnic issue to the Cabinet and at the same time instruct his ministry to send circulars to all the universities, schools and government departments regarding this matter, in order to help the small minds to see the bigger issues.


As for Malaysia Opposition Leader and blogger Lim Kit Siang, he condemned the textbook and the Higher Education Minister Mustapha Mohamad for defending the indefensible and what Lim perceives as half-truths, untruths and the generally biased, tendentious and divisive accounts in the textbook as "historic facts" when they are in fact "historic lies". He too called upon Prime Minister to review all varsity courses and school history textbooks.

After a heated debate in Parliament over the Ethnic Relations course at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s decided to withdraw the book. Following the withdrawal, a new module for ethnic relations subject will be drafted soon, by a newly set up special committee.

Is That So would like to remind every Malaysian that while ethnic integration is never easy, however when taking our own path, let us not forget that the world is here for all to share. Minncandy believes that Malaysians need to own a higher degree of maturity, putting ownself in other people point of view and discuss sociopolitical matters rationally without hurting the other party.

And perhaps the most important for Malaysians, is that we must treasure the peace and the stability that we now enjoy as it's easy to take for granted what we have now. We must never again descend into conflict.

Peace, it is!

9 comments

  • […] [Repost of my entry at Global Voices Online] […]

  • Malaysia does not have freedom of the press and indeed all forms of press and content created for the publis is very heavily reveiewed and censored by the government in not so sublte ways. Thinking that this is a society that actually treasures and pursues freedom of the press or allows the freedom of expression to all Malaysains is a falsehood as there is an underlying feeling that one cannot speak out against the government or speak about certain issues freely just like the banning of this course and the book of the same name.

    It is ironic that in a country tha is so proud of becoming the Silicon Valley of Asia and the home of the Multimedia Corridor that you cannot express your opinion freely without fear of retribution by the government.

  • Hurm…Malaysia are too ‘kampung’ unlike european countries who practice free-speaking..

  • mindset

    Never meant to sow hatred among Malaysians especially the non Malays but due to things that are happening nowadays in the country make it difficult not to talk about it in public – secretly and silently that is less you’ll be marked and sentenced under the inhuman ISA ( Internal Security Act ). Here are some injustice that the outside world needs to know about this so called beautiful country:

    1. Malay is a special race. Malays are given some privileges compared to the nons in the aspects of ecomony, education …etc..etc. One cannot question that as it’s in the Constitution, the highest law of the land. What in the world is this? While the government is trying to instill loyalty to the country among all races, then why differentiate? Malaysia is built by all the races, not only Malays. Independence is gained thru cooperation of these nons and they contribute the most to the country’s economic development. I dare say Malaysia would have not become as it is today if without the contributions of these nons. Yet, these nons don’t retaliate. They carry on with their normal daily work to find money for the country. Though deprived of the special treatment from the goverment, they still manage to find their way thru hardwork, not politics.

    2. Education. Why the need for quota.Isn’t it that you earn what you
    work for, yet though there are many and more non Malays who achieve better grades in their SPM and ATPM, they may still face the possibility of being given the chance to further their studies in the local universities. I have a friend a professor who teaches in University Malaya who expresses his shock upon finding out that there are so many Malay students who got Grade 3 in their SPM manage to study in that university. You call that fair??
    The goverment has also made it a point to instill Malaysian identity in the school to the extent of diminishing the British influence of some schools especially the mission schools. What did they do? They change the school badge that has a cross depicting Christianity on it. The crosses on some school buildings were also removed when knowing at the same time that those buildings are sponsored not by the government, but individuals and private sectors that are not of ‘Islamic’influence. Even the school anthem that has words like ‘sons’, ‘love’ or those that have Christian values in it. Wonder, what are they really scared of ??? The best part is that, these are the very ministers who studied in those schools before, that helped shaped them to what and who they are now. I don’t see they lose their faith in Islam. In terms of English language, it’s a language that was a medium in most schools 20-25 years ago. But then there were some ministers who are good in the language, changed the system and made Bahasa Malaysia to be the medium. Then as time passes by, English language is becoming more and more important. The government can’t deny this fact. So, what did they do? They made it a directive that English be used in important subjects i.e Maths and Science. When that was implemented, the students got shocked, malay students especially. Even the teachers especially Malays, suffer a lot. Imagine if all the subejects are taught in English, how would the goverment cope with the reality that many Malay teachers will be out of job. So critical is the situation that the goverment had to call back the retired English teachers,who are mostly Non Malays. So once again, the nons help the goverment again, I mean the malays. I;m not against Bahasa Malaysia or anything, but the way the goverment handles this makes me sick of being loyal.

    3. Freedom of religion. Maybe I need’nt say it. That is why ISA. If you talk and argue with them, then ISA will settle the problems.

  • Donald

    I just want to ask PM Badawi not to follow Mahathir’s “strategy” by making negative coments on his own race and do nothing about it . As we’ve all know that Mahathir infamous critics about the Malays are that they are “complacent” and etc etc. He even wrote a book called the “Malay Dilemma”. For me it’s all conspiracies. That book is not for the Malay but for the non-malay especially the Chinese. You see, in Mahathir’s speech he always concluded by urging the chinese to help the bumiputra in bussiness , in other words he is giving excuses to the non-malay on why government need to help the the Malays in thier (non-malay) expense.”

    Our current PM Badawi is following his footsteps. In current groundbreaking of a certain projects for affordable homes he made a coments that Malays should not rely too much on governments help but at the same time he is doing exactly that by rewarding those who rely on government. His coments are just counterproductive.

    Now on why I said that Mahathir and Badawi are making negatives coments and do nothing about it while clearly the former had come up with the “ingenious” policy called the NEP. One this looked at what has back-fired from this policy?

    1. Outflow of talents out of the country.
    2. Rapid downgrading of the Malaysian’s top university ranking namely, UM.
    3. High unemployment due to large numbers of the Malay student undertook Islam studies as the main degree which is unpractical in the commercial industry.
    4. High failure rate of government-backed Malay entrepenuer.
    5. Corruption in UMNO.
    6. Low patriosm among the non-malay.
    7. Low possibilities of Malaysia as a developed nationby 2020 (vision 2020.

    The problem of 1.2 and 3 below are the resulted of the racist quota set up by the government. We have to know that there are many poor chinese and Indian in Malaysia and the only hope for this poor non-malay family to break out of poverty is by education and strife for the best but at the end, the government awarded the scholarship to the underachivers Malay instead of finishing thier “Sciene” degree opted for “Islamic study instead because it is too difficult for them.

    The saying goes what goes around comes around. A lot of the non-malay high achivers ended up working for the neighbouring countries and directly competing with Malaysia to become the regional hub of this and that. So if the investment are attracted to other neighbouring countries how do you expect the GDP to go up so that we an achive the vision 2020? Below are the few examples of why this this country is losing it’s steam: our high achivers( http://www.jeffooi.com/2006/03/meet_dr_chan_high_achiever_wit.php
    http://www.jeffooi.com/2006/07/malaysian_who_brings_pride_to.php

    Please note that Ms. Chew in the article above scored 9As in the SPM and why is she not rewarded scholarship by the government U instead by Sunway??? I am dumbfounded. Both cases are just tip of an iceberg. Keep in mind that I’ve have not even mentioned about the high achivers of Malaysian in Singapore . Our country is loosing its biggest assets : it’s people and not any people but special and telented people. Imaging we have throw away future Tony Fernandez, future Jimmy choo, future Ananda Krishnan, Future Robert Kwok (The Southeast Asia richest man) , future Teh Hong Piow and future Michele Yeoh. I have no doubt this will effect our country’s productiveness.

    I see myself as a “victim” of this disriminate policy, with an MBA and married to a foreigner found me in a predicament position because if one has a foreign wife, this will take her 10 to 30 years to get her PR unless you are Malay then it just takes a few years perhaps months. I am thinking what is the Malaysian department doing ? Are they all suddenlly went into hibernation once they received a PR application for a non-malay foreign wife and wakes up 30 years later to process it?

    Wake up Malaysia!

  • Stanley

    I agree with Donald. I am wondering if Malaysia will be able to produce enough talents to keep up with the rapid growth their high-tech industry. As a university student studying in oversea myself, more than half of the malaysians I know studying oversea do not wish to return to malaysia after graduating. Among them are PhD, doctors, engineers, you name it. They’re exactly the talent we need the most right now. And it’s sad to say that almost all of them are non Malays, go figure why they choose to study oversea. They musta have too much cash to spend eh?

    I believed politicians in Malaysia encouraged these students in oversea to go back to work in Malaysia once in a while. Well, those are just words. How can they compare to the higher pay, more security, benefits, etc. offered by other countries? Malaysia looks to be prospering, but I dont really see it going anywhere in a few decades time. There will be stuff labelled made in Malaysia, but the technology will never belong to Malaysia. It’s like making a dish, Malaysia is just the cooking pan and the chef is not. When the pan gets rusty, the chef will replace it with a new one.

    I just received my engineering degree last year and I’m already half way of getting my permanent residency. This is how fast Malaysia can lose a future professional. Malaysia really has to do something about this, you will not want to hire foreign professionals when you can train them yourself.

  • Donald

    I am back to express to this forum to express my thoughts on some latest controversies on the recent Lee Kuan Yew’s speech in the IMF meeting in Singapore. As a Malaysian and now resides in Indonesia, I would like to say that LKY’s statement that the Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia systematically marginalized is very true. Although Indonesia shows some improvements in the post Suharto’s era by lifting bans on Chinese New Year celebration and welcome Chinese into their political circles, I can see that the damage done by decades of marginalization of Chinese in Suharto’s era has created sort of force- through-intimidation towards Chinese in the Malay’s mentality that will take some time to erode . However, I can see the deteriorating conditions of the Malaysian Chinese‘s due to the decline in population percentage there, thus convert to less say in the politics, which when both Chinese and Indian people were half of the total Malaysian population a concept Muslim country was unheard of in the 50’s but today it’s already a reality with Malay people hold more than 60% of the total population. The latest move from the Malay politicians (Umno Youth) is to table a 0 zero growth of for Chinese or Indian school. Economically, Malaysian Chinese and Indian are worse off than a decade ago.

    I found it very amusing by Mahathir’s criticism of LKY, that LKY is marginalized in a Chinese world. (http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/state_news/news.php?id=221408&cat=et). If memory serves me well Mahathir himself was rejected in his own state in the latest election. If you ask any Chinese (overseas or China) mostly will spoke highly on him, just look at how many China citizens would want to be to Singaporean. In Indonesia if you ask what they think of LKY ? Most of the Chinese here will say he is a great leader but if you ask the Indonesian Malay about Mahathir, the word that often appear is corruption. As for Mahathir accusation that they Malay in Singapore is less well-off than their Chinese Singaporean, I want to say this to Mahathir again – Everybody in Singapore earned for their living and does not rely on the government include the Malay in Singapore, you work less you get less. With this, even though the less hardworking Malays (admitted by Mahathir himself in his book titled Malay Dilemma) in Singapore are better off than the Malaysia’s Malay because as the country progress from 3rd world to 1st world country, the standard of living of every Singaporean citizens include the Singaporean Malay also benefited (This is what I call a fair country). I could recall one day while I was taking a coach back from Singapore to Malaysia, a group of Singapore Malay in the bus just making fun of everything they see in Malaysia, This example alone already explain my point.

    Thirdly, Mahathir said that LKY is not clever because he took care of a small country like Singapore that makes him seemed smart. Now I want to ask Mahathir the following question… Malaysia is a big or small country. Malaysia is actually a small country itself (both population and even size) but we are still stuck in the 3rd world. Now at least LKY can still look smart in his small country but Mahatir himself in his more than 20 years tenure was still struggling to make Malaysia( a resources rich country ) a first world country, worse after his retirement he is getting more “disorientated” of his direction in life. You are not getting any younger Mahathir. At least LKY is smart enough to make himself a Ministry Mentor and save himself from crying foul every time something is not to his will.

  • don juan

    non-malays must VOTE the opposition parties.MCA and MIC and other BN component parties r useless.

  • ash

    malaysia will never be a fair country , how could it we are the only nation whose government practices racial and religious aparthied.the craziest thing is that this is supposed to be the model islamic nation, if malaysia is the best example of tolerance available in the islamic world then the west and nn muslims allover the world are justified for being afraid of islam.

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