September 30, 2013
Dato Dr Mahmood Merican: Be Kind to our Fellowmen and Love our Nation
“Now at the end of my long lecture and near the end of my long career and my life the one worthwhile message I can leave you is “Be Kind”. It is easier than to be wise. We can be kind with our time, energy or money. Or we can be kind with just a smile, a word or a gesture. Kindness or charity is basic to the points I made in the talk: good and ethical medicine, cordial interracial relations, affirmative action, help for the disadvantaged, love for our fellowmen and for our nation.”–Mahmood Merican
|Event Title:||12th Tunku Abdul Rahman Lecture
29-Sep-2013 to 29-Sep-2013 Past Event
|Venue:|| Medical Academies of Malaysia,
210, Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur
|Secretariat:||G-1 Medical Academies of Malaysia 210 Jalan Tun Razak 50400 Kuala Lumpur Tel: 603 40234700, 40254700, 40253700 Fax: 603 40238100|
|Organizer:||Academy of Medicine of Malaysia & Ministry of Health Malaysia|
|Theme:||delivered by Dato Dr Mahmood Merican|
|Master of the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, Dr Chang Keng Wee,
I accept the honour with trepidation in view of the greatness of Tunku, our First Prime Minister. The Tunku to whom we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude, in particular, for four major achievements:
I believe Dr Chang chose me because I am old. Old enough to have known Tunku personally and to have lived through British colonial times, then the Japanese occupation, to have studied during the tumultuous years of our agitation for Independence and the Communist Emergency and to have worked as a doctor over a period concurrent with the Merdeka years. I graduated from University Malaya then in Singapore a year after Merdeka in 1958. That’s how old I am. Otherwise Dr Chang would not have chosen me.
I first met Tunku in December 1957. I was then a medical student in Singapore and President of the University of Malaya Students Union. It was soon after Merdeka and Tunku came to declare open the King Edward VII Hall of Residence in the grounds of the Singapore General Hospital.
Tunku was an aristocrat and a leader. He was also tall and big. Like every other student I held him in awe. But on that morning he spoke with such relaxed candour and humour that we were all put at ease. He said he hoped for two things:
Let me lead off first with Tunku’s first hope of “a steady stream of doctors” to see how we have done healthwise for our country. After that I will return to Tunku’s second hope for our practising “the art of living in harmony and a gracious atmosphere”.
On Tunku’s hope for good doctors and good health care for the country, we have done very well indeed though, of course, there are some concerns. Many present here in this hall deserve credit for how well Malaysia has implemented public health and preventive medicine and has kept up with the remarkable advances in clinical medicine. Our health indicators such as life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality show the overall health of the people to be comparable with advanced countries.
There are also undesirable changes including the rising cost of medical care, the commercialisation of healthcare, a lowering of ethical standards and a lowering of training standards – this last due to the recent meteoric rise in the number of medical schools and the annual number of new graduates for whom we simply do not have enough hospital facilities and specialists to adequately train during their housemanship and early years of practice.
These less desirable developments have contributed to a waning of respect for doctors. Sadly, present doctors will not receive the high respect that old doctors like me enjoyed in days gone by. Commercialisation of healthcare and lowering of ethical standards are among the causes. It is appropriate that this Congress with the theme of “Towards Excellence in Healthcare” incorporates the National Ethics Seminar.
Ethical practice is basically placing the interest of the patient as the paramount consideration.
Let us now turn to Tunku’s second hope – that we continue to “practise the art of living in harmony and a gracious atmosphere”.
It is a hope and a prayer.Racial harmony continues to be our greatest concern.
It was 1957 when Tunku expressed these hopes. If ever there was a time when we can say there was harmony it was then when we had just achieved Merdeka. At least among English educated students race was not a concern. We lived, played, studied and laughed together and even laughed at each other without risking offence. During my days in the university I always had a Chinese roommate.
Tunku then epitomised unity. To quote Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim, the distinguished former Lord President (as the Chief Justice was then called), Tunku “won the confidence of the Sultans, united the leaders of the three main parties to form the Alliance, won the love of the Malays and the trust of the non-Malays.”
Under his leadership the country made great strides, overcame the Communist menace, developed rapidly and then grew larger with the creation of Malaysia in 1963, 50 years ago.
Yet in 1969, 12 years into his stewardship, racial riots erupted on May 13. About 200 people died. Many more were injured. Vehicles and buildings were burnt.
On that fateful day I was in charge of the Orthopaedic Department of the General Hospital Kuala Lumpur, my boss, the late Datuk (later Tan Sri ) Dr Abdul Majid Ismail, being overseas then. Normally already understaffed and overcrowded with patients the hospital, especially the Orthopaedic and Surgical Departments, had to deal with the casualties. I must pay tribute to all the staff and the volunteers who for several days never left the hospital.
Like others who lived through it I want to stress we must never forget the lesson of May13.
The riots exploded 12 years into the premiership of a kind, tolerant and generous leader, the Tunku.
Why May 13?
The basic essential cause was racial polarisation – the mutual resentment between Malays and Chinese – the Malays feeling themselves being dispossessed in their own country, the Chinese feeling themselves to be discriminated against. Malays were aggrieved not only with their poor economic status but also with the challenge to their political strength.
In the run up to the 1969 Elections communal appeals by politicians heightened racial grievances and resentment. The opposition parties made large gains. Their exultant victory parade ignited the riots.
The outlook for the country then was truly gloomy. It is to the credit of the administration and of leaders like Tun Abdul Razak, who succeeded the Tunku as Prime Minister, and his Deputy Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman that order was quickly restored and measures taken to set the country back on the path of progress.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched to attain national unity by a two-pronged strategy of eradicating poverty irrespective of race and restructuring society by eliminating the identification of race with economic function.
The Policy has succeeded remarkably well in reducing poverty. It has to some extent elevated the economic standing of the Malays and their participation in the professions. Malays, however, have not progressed as much as they should in commerce and industry. In these fields the Chinese have gone farther ahead. Certain Malay attributes such as their politeness, self effacement, their attitude to money and immersion in religion, while desirable in themselves, place them at a disadvantage in the competitive world.
Observing over the years, I have to say that racial polarisation is even worse now than at the time of the riots. The racial divide has been accentuated by differences in a whole range of things: divisions of vernacular schools, national and private schools, divisions between rural and urban living, job segregation, rich and poor and differences in culture, language and religion. Interracial ill feelings have been recklessly fanned by politicians seeking votes and lately by irresponsible users of the internet venting their prejudices.
Almost every day we get incidents or pronouncements that grate on one or other race. For example; when a good Chinese student fails to get his desired course or scholarship it is instantly loudly blamed on racial discrimination although it arose out of an administrative lapse- something that has happened to Malay candidates too. Candidates not offering alternative university options and lacking in extracurricular points, although excellent academically, can be denied by the computerised selection system. A problem that can be sorted out with the relevant admission bodies without blowing it up in the media.
Another example is the claim of Ketuanan Melayu. It inflames some of us. It dismays some others. Yet just a moment’s reflection shows how ridiculous is the claim. The Tuan or Master race is the poorer race, less educated, living mostly in the kampong and less robust and healthy having a shorter life expectancy, not to mention other health indicators. The supposedly Subject race, much richer, controls much of the economy and commerce and clearly has the means to better enjoy life.
Lee Kuan Yew too in his latest book talks about the “dominance of one race” in Malaysia. During the years Singapore was a part of Malaysia Kuan Yew questioned the special rights of the Malays and of the Malay Agong and Sultans. Much of what Kuan Yew demanded would have angered the Malays. Even Tunku Abdul Rahman, the epitome of magnanimity, tolerance and inclusiveness, could not accept it and asked Singapore to leave Malaysia in the interest of, in Tunku’s own words, “the security and peace of Malaysia as a whole”.
In a recent comment Dr Chandra Muzaffar lamented that Kuan Yew “chose to be an ethnic hero” instead of a bridge-builder helping to develop a cohesive nation. Dr Chandra noted that the special rights in the Constitution are a part of the social contract in which Malays at Independence conceded citizenship to millions of non-Malays, whereby Malays, who before were the definitive people of a country in large part comprising Malay Sultanates, became just a community in a multicommunal or multiracial nation.
Yes, Malays do have special rights. Former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, likened the special rights and affirmative action to the handicap in golf. It is “mainly intended to enable them- to borrow an expression in golf – to have a handicap, which would place them in a position for fair competition with better players.” That Malays need a handicap is a humiliation for them.
Like keen golfers Malays have to strive and be coached to improve their skill and competitiveness to then no longer need or want the handicap.
Tun Mahathir, doctor that he is, talked of crutches. In a recent discussion of affirmative action he said, “ We still need the crutches, but maybe not on both sides; we could discard one crutch and then we’ll exchange the crutch for a walking stick. Eventually, we will throw away the walking stick. I pray and hope that this will be soon..” Some successful Malays, less realistic, wish to have the crutches discarded now, for we can’t walk tall with crutches.
I like to quote at some length another comment on affirmative action specifically the New Economic Policy (NEP):
“No medicine is without its adverse effects. Yet that does not stop us from taking medicines. Why? Because we reckon we will feel still worse without them. For all its shortcomings there is no question that we are still better off with the NEP than without. To realise the truth of this, you have only to ask yourself the question: “What if there was no NEP?” (I continue to quote)“To me the answer is obvious. There would have been a disaster scenario. There would have been an enormously widened gulf between Malays and non-Malays, and there would have been a dangerously lopsided economy, inviting Malay despair, disaffection, hatred and violence. All this weighing of who gains and who loses obscures a fundamental fact that if the Malays lose, then the Chinese lose too because if racial hatred tore the country apart, then everyone loses.”
You would think that passage is written by a Malay politician or civil servant defending NEP. Surprisingly, it is actually by a Chinese Malaysian businessman, Ye Lin-Sheng, in his book “The Chinese Dilemma”. This book should be essential reading for all Malaysians along with Tun Mahathir’s “The Malay Dilemma”.
These two books would help Malaysians understand each other better. If the majority of Malaysians can have a rational and unbiased perspective, our interracial problems would sink into insignificance.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are too fond of emulating the West without thinking for ourselves to see the difference between what the West proclaims and what it practises and the difference between what the Western media project and the reality. There is much in the West that we do well to reject. But one achievement of the West we should energetically emulate is their technology. Technology has enabled them to advance and to subjugate the world. Yet we choose to learn vernacular Science and Mathematics – a retrograde step, oddly enough, supported by the Opposition.
If Malays wish to survive and not be left further behind, they must embrace Science and English. But the signs are that Malays are turning more to religion. They are naturally spiritual and more concerned with the hereafter. Islam rightly understood and interpreted can be a force for progress. But Malays appear to be adopting a narrow restrictive trend, becoming preoccupied with details of dress, beauty contests, heterosexual handshakes and overly meticulous definitions of halal. The recent demolition of a mosque because some Buddhists meditated in it is symptomatic of this trend. Also, we appear to be adopting an unnecessarily hostile stance towards Shiah Muslims, thereby risking importing the murderous animosity between Sunni and Shiah, that bloodies so many Muslim countries. Are these the actions of the progressive moderate Muslim model we aspire to be? I believe Tunku would be as dismayed as I am.
We need to shift the emphasis to more fundamental values central among which is caring for and love for our fellowmen.
On 28 September 1978 exactly 35 years ago as Master of the Academy I was privileged to confer on Tunku the Honorary Membership of the Academy. I hope our remembrance of him today pleases his soul.
Although certain trends would upset him, much has been achieved of which we can be justly proud. It is sad that some Malaysians are so devoid of this pride or patriotism for their own country that they denigrate Malaysia not only here but also abroad.
In Vision 2020 Tun Dr Mahathir has set us a commendable target to become a developed nation not just economically but also morally and ethically. We must keep aspiring high and constantly examine our attitudes and actions to be consistent with our high aspirations.
I lived through May 13 and with others mended the injured. We must be thankful that we have since had peace in stark contrast to the racial, tribal and religious clashes that make daily headlines in the media- murderous clashes in so many countries all over the world. We know our complex situation makes a repeat of May 13 possible. Try to understand the interracial tension. When an action is contemplated consider the impact it can have on this tension. You can love your race – it is natural. But love your nation more. To do otherwise is to make the possible conflict inevitable.
I like to end on a personal note. Friends have asked me, now that I have worked 55 years, what do I do. I still work – work is a privilege – but I work only a few hours a week at the clinic I share with my very long time partner, Datuk Dr Yeoh Poh Hong. The rest of my time I enjoy reading, enjoy my family, golf and charity. Charity I like to think of as my second career. With doctors charity begins as soon as they start work. On retirement or semi-retirement they have more time for charity.
Now at the end of my long lecture and near the end of my long career and my life the one worthwhile message I can leave you is “Be Kind”. It is easier than to be wise. We can be kind with our time, energy or money. Or we can be kind with just a smile, a word or a gesture. Kindness or charity is basic to the points I made in the talk: good and ethical medicine, cordial interracial relations, affirmative action, help for the disadvantaged, love for our fellowmen and for our nation.
I end with a verse from a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox