Malaysia’s great – and recent – identity crisis

August 16, 2017

Malaysia’s great – and recent – identity crisis

If ever there was a country chronically afflicted by an identity crisis, it would be ours. Debates rage on about how we should define our identities. For example, do I say I am Malaysian first, or Malay first, or Muslim first?

But why not all or none of the above? After all, many of us from George Town may consider ourselves Penangite first.

While I believe identities are fluid and should not be set in stone, there is something to be said about the pervasiveness of racial identity in our public sphere. Discourse on almost every issue, be it the economy, education and especially anything political, cannot escape the inevitable question of race.


pfsheadmastersBorn in 1816 for Multiculturalism

In the Malaysian context, this is translated into the great dichotomy of our country – the division between the Bumiputeras, a bureaucratic label with no constitutional basis, against the others, who are collectively reduced to the ignominious label of “non-Bumiputera”. As the state actively promotes a distinction between these two groups of citizens, the perception now pervades that there are some Malaysians who are considered to be more Malaysian than others.

Ironically, even the Bumiputera identity itself is full of ambiguities and contradictions. Deriving its modern definition from the genesis of the New Economic Policy (NEP), the term generally encompasses the Malays, the Orang Asli and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. Yet while government employment and education quotas are supposed to favour the Bumiputeras, its practical application has raised questions about some Bumiputeras being more Bumiputera than others.

malaysiansThis is Penang

Issues revolving around Bumiputera, particularly Malay, rights and privileges are often emotional and confrontational in nature. In fact, for a race that is probably the most inclusive in definition, as anyone can be a Malay provided they fulfil the constitutional requirements of language, religion and culture, the Malay race is perhaps one of the most exclusive and parochial of political identities in Malaysia today. Not only have they walled themselves into a self-created mental fortification, Malay nationalism also adopts a fiercely antagonistic attitude towards their politically constructed rivals, the non-Bumiputeras.

It is no wonder then that former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad once commented that the current Prime Minister’s “1Malaysia” slogan would never be coherent, simply because it essentially means different things to different people.


According to sociologist Frederick Holst, identity has become central to socio-politics in Malaysia because both public institutions and social structures have undergone a process of ethnicisation – the infusing and intertwining of economic or political contestations with collective identities. As a result, the question of race, or more accurately, ethnicity, cannot be separated from any form of discussion regarding our country’s social and political dimensions.

Yet, it is important to realise that such a situation is not naturally occurring but instead a social construction. In other words, the ethnicisation of Malaysian society has taken place through a conscious agenda to create an identity that is primus inter pares (first among equals) in order to legitimise policies that favour a certain ethnic group. Hence, the construction of the Bumiputera identity. While the term is not new and has been used in various contexts prior to independence, its adoption as an umbrella identity for the Malays was essentially a post-NEP concept.

At another level, the concept of “race” is also a problematic one because our understanding of it is essentially derived from colonial knowledge. In fact, race as a genealogical concept to describe the societies in the Malay Archipelago was almost non-existent in pre-colonial times. Often, race was used to describe the milieu, such as humanity, as was the case in the Malay Annals or the Sulalatus Salatin, which I quote below:

Maka sahut Nila Pahlawan, “Adapun kami ini bukan daripada jin dan peri, dan bukan kami daripada bangsa indera; bahawa adalah bangsa kami ini daripada manusia.”

Similarly, the concept of “migrants” or “pendatang” has no historical basis. In Hikayat Hang Tuah, for example, the word “asing” or “foreign” is rarely used, and only in reference to foreign countries. When describing traders from foreign lands, the simple and universal term dagang or merchant is used, without any ethnic, racial or national connotation.

In fact, the concept of race as a social identity only became dominant following the arrival of colonialism. As a case in point, the first modern census in the country was conducted in 1871 in the Straits Settlements and had no reference to “race.” Instead, people were categorised into a multitude of ethnicities, such as Acehnese, Boyanese, Bugis, Burmese, Jawi Peranakan, Malay, Malayalam and so on. It was only in later censuses that the term “race” was used in the context that we are familiar with and the Malay, Chinese and Indian races officially became collective identities.

Overcoming our psychological problem

Ketuanan_zawawiHow right you are, Dr. Zawawi

As can be seen, our own history has much to offer in trying to make sense of our post-colonial nation-state. If we seem confused as a society and unable to escape our identity crisis, it is because we do not truly appreciate the richness of our origins. As controversial as it may be, the conversation about who we are, where we came from and who this country belongs to is one that needs to take place. However, it also needs to be discussed rationally and objectively, without being pulled into the myopic frames of ethnocentrism.

Contrary to what the federal government thinks, the way to foster such constructive discourse is to allow greater space and more debate, rather than stifle alternative opinions through draconian legislation. But while ideas should be allowed to propagate, there must also be room for them to be challenged. It is only through such a process, of mature deliberation and openness to contrarian opinions, that we can shake off the noise surrounding the issue and finally discover our true Malaysian identity – or identities.

Zairil Khir Johari is MP for Bukit Bendera, Penang, and Executive Director of Penang Institute.

P.Ramlee’s Message to Dear Leader Najib Razak in UMNO

August 14, 2015

COMMENT: I have decided to leave this article in Bahasa Malaysia, although my readers are not just individuals who read and understand the Malay language, which our language nationalists still dream of making into a global lingua franca. It is MP Zairil Khir Johari’s tribute to the legendary Penang born and Penang Free School educated P. Ramlee, composer, director, singer-musician and comedian.

Najib and Rosmah-The Stars in LondonThe infamous Duo

The article contains valuable and relevant political messages for our dear Leader Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor and the current crop of UMNO leaders.–Din Merican

Here is some information on the late P. Ramlee, courtesy P. Ramlee was born on the first day of the Eid festival, which fell on 22 March 1929. His father, Teuku Nyak Puteh, was a sailor from Aceh, who later married Che Mah Hussain.

He attended Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Melayu Kampung Jawa (Kampung Jawa Malay School) and Sekolah Francis Light primary schools. Next he went to the famous Penang Free School secondary school until the second World War broke out. During the Japanese occupation years in Malaysia, he continued his studies at the Japanese Navy Academy. When the war ended, he resumed his studies in Penang Free School and was very active in sports.

In 1947, he won the first place in a song competition organised by Penang Radio. seven years after his acting career started, P. Ramlee directed his first film, Penarek Becha. In 1957, he appeared in the first of his Bujang Lapok comedic films, in which he acted along with Aziz Sattar and S. Shamsuddin, and which are still popular among modern Malay film watchers. During his career he directed and acted in 66 films, and had more than 360 songs to his credit.

P RamleeThe Pride of Penang–A Man of Prodigious Talent

He returned permanently to Kuala Lumpur after years with Shaw Brothers in Singapore. His final film was Laksamana Do Re Mi in 1973. In his last song, “Air Mata di Kuala Lumpur” (Tears in Kuala Lumpur), also in 1973, the lyrics depict his crushed feelings from a series of disappointments and setbacks upon returning to Malaysia after years in Singapore.

P. Ramlee was married three times. His first marriage, to Junaidah in 1950, ended in a divorce four years later. His second marriage, in 1955 to Noorizan Mohd. Noor Menonolq, a member of the Royal family of State of Perak, ended in divorce in 1961. His last marriage was in November 1961, to Salmah Ismail, a very famous singer known as Saloma.

On 29 May 1973, P. Ramlee died at the age of 44 from a heart attack and was buried at Jalan Ampang Muslim Cemetery, in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1986, 13 years after his death, in honour of his contributions to the Malaysian entertainment industry, the P. Ramlee Memorial or Pustaka Peringatan P. Ramlee was built in his home in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. In 1982, the street Jalan Parry, in the center of Kuala Lumpur, was renamed Jalan P. Ramlee in his honour. In 1990, he was posthumously awarded the Malaysian honorific title Tan Sri, and then in 2009, the honorific title of “Datuk Amar” by Sarawak State Government. The Chief Minister of Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud, an avid fan of P. Ramlee, presented the award to his adopted daughter, Dian P. Ramlee, in a ceremony honouring veteran artists in Kuching.

On 31 October 2010, a 90-minute documentary on his life was aired on History Channel Asia. During the documentary, it was revealed that P. Ramlee’s death was a shock to the nation, and a sense of collective guilt began to spread nationwide, as prior to his death he had been discredited and rejected by his own nation,citing that he was a “has been” and that his songs and film were no longer marketable. The documentary also revealed that despite his previous success in the entertainment industry, P. Ramlee died a penniless man, having given away the last of his money to a visitor to the house whom he deemed needed the money more than he.

The P. Ramlee House is a museum situated along Jalan P. Ramlee (formerly Caunter Hall road) in Penang, Malaysia. The building is a restored wooden house that was originally built in 1926 by his father and uncle. The house had previously undergone multiple repairs before being taken over by the National Archives as an extension of its P. Ramlee Memorial project in Kuala Lumpur. Items on display at the house include personal memorabilia related to his life in Penang, and items belonging to his family.–

Malaysia: Lessons for Najib Razak from P. Ramlee

by Zairil Khir Johari

Nama P. Ramlee sememangnya tidak asing lagi bagi kita semua. Kehadiran Seniman Agung ini dalam arena perfileman negara telah meninggalkan kesan yang sangat besar dalam dunia seni, mahupun terhadap pembangunan masyarakat Malaysia. Sehingga ke hari ini, filem-filemnya masih menjadi tontonan dan rujukan umum.

Relevan sepanjang zaman

Penderma Utama

Hal ini kerana segala apa yang ditonjolkan dalam karyanya bukan sahaja relevan sepanjang zaman tetapi juga sarat dengan nilai dan kritikan sosial yang tajam. Ambil sebagai contoh adegan daripada filem Ali Baba Bujang Lapok arahan P. Ramlee, di mana setelah watak Ali Baba yang dilakonkan Aziz Sattar kembali pulang dengan sebuah peti yang penuh dengan wang emas, isterinya langsung bertanya: “Dari mana kanda curi wang ini?” Dijawab Ali Baba: “Kanda bukan curi, kawan kanda kasi, da.” Lalu isterinya membalas: “Kawan kanda siapa? Kawan kanda siapa?” Dengan penuh kejengkelan, Ali Baba membidas: “Eh, engkau berapa banyak mahu tanya da?”

Tidak sangka pula, adegan daripada filem tahun 1961 ini masih relevan pada hari ini, lebih 50 tahun kemudian. Mungkin ramai yang boleh bayangkan adegan yang serupa dengan dialog berikut: “Oh, banyaknya duit ini. Dari mana Dato’ curi wang ini?” “Saya bukan curi, kawan saya derma, lah.” “Siapa kawan yang derma itu? Siapa kawan yang derma itu?” “Eh, rakyat ini, berapa banyak mahu tanya lah?”

Selain menggelikan hati kita, P. Ramlee juga seorang budayawan yang berpandangan jauh merentasi zaman. Beliau mampu secara kritis mengangkat pelbagai isu dalam masyarakatnya – baik persoalan kebudayaan, ketidakadilan sosial mahupun agama dan moral. Seringkali, karya-karyanya akan memberi peringatan akan kepincangan yang bakal menimpa masyarakat sekiranya sesuatu masalah tidak diatasi dengan segera atau jika masyarakat tidak melepaskan diri daripada takuk yang lama. Dalam konteks ini, filem bagi P. Ramlee bukan sekadar alat hiburan, tetapi turut menjadi alat untuk mendidik dan membuka minda masyarakat.

Citra keagamaan dalam filem P. Ramlee

Dalam kepelbagaian tema yang dibawa oleh P. Ramlee dalam filem-filemnya, tema agama, dakwah dan moral tidak kurang pentingnya. Namun begitu, kaedah pengupasan citra keagamaan oleh P. Ramlee ini tidak mengambil bentuk yang nyata. Sebaliknya, ia lazimnya disuntik melalui simbolisme yang membawa makna yang tersirat.

Misalnya, dalam filem Pendekar Bujang Lapok, sikap Wak Mustar yang memaafkan para samseng biadab yang menolaknya di jeti perahu menggambarkan salah satu elemen moral yang dituntut dalam agama. Begitu juga dengan ketiga-tiga pendekar yang dimainkan oleh P. Ramlee dan dua sahabat karibnya, Ajis dan Sudin, yang mengembara untuk mencari ilmu. Bukankah ini merupakan “jihad” yang besar dalam agama?

Kuala Lumpur 06 May 2014. Labu (M. Zain) and Labi (P. Ramlee) with a kadi (Aziz Sattar) in the movie

Keprihatinan P. Ramlee terhadap kesenjangan kekayaan antara golongan miskin dan kaya juga terserlah dalam karyanya. Dalam filem Labu dan Labi, beliau secara tajam mengkritik golongan kaya yang menindas dan tidak ikhlas dalam mewakafkan harta kepada golongan miskin. Ini dapat dilihat melalui watak Haji Bakhil yang mempunyai agenda tersembunyi sewaktu beliau mendermakan harta kepada rumah anak-anak yatim. Kritikan terhadap sikap tamak golongan kaya turut boleh dilihat dalam filem Tiga Abdul, apabila watak Sadiq Sigaraga, seorang saudagar kaya, telah jatuh miskin akibat daripada kerakusannya. Pada penghujung ceritanya, watak protaganis, iaitu Abdul Wahub, kemudian mendermakan rumah kedai kepada anak-anak yatim, lantas menampilkan elemen kebajikan dan tanggungjawab sosial.

Kehidupan masyarakat Melayu suatu ketika dahulu yang sangat kuat bersandar kepada unsur-unsur tahayul juga turut dikritik oleh P. Ramlee. Dalam satu adegan dalam filem Seniman Bujang Lapok, P. Ramlee memerlukan wang sebanyak RM350 untuk berkahwin, sedangkan beliau pada waktu itu sedang mengalami kesempitan wang. Lalu, Sudin memberikan Ramlee sebentuk cincin yang menurutnya memiliki hikmat. Cincin itu digunakan oleh Ramlee untuk meminta wang daripada  seorang pengurus syarikat filem yang bernama Kemat Hassan. Namun, Ramlee disergah oleh Kemat Hassan dan hanya mendapat RM5. Kecewa, Ramlee bertindak membuang “cincin hikmat” itu ke dalam longkang.

Babak ini memberi pengajaran bahawa apa sahaja yang ingin dicapai oleh manusia haruslah dilakukan dengan usaha yang keras. Penyandaran terhadap elemen-elemen tahayul bukan sahaja ditegah dalam agama, malah ia juga mampu menjadi penghadang kepada kemajuan masyarakat.

P. Ramlee sebagai pendakwah

Kepekaan P. Ramlee terhadap persoalan agama dan moral dalam filem-filemnya menjelaskan bahawa agama bagi beliau bukanlah alat untuk melemah dan memundurkan masyarakat. Sebaliknya, ia merupakan sumber untuk menggerakkan masyarakat dalam pelbagai sektor kehidupan.

Bagi P. Ramlee, agama juga bukanlah suatu alat untuk menghukum, sepertimana yang difahami oleh ramai daripada kita pada hari ini. Beliau lebih suka menampilkan citra agama yang progresif dan bertoleransi terhadap kerencaman masyarakat kita yang berlatarbelakangkan pelbagai kaum dan budaya. Alangkah baiknya sekiranya kita dapat mengiktibarkan cara pandang dunia P. Ramlee ini.

Akhir kata, P. Ramlee tidak melakukan dakwah melalui cara-cara yang biasa, umpamanya melalui penonjolan imej-imej kewarakan yang jelas lebih mementingkan bentuk daripada isi. Jika diteliti karya P. Ramlee, jelas beliau memilih untuk berdakwah melalui jenaka dan budaya popular yang halus bentuknya tetapi tajam kesannya. Isu-isu yang diketengahkan pula berkisar pada kepentingan ummah, kedaifan golongan miskin serta penindasan terhadap yang lemah. Dalam cara tersendirinya, P. Ramlee sebenarnya menzahirkan nilai-nilai agama yang sebenar.

Sesungguhnya, sumbangan P. Ramlee adalah sangat besar kepada kita semua. Walaupun sejarah akan selama-lamanya mengingati beliau sebagai seorang seniman dan budayawan yang tersohor, jelas usaha-usaha beliau sebenarnya menjangkaui batasan seni dan budaya. Malah, jasa dan baktinya dalam memajukan citra agama yang berjiwa besar dan progresif juga jelas melayakkan beliau untuk digelar sebagai seorang pendakwah. –

 *Penulis adalah Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

Your Weekend Entertainment By The Mekong

August 8, 2015

Your Weekend Entertainment By The Mekong

Crazy politics continues in Malaysia. Our Leader is concerned about Kamsiah and Din 2015 CNYhis own political survival to worry about the state of our country and the substantial drop in the Ringgit -US Dollar exchange rate which has now breached the Rm4.0 mark, the lowest in 17 years.

Let us not delude ourselves. Our country is deep trouble  because we do not get our politics right and what is worse is that our country is corrupt and dysfunctional. For this, we must thank Prime Minister for leading us into the dumps, all in a space of 6 years+ (since 2009).

Our foreign reserves are  being depleted as Bank Negara Malaysia intervenes to support our currency. Our Minister of Tourism, Sdr. Nazri Aziz thinks the weak ringgit is great for tourism. Hey, big spending Chinese are not coming even if you fly them free of charge (with hotel and meals included) by MAS to Malaysia because they are fed up with the way we are handling MH370 tragedy.

Be as it may, let us enjoy our weekend since we know in our hearts that the days of the Najib corrupt regime is about to come to an end. The noose around the Prime Minister’s neck is tightening as he tries to evade questions surrounding the Rm2.6 billion (no peanuts) that went into his personal bank accounts, thanks to generous donors, and the lingering 1MDB scandal.

luis-miguel-cuartoscuroLuis Miguel

Dr Kamsiah and I present for  your listening pleasure the fabulous and exciting voice of Mexico’s Luis Miguel. We take this opportunity to dedicate this week’s entertainment to our friend, Dentist Dr. Davids Nissan who lives in Mexico City and Luis’ fans around the world. The handsome and dynamic Miguel knows how to bring out the best of any song.

Relax and put your cares aside for this weekend. Just watch the tricks and antics of Najib Razak and his UMNO goons, especially Zahid Hamidi, Khairy Jamaluddin, Rahman Dahlan and Azalina Othman.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Bonus: Trini Lopez

Aid Ooi Eow Jin, Malaysia’s Composer and Musician–Give generously

July 10, 2015

Benefit concert to aid Ooi Eow Jin, Malaysia’s Composer and Musician–Give generously

Last month, Jimmy Yeoh, one of my facebook friends, wrote a long passage about a fellow Old Free, Ooi Eow Jin.

People my age may recognise this name instantly. Ooi Eow Jin is a local musician and composer. In his younger days, he was a band leader who led the Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) Orchestra for many years.

I’ve just found out that Eow Jin has finally retired from the local music scene. He is now 85 years old, at an age when most people would have taken life easy, but he had to keep working hard for a reason which I would like to share on my blog.

During his long career, Eow Jin had supported his two sons through their education until both graduated from University. Unfortunately, his second son died after a prolonged battle against leukemia despite his efforts to give his son the best treatment available. Eow Jin, himself showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, continued his career as a resident pianist at the Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur until 30 June when he made his final bow.

I am told that his eldest son is now suffering from a brain tumour. Again, it was with the effort of Eow Jin that the son is still hanging on to life. Eow Jin now lives with his wife and son in a home shared with other unfortunate people.

Jimmy met with Eow Jin and another fellow Old Free, Richard Hoon, and they (Jimmy and Richard) agreed to do their best to help Eow Jin and his family to have a more comfortable life from now on. To achieve this, they proposed to organize at least three charity shows to raise money for Eow Jin. One of the shows is now coming to fruition. I received this appeal letter today with details of the first show which will be in Petaling Jaya:

I wish to call upon my friends, both Old Frees and non-Old Frees, to support this worthy programme to help this outstanding man in his difficult times. Even if you can’t make it to the show, please consider donating some funds. Whatever you give, I’m sure you will receive back the blessings many times over. Thank you. The programme appears below:

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

July 7, 2015

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

culture-and-exportingEvery group of humans whether dwelling in the same cave or working for the same corporation must share some common goals, values, and worldview, as well as everyday routine practices. This is what culture means; it is the social glue that binds the members together and differentiates them from others. Far from being society’s oppressor, culture is its savior.

The human baby is not born a carnivorous hunter or a vegetarian ascetic anymore than it is born an Aryan or Chinese. The baby may have Aryan characteristics (sharp nose, blond hair, and blue eyes) or that of a Chinese (moon face, jet black hair, and epicanthic folds) but those features do not make what it will be. Whether that baby will turn out to be a proud bearer of a swastika or marches the streets waving Mao’s Little Red Book depends upon the culture in which it has been raised.

Tune to BBC News. If you close your eyes you would assume the announcer to be a lithe English lassie. Look at the screen and your preconceived images would be shattered for behind that flawless British voice might be a lady of African descent or a Semitic-looking Arab woman, minus the purdah of course.

The process by which a group instills its collective ways and values upon its new members – acculturation – is by nature conservative, to uphold prevailing norms and standards. The dark-skinned BBC announcer could not possibly sound so elegantly authoritative had she been brought up in Southside Chicago or a Soweto township.

I had a childhood friend back in the old village. Born as I was during the terrible deprivation of the Japanese Occupation, his family, like so many poor Chinese families in rural Malaysia at that time, was forced to give him up. Growing up in his adopted Malay family, he was no different from the rest of us. I was not even aware that he was adopted despite his obvious non-Malay features.

Later as a teenager he became extremely chauvinistic, espousing fanatical sentiments of Malay nationalism. Even that did not trigger any irony on my part. On one occasion he was particularly virulent in his denunciations of the immigrants while within hearing distance of my parents. When he was gone my father laughed, remarking that someone ought to hold a mirror to my friend’s face whenever he was indulging in his racial demagoguery. Only then did it register on me that he was Chinese looking. The incongruity of his being a Malay supremacist.

My digressing short story here must have an uplifting ending. My friend did indeed outgrow his adolescent delusions and become a successful businessman with a multiracial and international clientele. Today he is the paragon of the liberal, progressive Malay, the ones the PERKASA (the acronym of a Malay ultra right-wing group) types love to hate.

Just as my friend’s upbringing (his acculturation) turned him into an insular, chauvinistic nationalist, his later vocation reformed him into an open, worldly businessman. Later, I will pursue this unappreciated but important role of trade and commerce in liberating minds.

The Dayak WarriorCulture provides the backdrop for much of our learning and experiences, as well as the environmental (both physical and social) stimuli that our brain is exposed to. These are what shape our view of reality, or in the language of neuroscience, the subsequent patterns of neural networks. Culture conserves the values and norms of that society and transmits them unchanged to the next generation.

Culture is also internally consistent even though to outsiders some of its norms and practices may appear destructive or non-productive. To the Mafia of southern Italy, being violent and vengeful are valued traits, to maintain family ‘honor.’ In not-so-ancient China members of the triad maintained their strict code of silence through uncompromising and merciless enforcement; the price for breaching being gruesome death. Then there are the “honor killing” of the Pashtuns and the self-immolation suttee where a widowed Indian would throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Those destructive acts must have served some purpose otherwise the culture would have abandoned them long ago. The Chinese code of silence was perhaps a protective reaction to the brutish local warlords, while “honor killing” and suttee were meant to demonstrate the supreme value of family honor and marital fidelity. In that culture a widowed woman would be treated so harshly and discriminated against so mercilessly that she would be driven to prostitution or home wrecking.

To someone from a culture where infidelity is the norm (if we can believe Hollywood movies and the scandals involving Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger), suttee and honor killing seem barbaric and way out of proportion.

Likewise hudud’s stoning to death for adultery; to Muslims it reflects the sanctity of marriage and the high premium we place on marital fidelity. Humans being human, the culture does provide an outlet to minimize the possibility of imposing this harsh penalty; thus multiple wives or even “temporary” ones. The ancient Chinese accepted concubines.

As an aside, despite hudud’s current notoriety, it is well to remember that during the four centuries of Ottoman rule, the actual number of cases of “stoning to death” was only one. Compare that to the number of deaths through suttee burning and gentleman’s duel.

The Anglo Saxons’ “duel unto death” is on the same plane as suttee and honor killing; the difference merely in means and methods. The underlying principle and end result are the same – a matter of “honor” and the senseless taking of a life respectively. It illuminates my point that culture is internally consistent. It is futile for anyone, especially outsiders, to pick and choose a particular element of a culture and pronounce it regressive or uncivilized. The true and only meaningful test of a culture is how it prepares its people to stresses and changes, especially when those are sudden and dramatic, or imposed from the outside.

Malay Language Nationalists defend Bahasa Malaysia as Medium of Instruction

June 26, 2015

COMMENT: Both GAPENA and Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka have a vested interest to preserve Bahasa Malaysia as the sole medium of instruction in our schools and universities. At least the Dewan has now acknowledged the importance of the English. In doing so, they realize that English is the language of diplomacy and commerce. GEPENA remains adamant.

I do not understand the need to have a law to enforce the use of Bahasa Malaysia and why make English a second language on the  false assumption that by using English, we will make Malaysians less Malaysian and the Malays less Malay. It has again to do with UMNO politics of xenophobia .We want Malaysians with a global mindset and multilingual proficiency to compete and excel in the 2st century world.

Ghazali_Shafie_(crop)I remember in the 60’s (Tun) Ghazalie Shafie, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs saying to my colleagues and I at one of our Friday prayer meetings that as  far as he was concerned English would remain the language of Malaysian diplomacy and in his Ministry we should read, write and speak English. He ,however, insisted that we use Bahasa Malaysia in our official dealings with our counterparts in the civil service and government agencies.

When I joined Bank Negara after leaving the Foreign Ministry in 1965, Governor (Tun) Ismail Tun Ismail Mohd Ali-2nd BNM GovernorMohamed Ali decided that we could use English internally but we had a duty to observe the ruling from the Government to use Bahasa Malaysia as the national language for official communication with the civil service.

Not just that. Governor Ismail set up a Bahasa Malaysia unit to oversea the implementation of  this directive. He did it in compliance with a directive, not  with a language law because he felt it was the right thing. to do. It was also the time when Bank Negara started to issue the Bahasa and English language versions of its Annual Report and Quarterly Economic Report. That tradition has continued to this day. I am proud to say that Bank Negara officers of the present generation are among the most proficient in the use of English and Bahasa Malaysia.

samdech-hun-senLet me say something about the Cambodian approach on the teaching of  Khmer language and English in their schools and universities. Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen is a champion of Khmer Language,  arts,  and culture. When he was growing up, Cambodia was still under France and French was the official language. But he was educated in a Buddhist temple and served as a pagoda boy. He learned to read, write and speak Khmer. There were French schools which catered for the elite.

With the formation of the Royal Government in the early 1990’s, Samdech Hun Sen saw the value of English if Cambodia were to network in ASEAN and engage with the rest of the world. He decided to use English in public schools with Khmer as a medium of instruction. At the same time, he allowed private schools to use English as medium of instruction. and encouraged enterprising Cambodians to set up language schools to teach Mandarin, Korean, Japanese. French and other languages. At university level, courses are taught in  Khmer and English.

UC PresidentAt the University of Cambodia, its President Dr. Kao Kim Hourn(left) made a far sighted decision to offer courses at undergraduate and graduate levels in both languages. At the Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, courses will mainly be in English at the postgraduate level The university’s Language Development Center offers programmes for enhancing English language writing and speaking skills  to all students.

In short, because Cambodia practises multilingualism, parents are given  freedom of choice in their free market driven economy.  By adopting this open education policy, Samdech Hun Sen  who himself speaks Khmer, English and Vietnamese, is encouraging his people to be internationalists, without making them less Cambodian and less patriotic. –Din Merican

Malay Language Nationalists defend Bahasa Malaysia as Medium of Instruction

by Bernama

Latiff-Bakar2The Federation of National Writers’ Association (GAPENA) Chief 1, Abdul Latiff Bakar said that the time has come for the government to have a law which could act against agencies, departments and local councils which fail to uphold the national language in their official affairs.

“We have brought this matter up many times, but there has been no development. For now we can only comment but if there is a law, any party which refuses to obey it (upholding the national language) can be punished,” he said.

He also urged the Education Ministry to make it compulsory for the senates of institutes of higher learning to observe the regulation to uphold the national language in their administrations.

“As educational institutes, they have a big responsibility to uphold the Malay language and not just chase rankings,” he said as a panelist at the forum “Challenges of the National Language in the Era of Globalisation” here today.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), Awang Sariyan said that the DBP would conduct a language audit on six public universities in a move to ensure that universities in the country abide by the regulations. He added that the DBP had so far audited 37 of the 149 local councils in the country in a move to award star ratings for councils that used Bahasa Melayu in their official dealings.

“From the audit we conducted, the usage of Bahasa Melayu in official matters including advertisements is still unsatisfactory. However, there are some local councils which we give five stars, including the Shah Alam City Council,” he said in the forum.

He said the ranking was one of the initiatives taken by the government to encourage local councils to uphold Bahasa Melayu.

DBP chairman Dr Md Salleh Yaapar said the education system should retain Bahasa Melayu as its medium of instruction and its usage was not the reason for the weak command of the English language among students.

“We acknowledge the importance of English and are not opposing it…other languages can be used including English, but this is not an excuse for replacing Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction in schools,” he said.