I recall my younger days, my friends and I were just friends at school. Today, we Malaysians look at one another through the lens of race and religion. We get upset with one another over minor differences. Why are we like this? Is it just us or is everyone on this planet going bonkers?
The summary of the results of a survey titled “Are Malaysians Racist?” by the Centre For A Better Tomorrow (CENBET) was recently made available. Although CENBET did not release the results by race and gender, the results nonetheless are still interesting reading. The study found that 37% of the sample, consisting of Malaysians from the Peninsular, to exhibit some form of racial bias. Analysed by demographic groups, younger Malaysians and those with lower income tended to exhibit greater levels of racial bias. We have to note though that younger individuals tend to earn less than older individuals. Geographically, such tendencies were stronger in the northern and eastern states of the Peninsular. The respondents from the south, principally Johor, exhibited the least propensity for racial bias. Even as I expected the last finding, as a Johorean, I cannot help but feel proud of my state.
Flashbacks return to me with a smile of my school days at Sekolah Tinggi Kluang (STK), popularly known as Kluang High School. In the mid-eighties, during my fourth and fifth form, such thoughts were virtually unknown to us. Only later when I moved to KL, I noticed a tension amongst races. However, my friends who grew up in KL tell me it wasn’t always like that in KL as well. Though the New Economic Policy (NEP) was in place, we mostly accepted it as there was some logic for affirmative action. Also, people were generally buoyant as they noticed living standards rising. People, non-Malays that is, were less happy when the government extended the affirmative policies for another ten years in 1990 under the guise of the National Development Policy (NDP). Then in 2000, it was continued indefinitely. Why? That is another story.
Going back to our days at the STK, we were a simple but happy lot. What still excite me most is was the antics of three boys in my class during the two years we spent together in Forms 4 and 5. Their names were Razali, a taxi owner’s son, Albert, whose father was a hospital assistant, and Lim Kim Soon, who moved to Kluang from Malacca to live with his uncle. This Malay, Indian and Chinese “gang” went by the name of Kow Kow Blues or KKB. They were jointly our illusionists, appearing to be present at school but being able to be at their favourite hangouts in Kluang at a moments notice. Their nemesis was Mr. Naranjan Singh, who was our English teacher cum discipline master. These boys were forever in trouble with Mr. Naranjan and, as a result of which, our 45 minutes English period dwindles to 15 minutes. During rest of the period, Mr. Naranjan was busy punishing KKB, to the amusement of the rest of the class.
The KKB members often spent most of the period standing on their desks surveying the ceiling. Their unity was so good, that during one occassion when one was punished, the other two also volunteered the same punishment upon themselves. United they were! After some months, these boys just decided to stand on their respective desks when the English period began much to the ire of Mr. Naranjan, and to the echo of laughter in the classroom. That is the true spirit of 1Malaysia, unity by spontaneity.
The antics of KKB were many, but the point I am making here is the level of unity we had in our communities then. I remember that when we mentioned community in those days, it referred generally to a geographical area rather than to a racial group as it often does in Malaysia today. I am sure this story would be cliché for many of the readers who went to school before the 1990s. Why is this so? The NEP was meant to bring us closer. Today we are further apart than ever before. It simply boils down to Malaysian politics, which focuses on why we are different rather than why we are similar. After more than half a century since the inception of Malaysia, people from the Peninsular still only have limited rights to mobility in Sabah and Sarawak. This is our 1Malaysia!!!
Many of us presently live with a siege mentality. The younger ones are being trained from childhood to feel threatened by all and sundry. This is how our “leaders” want us to be; always to live in fear. Where is the joy of living and experiencing? We must always remember that to the political parties, we are merely vote banks. Whoever the politician may be, we need to be skeptical of his actions for it is the nature of the beast to be manipulative.
To quote HRH Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar Al-Haj, “Let me reiterate, there is no place for hatred and racism here in Johor Darul Ta’zim. It was never welcomed, nor will I ever welcome haters and racists here in Johor.” Our Bapa Malaysia, almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman once said, “No matter what we are, we are all Malaysians.” It is easy to not realise that Tunku was a very progressive leader at a time when there was widespred racism in the so-called developed countries of the world who today lecture us on their values. Like many Johoreans, I am grateful that my Sultan shares Tunku’s wisdom. By the way most of our politicians (both government and opposition) and civil servants behave, my fear though is that the idea of the Malaysian society envisaged by our founders may continue to devolve. Pray wisdom prevails.