One Indian’s response to Art and Zahid

– Rama Ramanathan
The Malaysian Insider
July 26, 2013

Two articulate writers, both lawyers, both Muslims, both patriots, have commented on the Pristina primary school incident, which I too have commented on.

Art Harun’s piece is titled “Once we were beautiful.”

Art reminisces about his schooldays in a mixed race, English-stream primary school in the sixties. He names some of his Chinese, Indian and Malay teachers. He affectingly recalls being corrected by some of them. He notes it was then normal not to fast till year 5 and it was even normal, not disrespectful, to snack while walking about.

Art recounts his move to a “mixed” boarding school. He studied, played, ate and made mischief with friends who weren’t Malays. Inter-communal mixing was normal.

Art laments that “non-Muslims don’t send their kids to national school anymore,” preferring vernacular and private schools. He points out that now national schools require students to recite morning prayers, have walls adorned with Quranic verses and are filled with Malay/Muslim students.

Art’s point about the state of our schools today is:

“The small number of non-Malay kids also gives a sense of false superiority complex to the Malay kids as well as teachers. Thus, my race and my religion are more important than you, your religion and everything else.

Art says the superiority complex is the reason why “many national schools” close their school canteens during Ramadan, though that’s not the publicly offered reason.

Art’s view: Seri Pristina is only one of many national schools which close their canteens during Ramadan; canteens are closed because of a Malay superiority complex. The superiority complex arises from the “Islamization” of national schools and non-Muslims who’ve responded by sending their children to other schools. We used to be beautiful, and were journeying on a joyous path to victory. Not anymore.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s piece is titled “When will kindness prevail?”

Zaid’s first sentence is cautious. He says “if the reports . . . are correct.”

Then he marches on assuming the reports are correct. He uses words like fiasco, ugliness, marred, furore. He says he’s unsurprised at the predictable responses of Ministers. He reminds us of the 2010 incident when the Principal of a school in Johor made racist remarks against her Chinese and Indian charges. [What action was taken against her? Where is she now?]

Zaid gets to his explanation quickly. He says:

“What has happened is the result of heightened Malay-Muslim consciousness, promoted by politicians and Islamic bureaucrats who-under the cloak of race and in some cases religion or both – want to be identified as champions of their race and religion.”

Zaid shares his vision for Malaysia: a nation of equals. To this end, he encourages non-Malays and non-Muslims to stop being overly respectful of Malays and Muslims. He encourages them to stop staying “in the background” and instead stand up for their rights. The astute politician adds that he recognizes this is the rightful aspiration of the young. Then he says:

“The real culprits for the present day distortion are the Malays who always blame the Chinese for their shortcomings, and the false Muslim preachers who teach the Muslims to have an all-consuming fear of God but then conveniently forget that Allah commands us to look after our fellow beings more than ourselves.

What ails the country are these false teachings and false ideologies that are bereft of human decency and dignity, making meaningful relationships among the people of this country difficult to achieve.”

Zaid’s view: Seri Pristina is one of a continuing series of abuses of non-Muslim students by Malay/Muslim authorities; the root cause of the abuses is the inclination of Malay/Muslim leaders to blame “the Chinese” for weaknesses in their own communities; it’s made worse by non-Malays/Muslims resorting to submission instead of respectful challenge. Zaid wants the Prime Minister to “remove the distorting prism that guides our present actions purely on the basis of race or beliefs.”

My view

I salute Art and Zaid, both Malay/Muslims, for writing on this subject and for sharing their opinion that the root cause of this incident is an unchallenged, crude form of race/religion.

I am surprised that they both quickly assumed the worst, i.e. that only non-Muslims were required to use the shower room as a makeshift canteen. I attribute their quickness to their greater watchfulness over developments amongst Malays/Muslims.

I still maintain that everyone should be assumed innocent until proven guilty. The Head Master is as worthy of due process as the next suspect. [See my The Reason Cops Shouldn’t Abuse Suspects.]

It’s worth recalling the issues in the Seri Pristina incident, which incidentally, have not been addressed by the Deputy Prime Minister (who is also the Education Minister) and the Deputy Minister for Education: What’s the government policy with respect to operators of canteens in public schools closing for business during Ramadan? How many operators of canteens in public schools closed for business this Ramadan? What’s the government policy on where non-Muslim students may eat during school hours during the month of Ramadan? What’s the government policy on closing canteen buildings during school hours? Did the administrators of Sekolah Seri Pristina breach any established policies? Since this is now such a public incident, when will the Ministry complete the investigation and take appropriate action, if any, at Sekolah Seri Pristina? I am an Indian, though I like to think I am neighbour first.

I don’t know what right I have to speak for Indians, just as I don’t know what right Art and Zaid have to speak for Malays/Muslims. I suppose we speak because we can and because we feel it is part of our civic responsibility.

I am regarded as an Indian; I do not downplay my Indian heritage.

I am aware of the lack of credit given to my community for the growth of this nation

I am aware that public schools have done little to promote self-respect amongst Indians.

I am aware that Tamil schools have failed just as miserably.

I am aware of the bad press my community currently has in the area of armed robbery.

I am aware of frequent deaths in custody of persons from my community.

I am aware of many non-Indians who stand up for “Indians,” and vice versa.

I am also aware that many Indians use the “race/sensitivity” card. They adopt the Mahathir/Perkasa/Umno strategy and expect the same gains.

While we ask who speaks for the Malays/Muslims, let’s not fail to ask who speaks for the Indians and the Chinese. The answer, I think, is no one.

Even within communities people are not homogeneous: Christians have stopped counting the number of their denominations; Muslims disagree over who can call God “Allah.”

We have to stand up not only for “our own” rights, but also for the rights of others. At Sekolah Seri Pristina, and other schools nationwide, students and teachers should be reflecting on how they have stood up for the rights of persons who do not belong to their own communities. [Perhaps they are doing so. Isn’t this a great time to talk in schools about minority rights?]

Regardless of what actually happened in Seri Pristina – and we really do need to know – many of us, across racial divides, are sure that our nation and our schools are in bad shape because of our apathy in the face of strident, government-tolerated racism.

Can we stop ranting and braying? Can we work together to make things better? How can we oppose government-tolerated racism?

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Friday, 26 July 2013 - 8:54 am

    The crux of the matter is THIS IS MAHATHIR’s FAULT.. plain and simple. Lamenting anyone else is FAR FAR SECONDARY..

    To fix the problem, the blame has to fall on the one most and largely responsble – that is Mahathir, his kind and those that pick up on his leads and do one better.

  2. #2 by bryanbb on Friday, 26 July 2013 - 10:38 am

    One of the unsettling things of this sri pristina incident is that it involves our kids,very young impressionable minds that can easily be swayed by resentment,either insinuated into them or transferred into their psyche by their parents. Discrimination is taught, a newborn infant isn”t naturally racist against other races unless he or she lives under discriminative conditions and racist experiences from their authorities and families.
    To make things better, our national schools is where it should start,fostering integration . Catch them young and instill the sense of “acceptance” of each other to the mindsets,not “tolerate”. Then our kids will have a chance to grow up more balanced in their views of their ” Selves” and the society they grew up in. As for us adults , we need a good hard look in the mirror, everyone one of us , and deal with it our own way.

  3. #3 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Friday, 26 July 2013 - 10:48 am

    I speak for the chinese.

    I condemn the HM for making the kids have their meals next door to toilet cubicles!

  4. #4 by bennylohstocks on Friday, 26 July 2013 - 11:31 am

    Some years ago, (that must be GE11 or earlier), the MCA put in full-paged advertisements in most papers, statistics on student intakes comparing the recent and the intakes of ages ago claiming great achievements by these comparision!

  5. #5 by sheriff singh on Friday, 26 July 2013 - 11:36 am

    The Headmaster of the Pristina School has come under intense criticism and ridicule and has been asked to go on leave. Is he really that nasty a guy or could he just be a victim, a victim of circumstances?

    Some people have commented recently that Malaysians have very little or no empathy these days that we can no longer ‘feel’ what our fellow citizens feel and see their point of view. This I think is quite true of our society these days.

    Some older writers have commented that our society seems to have evolved into something quite different from the time they were born and grew up in the 50s, 60s, 70s. The younger generation have different values now and see things differently partly due to the many policies that the government had put in place in recent decades.

    The poor Pristina headmaster could just be doing things quite simply and unthinkingly, without a fuller and deeper appreciation of the circumstances and the repercussions. Maybe he thought what he did was ‘normal’ reflecting our society’s easy-going, tolerant, cincai nature. Maybe this is the result of how he was brought up and has become his experiences. He just did things that he thought was right and reasonable, and solved his administrative problems. Maybe he had a lot of restrictions placed on him and he had limited resources available. He did not expect things to blow up as it did.

    Should we now consider his side of the story and empathise with him?

    Further, is what happened in Pristina a reflection of what is also happening in other schools nationwide? Are there any more horror stories to be found out?

  6. #6 by sotong on Friday, 26 July 2013 - 11:39 am

    The country is run by bullies cum politicians in position of power, trust and influence.

    Bullies are grossly insecure, lack empathy and are most likely to commit crime.

    There is no real and good leaders who would do right things for the country.

    This gives voice to small and extreme racial and religious groups to influence policies damaging to the country.

  7. #7 by rjbeee on Saturday, 27 July 2013 - 6:51 pm

    Its high time to get rid of this rats

You must be logged in to post a comment.