Monday, September 1, 2014

THE 3 R’s in Malaysia

Let Us Stand United As Malaysians

Educators worldwide know what is meant by the 3 Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic.  In Malaysia there is an unwritten 3rs as well – Race, Religion and Royalty, something I dare say that many Malaysians still do not understand the implications that go with it.  From the dawn of Merdeka, these three factors have kept the nation growing and made Malaysia what it is now today. Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia with its GDP growing at an average 6.5 % for almost 50 years.  Though the 3Rs may be seen as divisive factors the early Malayans and most Malaysians understand that these “divisive” factors to many has actually kept us progressing and united.  It is only of late that these factors have surfaced in the face of our economic success and the transformation of the national landscape and rapid urbanization of the rural masses.  Industrialization too has contributed towards this change and transformation.

The three major races that started off as Malaya in 1957 became even more diverse with the addition of the East Malaysian states in 1963 when Malaysia was formed. Racial understanding, acceptance and tolerance had been exemplary save a brief period of racial unrest in 1969 and that too was mainly confined to the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.  The government with a constant more than two thirds majority carefully steered the populace back to economic prosperity again with increased affirmative action particularly for the Malays who had been left behind in the economic success of Malaysia to a greater extent.  In the 1980’s under the stewardship of Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir  the Malays particularly began to taste better economic success as preference was given to them in almost all public sectors and government controlled businesses, oftentimes at the expense of the non-Malays.  The Chinese being known for their resilience worldwide, weathered the changes and adapted with their usual perseverance and industry and prospered even better as the Malaysian economic pie grew bigger and bigger.  According to Forbes list of the 50 richest entrepreneurs in Malaysia more than 40 are still Chinese.  Malaysian Indians particularly the descendants of the labor classes became handicapped in the Malaysian spurt in economic growth. Many reasons can be offered but I will skip them here but merely would mention one that has kept a significant number of them lagging and handicapped at higher levels of the education process – Tamil vernacular which is provided for in the constitution.

The 2nd R which is religion was not a big segregating factor in the earlier days when the three major communities cohabited in separate spheres so to speak.  The Malays were mainly living quite happily in the rural kampongs with the Chinese mainly dominating the trade and businesses in the towns especially in the west coast of the peninsula. The Indians confined themselves to the rubber plantations by convention and did the same even in Tamil enclaves in the towns.  All this “peaceful” scenario has changed with Malaysia’s economic success and transformation from an agrarian base towards a more rapid industrialized one.  The increased economic and educational preferences and opportunity for the once displaced Malays has become a sour point of discontent among the non-Malays.  This dissension is simmering and can become quite explosive if left alone and not well addressed.  The HINDRAF street demonstrations of more recent times are an indication of this growing discontent.  Today, almost everything is seen through a racial kaleidoscope.  With this background religion which hitherto was not such a divisive force has increasingly become one.  From the early times the cunning British well knew that the Malays were easy to deal with if their religion was left alone.  They even introduced laws that did not allow any form of proselytizing among the Malay Muslims well before Merdeka itself. These laws still stand.  With the power they had, they could have easily forced all Muslims to become Christians as the Portuguese and Spanish records show worldwide.  But the British had only economic intentions which also became their priority over here.  All Malaysians should learn from the British and leave the Malays and Islam alone. This is easier said than done especially if religious rulings fringe upon the rights of non-Muslims.  This has to be kept in check.

The 3rd R refers to our royalty, another unique institution in its own way and not to be found anywhere else in the world.  Tiny Malaysia has nine sovereign monarchs of  the total of about twenty five monarchs worldwide.  It must be remembered that the Malay royalty has been part and parcel of the Malay culture as is Islam and thus enjoys a symbiotic relationship with both.  The Malay sultans were never really disposed off even by the first colonials who come here. The Portuguese merely occupied Melaka.  The Dutch too merely occupied Melaka after the Portuguese. The English were the “smarter ones” who occupied Melaka through a treaty with the Dutch in 1824.  Thereafter, British intervention in the Malay states was not through conquest but mainly through the requests of the ruling sultans or whenever ascendancy problems arose.  In this way, the sultanates became British protectorates rather than colonies per se. Only Penang, Singapore and lastly Melaka became British territories.  The Malay rulers were pampered and left alone by the British and the sultans continued to be heads of religion and cultural matters while the British exploited the land with "permission" granted by the Malay rulers.  The British realized that if the sultan was not happy the Malay hornet’s nest would have to be dealt with. As such, they kept the sultans happy and placated. Malay rebellion, against the British was thus rare and a few who did rebel were severely dealt with and even banished.  With Merdeka, the sultans became more powerful so to speak as their sovereignty became more pronounced and extended. Today they are usually seen as mere constitutional heads as in some other western democracies.  This is not quite true as the sultans still have much power at their disposal which is seldom used.  For starters, they are commanders of the armed forces and the police force.  This is something even educated Malaysians do not seem to understand.
Divided We Fall

It is sad that such things are not clearly spelt out in schools or even at the tertiary levels. This situation has given rise to a feeling of disenchantment with the establishment by Malaysian youths particularly of the non-Malay variety.  It is my understanding that the British knew the nuances of each of the three major races and used the said understanding well.  When they were preparing to leave after the 2nd World War they created and set into motion several institutions that would see perpetual power in the hands of the Malays. This must have been their desire and motive.  They started affirmative action for the Malays even before Merdeka. Institutions such as the Malay Civil Service ensured that mainly Malays only would have administrative posts right from state secretaries and district officers to penghulus and ketua kampongs. Elite educational institutions such as MCKK, TKC and the Tun Fatimah College were set up exclusively for bright Malay children. The personnel in the police, navy and army was made up of  almost entirely Malays too.  This situation remains.  In this way, the "gun" was given to the Malays.  The exclusion of Chinese in such things was, in my view, based on the deep British distrust of the Chinese. They well knew what the Chinese were capable of and remember the hell the Japanese has suffered during the Japanese occupation of Malaya.  And after all, the British High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney was killed by communist insurgents who were mainly Chinese too.  Despite the aforesaid, the British had been fair when they left and had afforded citizenship, rights to one’s own religion and vernacular education for the Chinese and Indians.

I am rambling off here just to remind my fellow Malaysians to understand the basic pillars on which this nation stands upon and was built.  Let us not spoil what we have built all these years.  Instead let us safeguard the rights of one and all that are ingrained in the constitution which is something the founding fathers had agreed upon. By us, I mean the various races including the Malays as well. Let us not rock the boat too much.

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