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52 years of regressive work by Ministry of National Unity

The national unity minister must not just rebuke bigots but go all the way to get action taken against them under the law

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In Parliament, on 5 October, the Rasah MP asked the national unity minister what was being taught in the tabika perpaduan (unity kindergartens) to inculcate unity.

The MP was concerned about the racial slurs directed at badminton player S Kisona and was probably thinking that if ‘perpaduan’ had been properly taught in early childhood, adults should not be making racial slurs, as happened in this case.   

The minister replied firmly that making racial slurs was unacceptable in a multiracial society.

Why didn’t she respond immediately when news of the slur hit the headlines but only when asked in Parliament a few days later?

She said the standard of tabikas was being improved and teachers were now required to have a children’s early education diploma (see video above).

But what has the teachers’ paper qualifications got to do with inculcating multiracial unifying values in children?

Let’s go back a little in history. ‘Perpaduan’ is not something new. After the infamous May 13 incident in 1969, a National Unity Department was set up on 1 July 1969 under the Prime Minister’s Department. In 1972, it was upgraded to a fully fledged Ministry of National Unity.

How is it that after 52 years of the existence of this department and then ministry, we have more disunity today than ever? The short answer is that the ministry dared not say anything about all the racism and bigotry that was raising its ugly head and thus allowed it to grow and drive a wedge between people of different ethnicities and religions. 

Does anyone care to ask why this ministry has succeeded in overseeing the reverse, ie eroding national unity over the past 52 years instead of achieving the objective for which it was set up – unless it was meant to be just an ‘eyewash’ for the divide-and-rule agenda under the name of race and religion?       

So, wallowing either in true or feigned ignorance of its failures, the ministry goes on spending money conducting programmes, talks and seminars; putting up billboards; and creating advertisements to keep itself relevant. It remains oblivious to the fact that all these efforts at creating ‘perpaduan’, in an environment that is anti-perpaduan, do nothing to build or rebuild unity! Rather, these efforts smack of hypocrisy while racists and bigots continue to undermine unity.    

Teaching unity – like teaching maths and science formulae for the sake of passing exams – can never achieve the aim of bringing about national unity. Such lessons do not address the real-life causes of disunity, which is tacitly allowed for the political survival of some people.

National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique and Dr Wee Ka Siong’s rebuke of the Bersatu Pasir Puteh deputy chief for his racist remark against S Kisona is a rare response coming after the Badminton Association of Malaysia had first done so. A few other politicians then joined in the rebuke.

But where were all the national unity ministers and other politicians of the various ethnic groups while the nation was simmering under racism and bigotry over the past 52 years? It has been 52 years of not just hurling all kinds of racial slurs but going much further: like snatching dead bodies from funeral homes and hauling away brides during wedding ceremonies, making school children have meals in washrooms, calling the non-Malays “pendatang” (immigrants) and “penumpang” (passengers) even in Parliament, allowing the conversions of minors without the consent of both parents, tearing down crosses from churches and schools.

Feigning “sensitivities” to many things that never were sensitive and a whole plethora of words and actions legitimised “in the defence of race and religion” have been the real destroyer-teachers of ‘perpaduan’. These have erected the walls of distrust and ill-will among Malaysians of different ethnicities and religions.

Perpaduan, if there is any sincerity about it, can only be achieved by tearing down those walls of racial segregation by applying to the racists and bigots (including some racist, bigoted preachers) the full extent of the relevant laws, regardless of their race or religion. The current perception is that these laws are not applied equally.

Let us take one very recent example of creating ill-will. A video-clip showed members of the Muslim Consumers’ Association taking out bottles of a soft drink from a cooler in a convenience store and destroying them for whatever reason(s) they had. That was destroying somebody else’s property and should have been a criminal offence unless they had the authority to do so.

Were they acting like some government agency enforcement officers? Does their own constitution, approved by the Registrar of Societies, allow them to take such action? Did we hear any minister or politician standing up to rebuke them? Not rebuking them is giving their action legitimacy. How can such acts, which will continue, help build unity?

In April, I wrote to Halimah (“Memastikan kedaulatan undang-undang diterapkan secara adil dengan mengambil tindakan terhadap sesiapa sahaja yang mengancam perpaduan dan keharmonian dalam kalangan rakyat”) on the attorney general’s refusal to take action against preachers Zamri Vinoth Kalimuthu and Multiracial Reverted Muslims founder and president Firdaus Wong Wai Hung. I did not even get an acknowledgement.

Unity cannot be taught in schools, colleges or universities because the most powerful teacher of unity is the action or non-action of the government against all acts of racial bigotry and intolerance that are taking place in the country with impunity.          

Every sitting national unity minister has got to take upon himself or herself the task of monitoring all racists and bigots. They must not just rebuke them but go all the way to get action taken against them under the law, the same laws that apply to non-Muslims, without fear or favour – if we are satu “Keluarga Malaysia” (one “Malaysian Family”).

There is no short-cut to getting back the unity of the 1950s if the relevant sections of the Penal Code and other laws are not applied to “orang kita” (our people).  

This is the one and only effective way of teaching that will determine the success or failure of ‘perpaduan’ – not whatever is taught in educational institutions.

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