Saturday, 28 May 2011

Of course it is ....

Is the Tunku’s dream dead?

Mariam Mokhtar | May 27, 2011

As a nation, we are moving backwards in time. We are almost tribal in the way we defend our racial space.


How ridiculous that 54 years after Merdeka, we are still talking in terms of Malays, Chinese and Indians, and that we cannot and will not think and work as Malaysians.

In the article, “Big Unity Plan” (Sunday Times, May 28, 1961) the Federation Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, warned of the communist threat: “We want citizens to think, feel, believe and work for the good of Malaya and look to Malaya as the sole object of their loyalty. This, I am sure, is the desire of all in the country except for a small minority.”

Last week, I spoke with a 77-year-old Malay lady, who used to work in the Tunku’s secretarial pool. The lifestyle that she described then, is a far cry from the one that we read about today.

She had photographs in which Malays dressed in sarong kebaya and had bee-hive hairdos, or long flowing locks. Young people went to dances with music played by live bands in town. Her friends and work colleagues were of different races.

Although her mother and her mother’s peers, dressed conservatively, the selendang was the norm, even among the older generation. In some typical Malay families, men and women ate separately. This was probably in deference to the breadwinner, who was the man of the house.

Parents sent their children to the mission schools, to be taught by nuns. There were no issues with the morning assembly, when the Lord’s prayer was said.

During catechism, the Malays had their agama classes, but every child went to “moral class” or “civics” as it was also commonly known.

Children who were sent to board in Convent schools, shared many experiences. During Sunday mass, the Muslims stayed behind and read while waiting for their friends to return from chapel.

One couldn’t help notice the interaction and bonding between the girls, for in the schools, children of various races, including Europeans and non-Malayans, were thrown together.

So what went wrong in the intervening years?

Symbol of hypocrisy

Today, the Malay has replaced the sarong kebaya with the unflattering sack-like baju kurung. At work, women don the tudung, not because they want to but because of peer pressure and career advancement.

The tudung has become a symbol of hypocrisy. If it is supposed to signify that the girl is chaste, then it is maddening to see tudung-clad girls in parks openly kissing and fondling their boyfriends. It makes a mockery of the tudung and what it is supposed to signify, if anything.

However, no one I asked, would dare volunteer that their grandmothers and grand-aunts were not as religious, just because they lacked today’s standard tudung.

Children, including toddlers, are told they cannot play with children of the opposite sex. Conservatively clad girls in baju kurung cannot easily run around in the playground or play on a climbing frame because they are told it is not ladylike, or the “baju” is a physical impediment.

When boys are not familiar with girls and vice-versa, apart from their own brothers or sisters, they find it awkward to relate to members of the opposite sex, when they are later thrown into a social, work or study environment.

Young hormones and a lack of exposure play havoc with teenagers’ feelings and they mistake mutual attraction or curiosity, for love. The need to explore their feelings may lead to sex, which both are mentally and physically unprepared for.

Today, mission schools are in a terrible state of disrepair. It was as if these physical structures were being punished for churning out hundreds of thousands of educated children, some of whom became excellent scholars, administrators, scientists, academics and captains of industry.

Symbols of Christianity had by the 80s been eroded. Gone were the crosses from school badges. Chapels in convents were stripped of their religious artifacts, some of which had been around for several decades and were of historical and religious significance.

Even corporations were not spared. The much loved Christmas party for the staff children, all but disappeared.

Few treated these parties – with Santa Claus and his cotton-wool beard, or the decorated Christmas tree, which was really a Casuarina tree – with any religious significance.

Today, these Christmas parties are not politically correct, at least not in Malaysia. And if they are held, all religious symbols and hymns are banned if senior government officials are invited.

Fear of causing offence

Many Malay weddings are increasingly becoming “his” and “hers” affairs where the sexes are segregated as soon as they arrive.

The racial and religious scarifying of Malaysia has gone to such an extent that many non-Malays are afraid to invite their Malay friends to their homes for fear of causing offence.

Among the Malays, there is probably more fear of the moral police than of breaking God’s bond, when people go out for drinks with friends or when they are having a relationship with people they are not married to.

As a nation, we are moving backwards in time. We are almost tribal in the way we defend our racial space.

The lady I know, who once worked in the PM’s office half a century ago, has now altered her outlook of Malaysia. Today, she is convinced the Chinese and Indians are out to take control of Malaysia.

Had she been to Perkasa’s or Umno’s ceramahs, I asked. What about the efforts of the opposition, I ventured.

“No,” she replied. “I watch TV and the television says that Umno is doing so much for the nation.”

When asked to quantify “so much”, she volunteered “like building roads for the kampungs”.

“Now you tell me, what the opposition has done?” she challenged.

It’s our business, too

Not every urbanite is Internet-savvy and not many Malaysians are readers who would pick up an opposition leaflet, if they were freely available.

Without any media exposure, people who have no access to the alternative publications cannot appreciate what the opposition has done.

Only a week ago, I was trying to explain to another older person that we should be bothered, especially when the government splashes out on billion-dollar projects where there is no transparency involved in awarding the contracts.

“Why should we care? Let them waste the money. It’s their business,” he cried.

It was only after some explanation that he realised that the grand projects were funded by his money, or rather our money: the taxpayers’ money.

So, it appears that we do not have to go to the rural areas to look for ignorant people, or people who are not aware that the opposition exists.

Mariam Mokhtar observes local politics keenly. She is an FMT columnist.

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