“Birds of a feather stick together” is an apt proverb to describe what is happening in Malaysia today. Older people are lamenting how the old racial camaraderie borne out of having interacted in the same school is fast disappearing before our eyes.
In the past, despite the fiery burst of “racial tension” in 1969 dubbed as May 13, the races came back together again and children, being children, mingled freely in mostly urban-based English medium schools and it was there seeds of unity were sown through education, cultural activities and sports. Elements of religiosity were virtually absent. I remember female Muslim religious teachers in my school were not even wearing the headscarves!
Mission schools were thriving and you would find Malay,Chinese and Indian children sharing the same tables during recess period. Schools such as Penang Free school, Andersen,Victoria Institution,St John,Holy Infant convent,English College, La Salle, St Georges which were scattered all over the country were then the epitome of Malaysian multiculturalism. Many of the captains of industries, professionals and articulate English-speaking top civil servants were the product of these schools.
That was prior to 1982 before the English medium schools were abolished in the short-term belief that having national language schools would promote unity. At the same time, vernacular schools were spared to allow Chinese and Indian children to learn in their mother tongue in primary schools.
Unfortunately around the same period this massive change was being implemented, the strong wind of islamic revival was blowing across the world. It caught this country with its Muslim majority easily as some firebrand out to make a political agenda of their own, used it to exert control over others or to model the society to their worldview. It would have been fine if Malaysia were a homogeneous society : one race and one religion.
The revolution in Iran in 1979 seemed to fire up the imagination of the Muslim youth in Malaysia and they set up ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia) – Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement, led by no other than Anwar Ibrahim. They were clinical in their “Islamisation” strategies. Small groups were set up in the mould of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to push for changes to reflect ” islamic ways ” (“Arab values” is more like it) .
And so they, under the leadership of Anwar set up the first girls school where it was compulsory for all children to wear the headscarves. They infiltrated local universities, teachers’ colleges, schools, government training institutions and government department and even the police and the army to force their ideology through constant indoctrination (Biro Tata Negara-BTN), peer pressure and social intimidation. They are very successful as you can see from the uniforms of Muslim female school children, Muslim nurses, policewomen,female soldiers, immigration officers and civil servants. The Arabisation is institutionalised after almost 30 years. Religion is no longer a private matter but glaringly public. The sense of “you or me” becomes more intense.
The abolition of English Medium Schools and the islamisation of our education are two single most fragmenting factors in our present society. Children are now segregated based on religions. In the past Muslim children went to afternoon classes for their religious studies and at nights or during weekends to learn how to read the Holy Qur’an. Now some schools start the day with the reciting of Muslim prayers through loudspeakers.
Our society then was not that wealthy but we had common thread to hold us together unlike now when there is a prevalent of cultural tension,mistrust,hatred and anger which are further amplified by the social media through the internet. Racism is rearing its ugly head with responsible figures like teachers being the commonly reported culprits. A very sad time for our children. A very frightening time for our nation when our society is fragmenting.
The Chinese and Indian parents move their children to vernacular schools and in Sabah it seems the non Muslim Kadazans in urban areas even send their children to Chinese schools if unable to get into mission schools rather than to the “islamising” national schools. In a nutshell, the non-Muslim children are avoiding the national schools like the plague and towards early childhood segregation.
In the meantime, our politicians are playing the racial and religious cards to suit themselves more than the people they are supposed to represent. Don’t you realise that right from the Prime Minister Najib to the less powerful politicians, that they are all talking about unity? And yet their behaviour do not reflect their words. It is the same with the opposition politicians and the biggest of all fakes, Anwar Ibrahim.
We the rakyat (citizens) are paying for the price of our politicians’ selfishness, short-sightedness and social blunders. There is an elegant analysis of what is happening in the country here if you cared to read and reflect. Reading widens our mind and make us less introspective and perhaps less ethnocentric as well but unfortunately most of these sensible and analytical articles are written in English and so out of range for most Malaysian youths.
Unless we are aware of what is taking place in our society we will not take measures to rise to the challenges to keep us together. For true national unity, “Birds of a feather” should be based on common secular values rather than on race and religion.