September 10, 2008
Columnist quoted by a columnist
Samad Ismail, who died last week, was a pioneering multiracial politician and a tireless political educator.When Daim Zainuddin, fellow lecturer at the Tata Negara political school in the 1960s, last visited Samad at his home a few weeks after the March 8 general elections, the late Tan Sri was not the great conversationalist as had been the case in their many previous meetings.
Still, and despite his frailties, when the Tun casually mentioned “politics”, Samad was roused. This organiser of the Chinese-educated in post-War Singapore and, later, co-founder of the now ruling PAP, with some gusto, reached for his cigarette.
It is a source of inspiration to think that Samad had bequeathed us multi-ethnic disciples to help negotiate the heightened debate on race and politics that has coincided with his passing. This has during bad times mirrored an inquest or even bordered on the acrimonious.
Two Umno leaders have had to apologise for race-related matters. Additionally, newspaper reports suggest a sizeable percentage of the rank and file of Gerakan would prefer the party exit the Barisan Nasional amidst muttering of Umno’s stranglehold in the BN by some members of component parties.
Also, while Internet literature has long aired a plethora of discontent, the writing has become more persuasive and credible. Tricia Yeoh, director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies, writing on colour blindness in The Nut Graph (www.thenutgraph.com/articles/big_picture/2008/09/colour-blindness.php) made her case recently: “Scholarships are more easily accessible to the Bumiputera community. Priority is always given to contracts tendered by this same group by law… …the promotion of university lecturers and public servants has been largely criticised as being determined by race. Likewise, the appointments of key corporate positions like chief financial officer or general manager of GLCs”.
Samad would have demanded a wholesome diagnosis.
The first conclusion would have been on the correlation between election results and degrees of recriminations or euphoria. The Umno Youth leader had to apologise for kissing the kris after the March 8 elections although the ceremony at the wing’s annual assembly was not exactly new. By comparison, criticisms of Umno’s prominent role in BN were not apparent after BN’s landslide victory in the 2004 elections.
The next conclusion would relate to a new political correctness. A few backroom personnel gathered at Samad’s place on Friday, wondered if we were being quicker than usual in pouncing on and declaring particular remarks as “racist”.
Above all, the real issue now and for many years to come, that shall test our capabilities and thinking prowess most – and justifiably so – is the kind of analysis provided by Nut Graph’s Tricia Yeoh cited above.
As stereotypifying goes, individuals are identified by their race. Worse, the main parties are communal ones, so race tends to discolour discourse, including those on meritocracy. It shall be a bonus to have commentators and political parties research into predicaments of communities which are not their own for a change.
Next is to self-analyse tangible benefits that have come our way, not just Malay-Bumiputeras alone, after which, the concessions would have to be voluntary to avoid such tit-for-tat as in – yes, full meritocracy and national schools only to quicken the pace of integration.
Banners at the main campus of UiTM in Shah Alam describing the university as the Last Malay Bastion do suggest competition is defined by race. It is not helpful. This popped up with the recent din stirred by the 10 per cent enrolment for non-Bumiputeras suggestion. Fellow alumnus polled randomly for this column returned an emphatic “Yes” to this idea.
UiTM can conceivably open its journalism course to all Malaysians. Since Samad Ismail’s time as a celebrated lecturer at the old ITM in the 1970s, other universities have taught journalism – and to multiracial students. It would be a powerful gesture for UiTM, nonetheless, given its strong journalistic tradition, to train future reporters of the Utusan Malaysia, Sin Chew Jit Poh and MalaysiaKini. The university has long offered Mandarin as an option.
Finally this: Samad Ismail exuded high-energy by learning Chinese patriotic songs. Words he committed to print came off a facility oiled by exhaustive reading and listening. To make things work better, we too need to try harder – to improve Bahasa Melayu, perhaps learn Mandarin, an Indian language – and to always mind our language, not spew racial jibes or shout them down with venom.
● Rashid Yusof, on sabbatical from 24-hour journalism, is looking to dredge up a range of arguments and a smattering of ideas for the public domain.