Archive for June, 2009





Malaysia is definitely facing a new era of social engineering!

After fifty years of post Merdeka development which focused on the eradication of poverty, rural development, building of infrastructure, growth of business and industry, equitable distribution of wealth etc etc the country is seeing the results of these policies.

There’s no doubt the country has prospered! Once known for being the small peninsula north of diminutive Singapore, Malaysia has carved a name for itself and  is now standing on its many feet. Malaysians have a lot to be proud of because we have made our nation what it is – warts and all!

And warts there are many indeed! Because let’s face it – social engineering has its products and bye products! Development as a whole especially if it is rapid begets results which are  both positive and negative.

Ironically, a much lamented bye product of its equity/equality building policies  is the inequalities that have been created. In providing support to the bumiputras to correct their economically and educationally disadvantaged positions, the nation is facing the grouses of non-bumiputras who feel their interests have been largely ignored.

This, despite the government’s continued support of Chinese and Tamil vernacular education and mother-tongue schools. And aid to the underprivileged Chinese and Indian communities! It’s never enough!

The overwhelming grouse over the years is that non-bumiputra students who achieve academic excellence are not given financial support in the form of government scholarships for tertiary education.

ABSOLUTELY! There should never have been discrimination on this in the first place! Why was it impossible for our leaders to see that helping deserving bumiputras should not negate the responsibility of helping deserving non-bumiputras!

So now we see the introduction of the meritocracy scholarship a.k.a. national scholarship opening the window for a more just and equitable affirmative action  in education. And calling it “national” is neutral and unbiased!

To engineer another failing in Malaysian society viz the relative shortage of non- bumiputras in the civil service and in the teaching profession, I believe more scholarships should be aligned towards these sectors. In other words there must be more teaching and MCS scholarships for non-bumiputra students to attract the best minds to serve in these professions.

The BN government is thinking wisely thanks to Dato’ Seri Najib’s think tanks! And the PM’s rhetoric seems right and right to the point.  But whether these new policies and pronouncements will be smart enough and quick enough to regain lost ground is a moot question! 

Perhaps I won’t see an outstandingly better Malaysia  in my lifetime but there is hope for my children and grandchildren! That is,  if they and their friends are sincere and honest about building up ONE MALAYSIA!





I offered a distinction between the terms “racial” and “racist” which was published in The Star (July 10, 2008). Essentially  “racial” refers to the state of being loyal to one’s ethnic group, i.e. a community of people sharing the same physical and cultural characteristics.

By this definition, a Malay would be sympathetic to and influenced by developments in the Malay community, the Chinese to and by the Chinese community, the Indians to and by the Indian community and so forth. To me these racial sentiments are the natural extension of  loyalty towards kith and kin, the Old English expression whose meaning includes the country of one’s birth. They include love for and pride in  one’s motherland!

However, “racism” rears its ugly head when one believes in and gets emotional about the superiority of one’s ethnic group and becomes antagonistic towards those  who are not from one’s community. It is this kiasu mentality of racial or national chauvinism and oneupmanship which can develop into discrimination and hostility; which can erupt into bigotted intolerance and open confrontation!

It is racism that  Malaysians must avoid like the plague!

It is loyalty to and pride in their physical and cultural heritage that Malaysians must defend to the last drop of their blood!

At the everyday level we must admit there is a growing polarisation (for want of a better word), a tendency to veer towards one’s own ethnic group especially when it comes to defending the group’s interests or championing its causes. Vital issues that affect and impact upon the group’s survival and progress viz educational and economic development can very quickly invite racist sentiments.  What starts off as rational racial arguments can degenerate into emotional racist outbursts as people defend what they perceive as their legitimate rights.  

At the official level, policies and programmes are viewed as this and that; this or that! Biased or unbiased; fair or unfair; egalitarian or elitist; democratic or segregationist/sectarian; equitable or discriminatory!

Being the sceptics and critics that Malaysians have become overnight,very few of the government’s efforts are lauded as being just and right, just right or rightly just because let’s face it – humans have the tendency to view things from their own narrow perspective! And it’s not just a characteristic of the Malaysian political animal but  a natural characteristic of the animal species everywhere that we gather and flock with our own species and sub species!


In other words the much abused term “racial polarisation”  – in schools, in residential areas, in community and socio-religious settings – is natural! Malaysia’s multiethnic population will still seek their own kith and kin, their own ethnic groups, the people they are comfortable with, the persons they share their food and other cultural habits with. And of course the members of the community they can readily talk with/to in a common language!     

So what ONE MALAYSIA  must ensure is that these racial sentiments do not deteriorate into racist emotions. In the process of managing diversity the government of Dato’ Seri Najib  must establish  resounding policies, programmes and activities which focus on shared concerns and interests.

Thus, the establishment of the meritocracy scholarship that will benefit  students from all ethnic groups who achieve excellence in their academic performance is to be applauded.

Affirmative Action that goes out to all deserving groups must be concertedly implemented so that no one section of Malaysian society feels it is left out of the nation’s development.

Meantime, at our own personal level there must be a genuine desire to rid ourselves of the deep-rooted  racist sentiments – “the Malai koi and Cina koi; the Cina makan babi, Keling makan biawak, Melayu makan belacan” sentiments of our less exposed forefathers !





I’m intrigued by the question of whether Malaysians are patriotic or nationalistic, or both, or neither! Or are we more inclined to be patriotic in some contexts and nationalistic in others! Or are we generally more patriotic than nationalistic or vice versa!

Patriotism  and Nationalism are emotions and convictions that people have about their country which are inspired by a positive force of love for and pride in its socio-cultural symbols  –  its myths and history; its traditions and way of life; its language and cultural norms. 

Being patriotic or nationalistic means one has a conviction as to which nation one formally belongs and to which one wants to formally belong. It implies loyalty to one’s country.

This sense of a national identity or national self-image can also be triggered by feelings of protectiveness and defence in the face of incursions and intrusions from outside or inside.

Interestingly, “nation” and “national identity” are not tangible, concrete entities but political constructs built upon the collective identity of the people through their shared experiences. In other words a nation is an “imagined political community” with a collective/ national identity ( Anderson 1983).

And interestingly, this notion of “nation” is not static but  is continually reconstructed through processes of exclusion and inclusion (Schlesinger 1991).  

Thus, patriotism and nationalism can vary synchronically (in time) and diachronically (in space) as they can vary within the positive and negative poles. If I may use a linguistic term, patriotism and nationalism are not absolutes but occur along a continuum.

Of the two, patriotism refers to one’s love for one’s motherland and an attachment to the national values –  albeit laced with a critical understanding . Thus there can be degrees of attachment and understanding with in-groups and out-groups demonstrating facets of their national identity. We can be more patriotic at one point in a nation’s history and less patriotic at another.

MERDEKA saw the high point of patriotism and nationalism in the run-up to the country’s freedom from colonial rule and the establishment of self rule; ONE MALAYSIA may not be so lucky in a country that’s politically divided!

However, unlike nationalism which can manifest itself in the negative feelings of superiority and dominance over other nations or peoples (Feshbach 1994), patriotism never implies a rejection and oppression of out-groups or a dominance over them.

While patriotic groups would espouse liberalism and tolerance, nationalistic groups are inclined towards intergroup differentiation of “us” versus “them”. BN versus PR, UMNO versus PAS; Malay language nationalists versus Chinese and Tamil language nationalists, Malay rural poverty versus Indian estate poverty; Chinese business ventures versus Malay corporate undertakings!  

If we go by what is happening in the political arena, it’s easy to see where Malaysians are along the continuums of patriotism or nationalism. The race-based  nature of the Malaysian political parties ensures that the vision of having a national identity which is indivisible and a nation which is One Malaysia will meet with stops and starts along the way!  The dream of perpetuating our shared experiences, myths and history, traditions and way of life, language and cultural norms into an overwhelming sense of patriotism is in danger of being aborted by the nationalistic forces which play up the elements which are disparate.

Perhaps each of us should ask ourselves sincerely and honestly where we are along the continuums; who or what we are loyal to? But can we really be sincere and honest in our answers?

Otherwise, like America, Malaysia may have to artificially create a cause to forge a national identity among a nation of people who are more nationalistic than patriotic! It may take the form of a war against an outside force like the American war against terrorism and the deep fear of terrorists!

God forbid  Malaysians need the grief of a national tragedy like 9/11 to unite us and evoke the love for our motherland!





Patriotism is love of and/or devotion to one’s country. The word comes from the Greek patris.[1] However, patriotism has had different meanings over time, and its meaning is highly dependent upon context, geography and philosophy.

Although patriotism is used in certain vernaculars as a synonym for nationalism, nationalism is not necessarily considered an inherent part of patriotism.[2][3] Among the ancient Greeks, patriotism consisted of notions concerning language, religious traditions, ethics, law and devotion to the common good, rather than pure identification with a nation-state.[4][5] Scholar J. Peter Euben writes that for the Greek philosopher Socrates, “patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that his country does and would actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be.”[6]

During the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, the notion of patriotism continued to be separate from the notion of nationalism. Instead, patriotism was defined as devotion to humanity and beneficence.[2] For example, providing charity, criticizing slavery, and denouncing excessive penal laws were all considered patriotic. [2] In both ancient and modern visions of patriotism, individual responsibility to fellow citizens is an inherent component of patriotism.

Many contemporary notions of patriotism are influenced by 19th century ideas about nationalism. During the 19th century, “being patriotic” became increasingly conflated with nationalism, and even jingoism.[2] However, some notions of contemporary patriotism reject nationalism in favor of a more classic version of the idea of patriotism which includes social responsibility.[7]


Nationalism refers to an ideology, a sentiment, a form of culture, or a social movement that focuses on the nation.[1] It is a type of collectivism emphasizing the collective of a specific nation. While there is significant debate over the historical origins of nations, nearly all specialists accept that nationalism, at least as an ideology and social movement, is a modern phenomenon originating in Europe.[2] Precisely where and when it emerged is difficult to determine, but its development is closely related to that of the modern state and the push for popular sovereignty that came to a head with the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Since that time, nationalism has become one of the most significant political and social forces in history, perhaps most notably as a major influence or cause of World War I and especially World War II with the rise of fascism, a radical and authoritarian nationalist ideology.[3][4][5][6]

As an ideology, nationalism holds that ‘the people’ in the doctrine of popular sovereignty is the nation, and that as a result only nation-states founded on the principle of national self-determination are legitimate. Since most states are multinational, or at least home to more than one group claiming national status,[7] in many cases nationalist pursuit of self-determination has caused conflict between people and states including war[8] (both external and domestic), secession; and in extreme cases, genocide.

Nationalism is a strong social phenomenon in the world as national flags, national anthems and national divisions are examples of ‘banal‘ nationalism that is often mentally unconscious.[9] Moreover, some scholars argue that nationalism as a sentiment or form of culture, sometimes described as ‘nationality‘ to avoid the ideology’s tarnished reputation, is the social foundation of modern society. Industrialization, democratization, and support for economic redistribution have all been at least partly attributed to the shared social context and solidarity that nationalism provides.[10][11][12]

Even though nationalism ultimately is based on supporting ones own nation, nationalists of different states may perfectly well cooperate among each other as to support the ultimate worldwide belief that all groups of nationalities have the right to have their own nations.

Nevertheless, nationalism remains a hotly contested subject on which there is little general consensus. The clearest example of opposition to nationalism is cosmopolitanism, with adherents as diverse as liberals, Marxists, and anarchists, but even nationalism’s defenders often disagree on its virtues, and it is common for nationalists of one persuasion to disparage the aspirations of others for both principled and strategic reasons. Indeed, the only fact about nationalism that is not in dispute may be that few other social phenomena have had a more enduring impact on the modern world.







” The Jawi Peranakan of Penang can be considered the earliest community of town or urban Malays when their migrant Indian Muslim forefathers established a trading community in George Town in the mid 18th century.The alternative term by which they are known, Jawi Pekan (town Malays) and its use in the British census categories from 1881 to 1911 bears testimony to a formal recognition of this status. The indigenous Malays of the time were found in the hinterland and were mainly occupied with farming activities. Historically, these differences in demographic and occupational distribution brought about early differences not only in the socio-economic and educational development of these communities (see Chapter Two) but also in the development of their mind and personality.

Most of the second and third generation Penang Jawi Peranakan today were brought up in the urban environment of George Town in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s where they attended English schools and interacted with teachers and peers from different ethnic backgrounds. They had to compete openly and cooperate with one another in their academic work and co-curricular activities as well as sporting interests. Outside of the school in the multi-ethnic environment of Penang there were plenty of opportunities for socialising with the other races. In Kuala Lumpur where many of them migrated, these conditions are replicated in their work place and in their areas of residence. This generally unrestrictive urban environment has nurtured a personality that is outgoing, friendly and sociable, personality traits which are typical of the Jawi Peranakan of Penang. A general observation is that they are socially adaptable and accomodating. They are usually confident and uninhibited in a social setting and try hard to fit in at whatever level of society. They appear to have no hang-ups about their social abilities and have a high self esteem. Their social ease is greatly aided by the fact that they are ready talkers and eloquent speakers, expressing themselves directly and openly.

5th jan2008 073[1]

A socially hesitant and reticent Jawi Peranakan would be challenged to forge ahead with the metaphor  ” Tak ada hidungkah?” (Don’t you have a nose (confidence)?). For this the more verbose among them have earned the reputation of being brash, abrasive and pushy – negative traits which are discouraged in the traditional Malay metaphor hidung tak mancung pipi tersorong-sorong ( pushing their cheeks ahead of their flat noses), which has the effect of restraining initiative and drive.”




O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do.

AL – MA’IDAH (8) 

VERILY, [O you who believe in Me,] this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: worship, then, Me [alone]!

But men have torn their unity wide asunder, [forgetting that] unto Us they are all bound to return.

AL – ANBIYA (92 – 93)



Once again Malay politics is being played out and played up!

Around this time last year UMNO was split right down the middle over leadership issues. The party hierarchical tree was divided from its canopy right down to its divisions and branches and grassroots over the need for a new leadership under a new President. Also ripe for change were the other protagonists in the party hierarchy!

Entanglements which needed disentanglement!

Supporters of the then UMNO President Dato’ Seri Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi said he should stay for the sake of the party unity! Supporters of Dato’ Seri Najib Abdul Razak said he should take over for the sake of Malay dignity!

Much debate and argument occupied mainstream media space as they did cyberspace as well as the coffee shop and gerai spaces. Malays of all ages and affiliations intensely defended their loyalties and their political heroes. Equally animated were the attacks on political foes.

We said we did it for the sake of  bangsa, agama dan negara! For our Malay roots – our akar umbi!  No one would admit they did it for selfish ends!

The UMNO general assembly postponed from December to March saw efforts to consolidate the party strengths and to come to sensible compromises. The new line-up was accepted grudgingly by some and heralded as holding new promises by others! Impassioned speeches accompanied by much hugging and hand kissing , bersalam salaman dan bermaaf maafan ended the assembly in true Malay style – the two thousand or so delegates resplendent in colourful Malay baju, beradab dan beradat.

Once again the promise of Malay unity within UMNO would help to alleviate what has always been UMNO’s platform i.e. the Malay agenda. With renewed vows comes the promise of  new vigour! Except that this time the Malay agenda must go hand in hand with the national agenda of ensuring that the other ethnic groups are not marginalised in the equation, true to the spirit of the Federal Constitution.

The current Prime Minister  has vowed that he is going to be the people’s PM! Najib Razak has promised that ONE MALAYSIA will be his clarion call and his one outstanding vision for the country. The national ideal/ philosophy/ goal of a united people made up of diverse ethnic groups and cultures manifested in the cries of MERDEKA, in the tenets of RUKUN NEGARA, in the conglomerate of a BANGSA MALAYSIA and in the construct of a fully developed WAWASAN 2020 echoes throughout the nation again in the concept of ONE MALAYSIA!

HOWEVER,  the very people responsible for translating the vision into reality, into meaningful policies and projects,  into day to day conduct and behaviour, i.e. the wakil rakyat (ADUN and MP) elected by the people to serve their needs – seem oblivious to this call!  As usual, they pay lip service to it in their rhetoric but fail dismally in their political ploys and stances!

Now PAS is seriously divided after their muktamar as UMNO was before the general assembly. And the “contentious” issue at hand is that of Malay unity and by extension whether we like it or not, national unity

While one group led by the newly elected President Hadi and Deputy President Nasharudin has proposed unity talks with UMNO, another group led by popular spiritual leader Nik Aziz is dead against it. Once again there is a split within a major Malay political party and the bigger Malay political community.

Once again the Malays and Malaysians will be preoccupied in great argumentations about right and wrong, truths and untruths, moral and immoral, sincerity, trustworthiness, uprightness, justice – all ingredients of integrity!

NOW  the questions will be: who has better integrity UMNO or PAS? Who is more sincere in helping the Malays? Who is more correct in their interpretation of Islam and in their translation of Islam’s tenets? Who is more just and fair in its dealings with Malaysia’s other ethnic groups?

Meantime the other political parties in the BN versus PR equation will join in the foray in the true spirit of togetherness inherent in ONE MALAYSIA

Whether you agree or not Malay politics determines  national politics as it always has!



Hence , if it should happen that a prompting from Satan stirs thee up [to blind anger], seek refuge with God: behold, He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing!




Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, once the legitimate Menteri Besar of Perak , has shown his true colours yet again in the audacity with which he and his PR supporters showed their protest over the Perak crisis  –  in Parliament immediately after taking the oath of an MP!

I don’t believe this has taken place!

I don’t believe that a newly-elected representative of the people can act so irresponsibly and so irreverently without any regard for the sanctity of the House of Parliament, without any respect for the Speaker and the other MP’s (including his Opposition compatriots), without any concern for the presence of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet!

Most of all, Nizar displayed a complete lack of self respect, decorum and etiquette! In simple language he showed bad upbringing!

Kurang ajar! Biadap! Bodoh sombong!

This rebel-rousing behaviour is unprecedented in the history of  the Malaysian Parliament. The stance is far worse than the bad taste of a few  UMNO Youth members in confronting Karpal Singh outside the august house not so long ago. At least their lack of wisdom could be pinpointed to youthful brashness! You can’t say the same for the middle-aged man who was Perak’s highest officer just months before!  

The public outcry against UMNO Youth then was deafening. I condemned their outrageous behaviour in an earlier posting LONGKANG POLITICS.  PKR and the other PR component parties lashed out at them hard and strong! 

What do they have to say now? What will they cry out  to defend Nizar and his band of vagabonds wearing headbands and brandishing their brand of democracy, justice and human rights with defiance, vindictiveness, revenge and hate written all over their faces!

Is this the kind of people that Malaysians want as their leaders? 

Are they the quality politicians that Malaysians will vote  in as their ADUN and MP in the endless rounds of bye elections and in the next general elections?

Is this the brand of unruliness that will disguise itself as government, as justice, as equality, as civil liberty, as patriotism – that Malaysians proudly uphold as the heritage of their motherland?

Are  these the ideals of nationhood the rakyat are willing to defend to the last drop of their blood!

I shudder to think of the degeneration and slow destruction of the ideals of Merdeka, Rukun Negara, Vision 2020 and now One Malaysia!

The true colour of these dissidents is surely black!





Esok Ahad 14 Jun saya nak balik kampung!

Pulang ke kampung halaman, tempat tumpah darah ibu saya di Nyalas, Melaka. Sambil menghadiri majlis perkahwinan sepupu lelaki yang digelar Tete, saya nak  menjenguk saudara mara Minangkabau yang masih menetap di kampung terpencil ini.

Ingat lagi kunjungan ke Nyalas masa saya kecil! Menziarahi Tok Manan, bapa ibu saya yang menjadi penghulu atau demang kawasan ini. Besar tinggi orangnya! Ingat juga Tok Mat Nor adik Tok Manan, seorang guru sekolah Melayu di Jasin. Terkenang juga Mak Cik Munah, Monel, Limah, Yam, Yah dan Pak Cik Ali adik beradik (lain ibu) arwah mak saya. Tok Manan mengahwini  empat isteri tetapi satu lepas satu, iaitu selepas kematian isteri sebelumnya. Bukan untuk memuaskan hawa nafsu seperti lelaki Islam sekarang yang mengahwini dua tiga isteri serentak!

 Terbayang bayang muka Ali Pelat yang membesar dan menua bersama saya. Dengan Ali lah saya selalu bersembang, berseloroh, berjenaka sambil menghisap rokok daun semasa kecil dan Rothmans semasa dewasa! Kami berdua menjelajahi politik negara dan meninjau ke dalam lubang lubang politikus UMNO. Dalam loghat Minang! Dengan nada yang penuh emosi! Mengenangkan nasib bangsa dan negara!

Den tengok ogrhang Melayu pokan dah mengado ngado macam si kudong dapek cincin!  Dapek sikit dah bodoh sombong lupo sedagrho magrho kampong masih papo kedano! 

Sungguhpun tidak berpelajaran formal Ali Pelat mempunyai kebijaksanaan yang luar biasa; mempunyai “native intelligence” dan “native speaker intuitions” yang tajam! Dan hati Ali sungguh suci! Saya amat merinduinya!

Saudara mara sebelah ibu orang Minangkabau, semua bercakap loghat Minang, semua orang kampung pendalaman! Kali terakhir saya melawat mereka ialah dua tahun lepas semasa Yam meninggal dunia. Memang benar saudara mara yang tinggal di merata pelusuk negara berjumpa hanya pada majlis perkahwinan atau kematian!

Saya pasti tidak ada banyak perubahan dalam hidup mereka – dari dulu hingga sekarang. Mereka masih susah, kebanyakan mereka masih kais pagi makan pagi! Bercucuk tanam! Memelihara ayam dan itik! Memancing ikan sungai!


                              Tiap kali aku menapak bumimu England,

                             Bagai bangau menghinggapi kerbau

                             Ombak beralun balik ke tepi pantai

                             Hujan renyai menyerapi bumi;

                             Sebentar rasa pulang

                             Seketika rasa puas

                             Sekejap rasa tenang;

                             Seolah dibelai penawar rindu

                             Menumpang kasih di pangkuan ibu susu.

                             Bukan kerana untung dan megah

                             Dapat memeluk gading bertuah,

                             Lebih dari itu –

                             Tanduk kerbau ku genggam kukuh

                             Kampung halaman teratak berteduh

                             Tetap ku tatang, tetap ku sayang.


                             Namun kau England –

                             Menusuk zahir batinku

                             Membuai mimpi dulu

                             Mengimbas ingatan lalu

                             Fatamorgana syurga abadi di kalbu;


                             Jiwamu England tetap ku rindu.

Mungkin sekarang rumah atap papan sudah bertukar menjadi rumah separuh batu, basikal sudah digantikan dengan motor atau Proton “sekenhen” dan radio dinaiktaraf kepada TV dan CD dan DVD. Anak-cucu mereka mungkin lulus UPSR atau SPM. Ada juga yang lulus STPM dan menuntut IPT di sini sana .

Membeli kenderaan dan alat hiburan menjadi keutamaan mereka! Menikmati hiburan moden seperti Akademi Fantasia  memenuhi masa lapang dan menjadi buah perbincangan hebat. Ini menggantikan borak kosong di kedai kopi atau mencaci jiran sambil mencari kutu di tangga depan! Mana ada masa atau minat nak membaca buku! Mana ada duit lebih untuk disimpan atau dilabur!

Dengan pendidikan formal yang lebih tinggi daripada nenek moyang dan ibu bapa mereka, pemuda kampung berpeluang mendapat pekerjaan “white collar” atau “blue collar” di bandar bandar kecil dan besar. Tak payah lagi bertungkus lumus mengerjakan sawah sekangkang kera atau hutan sepelaung di pinggiran kampung mereka.

Mudah orang bandar seperti saya bercakap! Hidup kita lebih senang, lebih mewah, lebih “affluent”! Orang Melayu bandar tidak serupa atau sejiwa dengan saudara mara kampung.

Kata saja orang Melayu tapi jurang perbezaan antara kelompok kelompok Melayu seluas gaung!

Dengan perbezaan pendapatan dan kemudahan hidup antara bandar dan luar bandar yang semakin menggunung, timbul lah perbezaan ekonomi, sosio-budaya dan politik yang makin lama makin memisahkan kita semua.

Kata saja orang Melayu! Tapi hati dan jiwa berlainan!



And among his wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours; for, in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of [innate] knowledge!

AR-RUM (22) 



Malay is my mother tongue, the language of home and family, the language in which the most tender of feelings are expressed, the tongue with which the harshest of emotions are spewed!

My first two years of formal learning was in a Malay primary school in Rasah, Seremban where I picked up the rudiments of kira-kira and alam sekitar. After that it was “off to a nunnery”, the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus  Seremban where my love for the English Language and Literature was sown. I went on to read English Literature and Linguistics later.

Having taught English Language, Literature and Linguistics in secondary schools and at a public university for more than 30 years, I feel kind of qualified to comment on several unresolved issues in the national education system, viz (i) the teaching of English and (ii) the teaching of Maths and Science in English. With this come the attendant problems in (a) standards and qualifications of teachers and students and (b) their eventual performance and results.

The importance of the English Language must be taken as the given in this equation. And in no way does this deny the position of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language.

I’m a proponent of  true bilingualism. What this means is that  Malaysians must be fluent speakers of  Malay and English who express their thoughts and ideas articulately in both languages. They must be able to use each  language confidently and consistently at all levels of discourse. NOT in the mumbo-jumbo of  Manglish, bahasa rojak or pidgin!

The vision of having a truly bilingual Malaysia and of building a truly bilingual (and even multilingual) society is within reach in the near future if the right policies, facilities, training and methodologies are in place! Topping all of these is the right attitudes towards language learning!  

Bahasa Malaysia must be developed in all its uses and functions as the key to nationalism, unity and integration – as the medium of instruction, as the official mode of communication, as the language of national discourses, as the channel for research and development, as a tool for academic advancement.  This must be vigorously and rigorously pursued at all levels of society. This is logically indisputable!


Running parallel to the growth of the national language must be an equally concerted effort to advance the use of English – the international language of communication, diplomacy and foreign affairs; of trade and industry; of economic development; of scientific and technological research. If we vow to make Malaysia an effective global player in all of these (and more) sectors we must vow to be proficient and efficient in English. The logic in  the equation is again indisputable! 

The ongoing debate about the supremacy of one language over the other or the threat that one language holds over the other is circular and wasteful! The same arguments have been proffered over the years. They have become boringly unproductive and disruptive if not destructive!

I urged for true bilingualism and suggested pragmatic and drastic ways of teaching English in a lengthy article in Utusan Malaysia (9 Mei 2002).

Meantime people are still arguing and Malaysians have not improved their language skills! In fact they’re getting worse with the advent of new communication technologies and the creation of modern language registers like contracted email and SMS language – the use of short forms, acronyms and abbreviations; the mixing of Malay and English colloquial language and slang. They are spreading like wildfire.

One has to look at the chats and comments on Facebook and Twitter, emails and blogs, SMS messages – to realize the extent of linguistic deterioration. In a multilingual society like Malaysia the incursion of mixed languages and language types is more drastic than in a monolingual society.  


I’d like to offer some pragmatic and realistic suggestions based on my experience and knowledge of developments in this area:


This can be done in the school language labs (if schools can afford them) or on the student’s own CD player/ walkman (with earphones) for one period a week under teacher supervision in school, and regularly under parental supervision at home.

Students get to hear English spoken by native / fluent speakers in conversations and in relevant communicative situations (asking for information, at an interview etc) and they will internalise the elements of the language – pronunciation, intonation, grammar and vocabulary – to reinforce learning in the other English periods. Young people like to imitate and with good models of English on tape, they get the full advantages of the language drills which they can practise in their own time.

 The text of the tape can be printed out and used to teach reading comprehension,  grammar and vocabulary. In the University of Malaya in the 70s we used the SRA labs with tapes for listening and speaking and printed texts for reading comprehension and writing. Copies of the tape and text  are easily and cheaply made for internal use. 

I believe this is a cheap and quick way of improving the English language proficiency of both the teachers and their pupils. And it has proven to be a  highly successful teaching/ learning methodology in China. 


Bring back the book report as a weekly/ fortnightly activity in the English classes.

Students are assigned a reading task, preferably a simple reader (start with short stories and progress to abridged editions of English classics and novels).

They submit a written exercise: (i)  paraphrase or summary of the story (ii) description of their favourite character/s (iii) phrase/ line/  paragraph quotations they like  lifted from the text  (iv) vocabulary work for new words and phrases that they come across and how to use them. To reinforce their speech and speaking skills, an oral presentation can be made  in class.


History, Living Skills and Civics offer teachers and students a wider scope for using language in all its manifestations – reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Unlike Maths and Science which is formulaic and more expository, the humanities are a lot more descriptive and exploratory. They offer a far greater range of possibilities for language use than Maths and Science. The argument that teaching  Maths and Science in English reinforces English language teaching/ learning  is a flimsy one.

I’m all for making English compulsory for SPM because this offers the greatest motivation for learning the language and for changing the attitudes towards it! And it’s not too much to ask for a pass in the English paper!

The rural schools must be equipped with the basic facilities and methodologies that the teachers can handle. Even if they are not English language specialists they can inspire learning and the right attitudes towards the subject. At the same time they can use the same facilities to improve themselves.

They’re worth a try!



ART THOU NOT aware of those who, having been granted their share of the divine writ, now barter it away for error, and want you [too] to lose your way? But God knows best who are your enemies: and none can befriend as God does, and none can give succour as God does.

Among those of the Jewish faith there are some who distort the meaning of the [revealed] words, taking them out of context and saying [as it were,] ” We have heard, but we disobey,” and ” Hear without hearkening,” and, ” Hearken thou unto us, [O Muhammad]” – thus making a play with their tongues, and implying that the [true] Faith is false. And had they said, ” We have heard and we pay heed, ” and ” Hear [us], and have patience with us, ” it would indeed have been for their own good, and more upright: but God has rejected them because of their refusal to acknowledge the truth – for it is in but few things that they believe.

AN – NISA (44 – 46)  



I’m all for speaking up!

I’m all for articulating thoughts, opinions, viewpoints, ideas in speech  and writing!  

For only in making yourself heard and read can you effect learning in yourself and others. And only through knowledge and experience can you bring about  the desired improvement or change or development or progress.

I’m all for healthy interaction and communication and exchange – what is currently referred to as “engagement” that is, involving one another in the pursuit of these improvements, changes, developments, progress; that is, what is popularly called “inclusiveness”

For there’s no doubt that societal change involves society’s stakeholders, that is the men and women and young people and children who constitute society and who are the beneficiaries of the change.

Every segment of society matters in any change that is going to affect their lives!

For it is these men and women and young people and children that constitute the family, one of the most important if not the core unit in society!

Each segment has a voice and the right to make themselves heard and be heard, whether it is in the championing of social justice, humanitarian issues, political concerns, culture and tradition or religious responsibilities.

If there is dissent or disagreement either within the segment or without there must be room for discussion and debate, either in an open forum or behind closed doors. 


I therefore view the PAS call to ban Sisters In Islam (SIS) as a cowardly, retrogressive move!

I object strongly to the PAS call to “rehabilitate” the SIS women who have fought long and hard to engage men and women in a more progressive discourse on Islam.  

Through their research-based programmes which are reinforced by continuous input and feedback from enlightened thinkers and scholars, SIS has slowly but surely effected change in the landscape for Muslim women.

SIS is the voice that has spoken loudly and clearly about the injustices borne by Muslim women and advocated change or modification to a male-centric interpretation of the Syariah.

The two lone and lonely voices of the PAS women in an oblique support of SIS represent the great injustice  in the Muslim world – the silencing of articulate voices (be they from men or women) who only want the justice and equality promised in the Quranic teachings.

When Muslims should be reaching out to one another to present a united, compassionate and merciful ummah, emulating our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in his teachings about the 99 attributes of Allah, we are at odds with one another over something as important as justice and equality!

For Muslims to be taken seriously, there must be genuine efforts at a real muzakarah of the men and women of Islam to iron out the creases in the understanding of the Syariah.

Age-old prejudices and misconconceptions about the duties and responsibilities of men and women in the family and society must be looked at within the context of present-day needs and requirements!



June 2009