I’ve always believed that apart from the English language, British rule in Malaya brought with it a host of good in the way of a structured civil service, a sound education curriculum and a credible system of justice.

Being the product of a missionary school, Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Seremban, run mainly by English and Irish nuns and supported by a multi-racial, multi-faith staff of lay teachers, I and other people of my generation can vouch for the quality of an English education focussed on the humanities and liberal arts.

The language and literature syllabus each gave us an excellent grounding in the idioms, idiosyncracies and intricacies of the English language, history and culture spanning different eras – Shakespearean, Dickensian, Victorian etc – through the ages, while our history lessons were a comprehensive survey of world history, epochs and eras. Geography provided us with a good understanding of the physical world including the socio-demographic developments of different groups of people. We also covered the traditional maths and science subjects – Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Physics, Chemistry, Biology etc.

The strength of a “Convent education” managed by Catholic sisters was also its emphasis on the ethics, conduct and behaviour underlying traditional Christian morality. At school assemblies and in the Moral classes we were repeatedly told to be honest and truthful and to uphold noble values; we were schooled in proper dress and decorum which emphasised that the “knees were the ugliest part of the human body”. We took part in house and school sports, oratorical contests and school plays; we had PE and Scottish folk-dancing periods which we so enjoyed.

All in all, the education system in pre Merdeka and immediate post Merdeka Malaya was sound and wholesome. It was modelled on the schools in England with expatriate teachers serving in the more established mission and lay schools in the bigger towns. They came from the best schools and universities and were the role models we emulated – especially in their manner of speaking and writing the English language.

Some people now choose to blame the British “Tuan” – for everything that is bad or has turned sour in Malaysia. In fact, even the racial inequity and inequalities are said to be the result of the divide -and-rule policy of the colonial masters to facilitate their exploitation of the natives and the colony’s resources strictly for the benefit of Empire and British supremacy. There was nothing altruistic about colonisation in the past we are told. To me modern colonisation is even more hypocritical because it hides behind the myths of democracy, equality and human rights.

Admittedly there must have been some among the British Residents and Advisers and their administrative staff who were condescending towards the local people. They must have patronised the Malay “natives” who practised their traditional kampung way of life, and the Chinese and Indian migrants they brought in to work the mines and estates. There must have been slip-ups in British principles and standards of integrity as they sought to manage the Malay chieftains and Malay Rulers in the Malay States. There must have been corrupted officials who persuaded and bribed the  Malay istana hand, Chinese towkay and Indian mandor and who received bribes in return. Expediency was perhaps the order of yesterday as it often still is today.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, to be greeted by two huge cases of corruption when I stepped on English soil. The first was the admission by the Treasury Chief Secretary David Law that he had claimed 40,000 pounds to pay house rent for the property owned by his young gay lover. The rent was of course his public entitlement  as was the homosexual relationship his private prerogative, but the combination of the two was strictly unethical according to the standards of official British morality. Besides, David Law’s parents are practising Catholics. The Chief Secretary was forced to resign amidst confusing statements from the Prime Minister David Cameron who patted him on the back for being an honourable man with great integrity??????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

British wit, humour, sarcasm at its best! Or was it sheer stupidity – the same dumb statements politicians everywhere make!

The second was a right royal matter!  Sara Ferguson the ex-wife of Prince Andrew , a possible contender for the English throne, was caught on video demanding payment for promising to arrange business meetings with her ex-husband. It was appalling to see the former daughter in law of the Queen, a mother of two teenage daughters seated on a sofa and looking up to a man with palms outstretched tapping the table as she made her monetary demands. On the table were glasses and what looked like an alcohol bottle.

Unlike David Law who apologised for his bad behaviour and poor conduct, Sara Ferguson did nothing of the sort. Instead she trotted off to the US as the patron of a charity presumably to raise more money for it. Adverse American public opinion compelled her to appear on the Oprah show to explain her bad behaviour and poor conduct, where she did not have the courtesy to apologise but instead, blamed it on the fact that she was under the influence of alcohol. The bad, bad English girl could not help but reveal her poor, poor upper crust upbringing which no amount of royal etiquette could influence.

I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed by the poor showing in English morality! The nation which prides itself in its manners and etiquette is suffering the same human tragedy viz when greed and avarice set in, the “noblest” of men and women can succumb to it.  

As a linguist I’m disappointed that concepts like “bribery”, “corruption”, “honour” and “integrity” are so ill-understood even by the English themselves. What more by the people in the country they once lorded over!


2 Responses to “”

  1. 1 Liza
    June 19, 2010 at 3:37 am

    The difference, however, Auntie Halimah, is that in the UK, such behaviour is frowned upon and prompt action taken to clamp it down. In Malaysia, however, cases such as these would be swept under the carpet and the perpetrators allowed to continue and thrive in their various positions… depending, of course, which side of the court they’re on.

  2. 2 ninitalk
    June 20, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    With more exposure and greater discussion in the media and among citizen bodies attitudes towards corruption and other forms of moral abuse will change Insya Allah Liza. Enforcement and the law has a big part to play in instilling fear of punishment/ imprisonment etc apart from the family shame and social castigation.

    Evil lurks everywhere and people succumb to temptation but if they are better educated and exposed their moral conscience will hopefully be sharpened too.

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