On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Think hard about our future

But here we are, starting the new century, still caught
in the politics of the 50s.

We are shamelessly debating openly, with some hostility and anger, issues
championed by politicians who are now retired or dead.

The same political script is being played by a different set of politicians.
This time it's worse because this old broken record is being played by young
aspiring politicians.

The same intolerance and ignorance are being shown by the groups

On one side is Suqiu, a Chinese group, which has refused to regard the
perspectives and sensitivities of others. It has refused to be part of the
National Economic Consultative Council (NECC), which would have put to test
their ability and willingness to compromise and accommodate. Seeing how ugly
their 17-point memorandum has become, the group has now talked about the
importance of dialogue with Umno Youth. Suqiu should have realised this

Then there is the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students (GPMS), with its
confrontational stand. Their stubbornness in wanting to hold a gathering of 100,000
Malays in Bukit Jalil isn't helping to ease tension.

In fact, many Malaysians are wondering whether some of those who issue the
statements have actually read the memorandum or are merely reacting to get
their names in the newspapers.

It's troubling to see how Malaysians are reacting to issues these days. What
began as a noble idea has degenerated into mindless controversy.

Take the Vision Schools concept. How can any reasonable Malaysian argue against
placing Malay, Chinese and Tamil schools in the same premises?

The Chinese educationist groups protested, not because they were against the
idea but because they feared losing their independence and identity.

It's understandable that there may be some confusion – even fear – in anything

However, they didn't and couldn't explain their case well. They may have done
so superbly to the Chinese dailies but it's the wrong audience.

Their concerns were over-zealous ministry officials down the line who interpret
policies according to their prejudices.

Who can blame these Chinese educationists when they read about the ban on
Chinese festivals in campuses.

The case has been badly handled because of the unreasonableness of the Chinese
educationists, the inability of the Education Ministry to reassure them, and
plain political expediency.

So, the Vision Schools project has lost its shine. And many of us get so caught
up in the debate, we forget the most important point: the quality of

The standard of English has gone down the drain. Both teachers and students are
unable to speak the language these days and yet the same zeal is not shown by
our educationists and politicians.

There are now more universities and colleges but are we asking ourselves
whether we are nurturing the mind and heart, particularly in producing
graduates who care about society.

We should be angry that our universities are not producing brilliant minds
capable of coming up with prize-winning inventions of international

Our lecturers seem capable of only presenting the same unimaginative papers at
seminars while our students are busy with reformasi and nothing else.

It's the same with protests, memorandums, appeals and signature campaigns.
There are a few ways of handling these requests or demands: accept the petition
and throw it into the dustbin, accept and seriously implement them, or create a
controversy out of it.

We seem to have taken the third option. Suqiu and GPSM can submit a 1,000-point
memorandum because it is their right as citizens to suggest how the country
should be run. They may have links to certain political parties but they must
remember they are mere non-government organisations. Yes, their views should be
respected and studied, but that does not mean they must be accepted. They do
not represent the government or even elected parties. Neither should they
assume they represent their communities, as claimed.

There are many in the silent majority who actually think this issue has gone
out of hand.

Elected politicians, before jumping on the bandwagon, should send out their
people to gauge the mood on the ground.

As we move forward, Malaysia should be showing to the world that we have become
more mature, more liberal, more tolerant and more open.

A new Malaysian mindset has emerged. It is best that the elite understand and
hear these young people.

Communalism is no longer appealing. It might have worked in the 50s, but it
means little to many Malaysians born after the racial riots of 1969.

Democracy is no longer about choosing candidates for Yang Berhormat (elected
representatives) every five years. It now involves civil participation.

We have taken many steps to move in the direction of a Malaysian consciousness
but we need to do more.

Some Chinese groups still do not understand the significance of Malay as the
official and national language, and the position of Islam as the official

Just the same, there are Malay groups which fail or refuse to realise the
implications of a multi-ethnic society and multi-culturalism.

They do not see the role of non-Malay languages and religions and why it is so
important to promote them.

The dialogue between Umno Youth and Suqiu, irrespective of its outcome, is an
effort towards a better understanding of ethnic issues.

The long drive home to join loved ones this holiday period is a good time to
think and reflect what we have to do.

The road towards Malaysian unity may be long and winding but it can be built.
There is still hope; we can start by building national consciousness.

We could still have a happy holiday. Just ignore the bigots – and pass on the
message of national unity during open-house gatherings.

Here's wishing all Malaysians a Merry Christmas, Selamat Hari Raya and Happy
New Year.