On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Nation built on toil of all races


IT’S hardly convincing. More than 10 days after the controversy over Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s racist remarks, the Bukit Bendera Umno chief has finally appeared to give his side of the story.

He has not only refused to apologise but has remained defiant and has instead demanded an apology from Sin Chew Daily, which reported his remark, attacking the newspaper for “manipulating” his speech on Aug 23.

Ahmad has admitted that he made the remark that the Chinese were squatters in the country but within the pre-Merdeka context.

The newspaper, he charged, had instead turned the remark into a racial and sensitive issue.

The Penang politician’s reply smacks of arrogance. If the newspaper had indeed misreported his remark, then he should have demanded a correction and an apology to be made immediately.

The question is: Why did he do a disappearing act?

Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he could not reach him, like so many other reporters who were seeking his reply.

In short, he was given a chance to make a rebuttal but he did not use it. Instead, he decided to take his time to come up with a defence and allowed the issue to drag on. In the process, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had to apologise on his behalf.

Sorry issue

Najib has been magnanimous in making the apology on Ahmad’s and Umno’s behalf, but his act is appreciated by his fellow Barisan Nasional component leaders. The apology was supported by Pak Lah the next day, reflecting their maturity and wish to end the issue.

But the apology by the two leaders was unnecessary, as the matter involves a small-time politician and it should just be confined to that level.

A simple apology from him would have sufficed and would have prevented the widening of the issue.

As the saying goes, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

It takes a man to apologise and, certainly, in the eyes of many politicians now, Ahmad is hardly one. Perception is everything in politics but we are sure he would not want to be remembered as a racist, even if he says he is not one.

Assuming that his remark was wrongly reported, his reply and mannerism, as seen on television, would not earn him much forgiveness. In fact, it was a case of poor public relations.

He has said that he was away in Bangkok attending a sepak takraw tournament, but surely he could have answered all the allegations from there. Surely he doesn’t need a pigeon to send his statement.

Yes, the Chinese were immigrants but so were most other Malaysians, including many Umno leaders and former prime ministers whose ancestry can be traced to India, Pakistan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, China and even Turkey.

A certain former mentri besar is a second-generation Malaysian: his parents came from Indonesia, but he made it to be the leader of a state. That’s good because Malaysia is a land of opportunity.

Many Umno politicians, especially from Penang, have ancestors from India but there is no reason to question that. They are surely not pendatang and it shouldn’t be an issue at all.

If we have to dwell on immigration, we should be celebrating it, not making it a reminder for patronage. Malaysia is a land of diversity, and that’s an asset.

As we celebrate the country’s 51st anniversary, let us remind the likes of Ahmad Ismail that this country is built on the blood, sweat and tears of all communities, not just one race.

Thanks to the political maturity, wisdom and skills of the Malays, the country has remained stable and peaceful. It was, and still is, the Malays who protected this country as soldiers and policemen. As administrators, they have done a superb job.

The Chinese contribution through the tin mining industry built the country’s economy and their entrepreneurial skills strengthened the many financial institutions.

The Indians, especially Tamils, worked in the rubber estates, a main pillar of Malaysia’s economy.

Correct perspective

Without each of these components, Malaysia would have been nothing, and the contribution of each race must be recognised and appreciated.

And remember also that there would have been no Malaysia without Sabah and Sarawak. They did not join Malaysia; they helped to make up Malaysia. Never forget, so we can get our history facts correct.

If we wish to talk about history, then this would perhaps put the perspective right in a more rational and mature manner.

A decade or two from now, our politicians would need to win the votes of Malaysians with ancestry from Myanmar, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia, as this would be the eventual price for bringing in foreign workers.

It’s very much like the American politicians having to count on the votes of the Hispanic and Latino voters.

Whatever our colour, language and religion, we are the same. Don’t let the politicians tell us otherwise as there are only two kinds of people – the good and the bad.