On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Be proud of our plural society

Raja Zarith, who was speaking at the Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE) forum in Kuala Lumpur last week, stressed on the importance of recognising the diversity of Malaysian society, brought about by centuries of inter-racial and inter-faith marriages and communication.

Raja Zarith’s open admission of her mixed racial background is unprecedented. If only some of our politicians would have the honesty or guts to do the same.

We should be proud of our rich plural society. Why should we fear learning about one another’s religion, culture and customs? In Singapore, schools organise trips for their students to visit places of worship so that the young understand and respect these places.

The beauty of every religion should be impressed upon the young so that they would grow up with an open mind and deeper appreciation of other people, especially from other races. At the end, we are the same as we are created by the same Creator.

My father came from Langkawi. He spoke excellent Malay with a thick northern accent. He used his hands to eat and curry was a daily dish. I grew up in Kampung Melayu, Penang, in that family environment.

I studied at a Catholic school, played in the compound of a mosque with my childhood friends and went to temples with my mother.

In my Sixth Form, I studied Malay Literature and Islamic History and in my first year at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, signed up for courses in the Malay Letters Depart­ment. Islamic Civilisation was compulsory for all students and I passed the examinations.

Thinking back, I am glad and proud that I went through these courses which helped expand my mind. I have continued to collect books on Islam even though I did not become a Muslim.

I am patriotic and surely, not a “pendatang”.

To hear some of our prominent political leaders question the loyalty of their fellow Malaysians is unacceptable.

After all, many Malaysians, including politicians, can proudly trace their roots to faraway lands like India and Pakistan.

We all know very well that some try to conceal their ethnic history, preferring to emphasise on their new identities, sometimes for political and economic expediency.

Raja Zarith is a rare gem. This is not the first time Raja Zarith, who speaks fluent Mandarin and French, has made sensible statements that touch the hearts of many Malaysians.

Two years ago, she said that having a good command of English does not make Malay­sians any less patriotic or pro-British.

Fluency in English, she added, was essential in the 21st century, whether in our daily lives, social life or at the workplace. Malay­sians, she said, must consider it an advantage to speak good English as it is important to transmit their knowledge and thoughts well.

A Bachelor’s and Master’s degree holder from Oxford University, Raja Zarith studied Chinese Studies for her BA.

The country needs such voices of reason and moderation to bring together the people instead of dividing them with insensitive remarks.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has rightly called for a stop to such remarks and openly acknowledged the contributions of other races.

Remarks such as those labelling fellow Malaysians as pendatang are no more than just self-inflicted political wounds and bring little benefit.

Equally disturbing are suggestions that we should be grateful to enjoy the fruits of development – the purported results of the ruling party. In fact, elected representatives who make such remarks should, by right, be eternally grateful to us for putting them in their positions.

Money for development belongs to taxpayers and certainly it is the politicians’ responsibility to implement these projects. To put it bluntly, it’s expected of them if they still want to keep their jobs.

Politicians must also be reminded that Malaysians who do not serve in the army, navy or police are no less patriotic than teachers, postmen, firemen, sportsmen or businessmen. Everyone has a role in making Malaysia what the country is today.

How we wish that some of our politicians would think before they speak. They should also not just mechanically read whatever their officials pass to them when replying to questions in the Dewan Rakyat, lest they end up with their foot in the mouth.