Shad Saleem Faruqi
Our nation is going through some turbulence in the areas of race and religious relations. Not a fortnight passes without some incident or the other degenerating into a racial or religious controversy.
Race-baiting, scapegoating and looking at everything through the lens of race or religion have become the obsession of many political aspirants.
It was not always like this. Until the 1990s, Malaysia was an exemplar of successful inter-communal living. A few years ago, we scored well on the World Peace Index, being ranked 19th out of 153 states evaluated. Sadly, we have regressed.
What can be done to repair the bridges of intercommunal friendship, tear down the walls of suspicion and revive the spirit of accommodation of 1957 and 1963?
Constitutional literacy: We need to include at all levels of education, knowledge of the Constitution’s glittering generalities, especially its accommodative provisions on inter-ethnic relations.
Lack of familiarity with the basic charter’s provisions even within the top echelons of the civil service, the police, parliamentarians and politicians is contributing to the present state of unease.
Constitutional literacy will help to moderate extremism and enhance appreciation of one of the world’s most unique and hitherto successful experiments in peaceful co-existence in a nation of dazzling diversity.
Diversity: All officials and citizens need to come to terms with the diversity, heterogeneity, pluralism and multi-culturalism that our Constitution recognises. This colourful mosaic is here to stay. We should regard it as an asset despite its many challenges.
Affirmative action: Political theory and our Constitution’s Article 153 recognise the need for positive measures to help any communities left behind. Affirmative action should open up vistas of opportunities and not to inculcate the complacency of handouts.
Further, as resources are finite, the largesse of the state should be based on need and not on race alone. Conflict resolution: Conflicts are unavoidable in any vibrant society. What is necessary is to reconcile them with the least friction and to provide appropriate remedies when rights are infringed.
It is time to consider a new legislative initiative by way of a National Harmony Act. The National Unity Council should be upgraded to a statutory status or converted to a statutory Community Mediation Council.
There should also be a statutory Inter-Faith Council whose job is to foster dialogue over all that unites us and to seek tolerance and compassion towards all that divides us.
In many societies including Singapore, Britain and the United States, the law is used to socially engineer a more tolerant society.
There is no shame in emulating others and building our garland with flowers from many gardens. In addition, we can look to Sabah and Sarawak’s good example of unity amidst diversity.
Hate speech: If conciliation fails, the laws on hate speech in the Penal Code, Communications and Multimedia Act, Printing Presses & Publications Act and Sedition Act need to be employed. Prosecutions must be expeditious and equal against all who poison our air with racist vitriol.
Education: Most prejudices are born out of ignorance. We have to teach people that the primitive ethic of tribalism, racism or religious exclusiveness has no place in modern society. The circle of life has expanded. We are all brothers and sisters on this big blue marble.
Our educational system must nurture tolerance, mutual respect and intercultural dialogue. It must bring students together, not separate them on grounds of race, religion or language. This is not to suggest that vernacular education should be abolished. If we put our heads and hearts together, vernacular education and national education can combine and coexist at the primary level.
What needs to be realised is that it is the decline of national schools that made vernacular education so attractive. If national schools can be rescued from the depths they have plunged to, vernacular education may lose much of its attraction.
The curriculum of primary and secondary education needs drastic revision.
The ethnic diversity of school teachers and school principals must be restored. We must use school sports as a uniting force.
Role of Malay Rulers: The Malay Rulers are the sovereigns for all citizens in their states. Their Majesties can play a significant role to moderate extremism in all forms and to build bridges of understanding.
Declaration on harmony: Similar to the Rukun Negara, let us put our heads together to draft such a declaration. It will act as a polestar for executive and judicial action and will exert normative influence on citizens.
Sabah and Sarawak: The special position of these states in 1963 has been deeply compromised in many areas – partly due to the acts of their own past leaders. There is little doubt, however, that some constitutional amendments, some federal policies and some superior court decisions have been insensitive to the constitutional rights of Sabah and Sarawak.
Orang Asli: The Orang Asli do not qualify for Article 153’s special position of Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. However, Article 8(5)(c) talks of their protection. More needs to be done to bring the rays of justice to these forgotten people.
Electoral system: There are no ideal electoral systems, but it is generally true that the single-member constituency system we operate makes it difficult for ethnic, religious and political minorities to win seats.
Reforms to the system to accommodate some multi-member constituencies under a proportional representation system may give minorities more representation. If more constituencies are racially mixed, political parties will be forced to give up extreme race or religious agendas and instead adopt more inclusive policies.
Cultural intermingling: All citizens must acknowledge that for centuries Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai, Kadazan-Dusun, Iban and European cultures have mixed in our soil to constitute our rich cultural mosaic.
“There is far more cross-cultural mingling, sharing and co-dependence among us than we care to recognise, admit or celebrate,” says sociologist Patrick Pillai.
We should not be ashamed to acknowledge our mixed heritage.
Racism versus race consciousness: We need to distinguish between racism, which is hatred for others and a desire to keep them down, and race-consciousness, which is a positive desire to help the upliftment of a community, not necessarily our own.
Moderation: We need to adopt moderation as a way of life. We must recognise human rights for all, not only for ourselves. We must welcome social engagement with “others”. While venerating our religion, we must never condemn other faiths. We must not stereotype any race or religion.
Finally, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, once said: “As we walk through the meadows of our mind, let us confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity.”
Emeritus Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi is Tunku Abdul Rahman Professor at Universiti Malaya’s law faculty and holder of the Tun Hussein Chair at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia. He wishes all Hindu readers a blessed and happy Deepavali. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
Published in: The Star, Thursday 24 October 2019
Today’s column is not about law or politics. It is about my parting words of advice to students of constitutional law on the last day of the semester at Universiti Malaya on May 30. I spoke from the heart and this is what I managed to say:
I wish to let you all know that it was my privilege to be associated with you. You all touched my life in a nice way, and I learnt many things from our interaction. In some respect, you were my teachers. For that I wish to thank you.
In the matter of constitutional interpretation, I emphasised that the Federal Constitution’s glittering generalities are not isolated signposts but part of an interconnected whole. The articles of the Constitution must not be seen in isolation but holistically and in the light of the Constitution’s lofty ideals and assumptions.
Life is larger than the law and the articles of the Constitution cannot possibly embrace the full richness of the dignity of human beings. The bare, black letters of the chapter on fundamental liberties should be interpreted prismatically. Once such an approach is adopted, the lifeless, static clauses acquire colours and dimensions not visible to the ordinary viewer.
As to success in your future career, there is no magic wand, no high-speed elevator to success. You have to walk up the stairs one step at a time. There are several prerequisites to high performance in your career.
Dream dreams. Visualise what you wish to become. Dreams are the foundation of reality. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. However, do not become a Mat Jenin. Draw up a realistic and attainable plan. Act, not just react, to things as they come. Sail a chartered course. Discipline yourself to execute your carefully crafted plan. Discipline is the key to success.
Set up time frames. Work hard and diligently. Hard work never goes to waste. Whatever you do, do well. Approach every task with your heart and soul. If you are someone who does ordinary jobs extraordinarily well, your bosses will likely trust you with bigger, exceptional challenges that will enable you to shine and rise above the timberline.
Develop positive attitudes. It is your attitude, not your aptitude, that will determine your altitude. If you think you can, you indeed can. You all have more abilities than you realise. There are within the recesses of each soul reservoirs of inner strength that await to be tapped. You can fly higher than an eagle if you have hope and determination beneath your wings.
Doubt your doubts, but not your beliefs. Do not let your limitations limit you.
Think big. Nudge yourself to take risks. Leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. Go where no one has gone before and leave a trail.
Do not wait for ideal conditions. Conditions are never ideal, yet our journey must go on. Sometimes there is no path in the forest but as you walk along, the path begins to take shape. Start on your plan today. Anything commenced picks up its own steam and grows like a snowball rolling down the hill.
In those moments when you feel fear and doubt, be assured that fears, doubts and insecurities are perfectly natural. Every human being suffers from them. We are all specks of dust in this universe. At the same time, we are strong enough to overcome any challenge. Life is tough but we are tougher. With a positive, never say die attitude we can convert dares into doors and adversities into opportunities.
Lay your trust in God. In the Holy Quran 2:286 it is stated: “God does not impose upon a soul a burden it cannot bear.”
Verse 40:60 invites us to “Call on me; I will answer your prayer”.
Do not give up easily. Persevere. If at first you do not succeed, try again. Falling down is not the same thing as failing. Rumi, the Persian poet, says: “What you seek is seeking you.”
To be happy, live for others. Dedicate your life to something bigger than yourself. It is not what we gather; it is what we scatter that matters.
In sum, the attainment of success is rooted not so much in ability but in positive mental attitudes and planned and disciplined hard work.
To all my young friends, I wish to leave this message: Dream dreams but as Kipling says, do not make dreams your master and thoughts your aim.
Draw up a realistic plan. Start now and sail a chartered course. Act with discipline, conscientiousness, positivity and perseverance. Think deeply. Act nobly. Leave the world better than you found it.
I wish you all the best in your endeavours. May God be with you.
Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is a holder of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair at Universiti Malaya’s law faculty. He wishes all Muslim readers Eid Mubarak.
Published in: The Star, 20 June 2019
While most of our law books draw from ‘wisdom’ from the West, there is much about jurisprudence to be learnt from the great Asian civilisations. With the end of the year drawing nigh, thoughts turn to the state of legal education in this country. Many advances have been made since the inception of the first local law programme at the University of Malaya in 1972. However, some debilitating drawbacks remain. Legal education in this country is too profession-oriented and not sufficiently people-oriented ...... Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)