Sunday, June 10, 2007

Insightful Comment to Dr. Syed's Letter

This is a truly insightful letter written by someone with the surname Chieh in response to Dr. Syed Alwi's concerned Singapore letter to Malaysia Today. (Dr. Syed Alwi's letter could also be seen in this blog if you search for it).

Dear Dr.Syed Alwi:

I appreciate very much your concern about Malaysia. As you imply, Islamization and the NEP have distorted the worldview of many Malay Muslims. What's even worse is that the racial basis for the NEP has been internalized to such an extent that many Malay Muslims genuinely believe that this country is theirs and theirs alone. The non-Malays, including the Ibans (Dayaks), the native Sabahans, the Orang Asli -- people who might serve as a check on religious extremism -- are now all brushed aside, marginalized and silenced by the force of a manufactured majority of local Malays and illegal refugees from neighboring islands. Even then, the Muslim Malays number only about 50% of the population. Yet, this 50% has attempted to impose their religious and political views on the other half of the nation. It is this fracturing of the nation into two, and the conflict almost sure to arise, leading to the temptation of stronger states to turn our country into another Yugoslavia, that I'm most afraid of.

I think, except for a miraculous change of attitude on the part of the present rulers, there's little hope that this country can avoid fragmentation. Much as I like the present PM as a person, I don't think he has the will, not to say the courage, to face down the extremists in his party and people and steer this country away from imminent disaster. If my conclusion is correct, then some other route must be taken.

My suggestion is that those who love this country and believe that we need to save it from extremism must try to minimize our differences and form a common front to educate our people. The internet has provided for us a forum for discussions that even the extremists who're trying to prevent the interfaith council from exercising their rights have been unable to stop. Other than that, we need to cooperate with the civil society, with political parties and concerned individuals and get everyone's help in this undertaking.

By educating the people, I mean not merely offering alternative views to what has become the conventional wisdom, such as the idea that the NEP is necessary to uplift the socio-economic conditions of the Malays, or that Islam must be what the ulamas say it is. All that is important, and we should, through websites, pamphlets, seminars, and word of mouth, seek to propagate the alternative views. But what's even more fundamental, I think, is to simply teach our people critical thinking.

As you and I'm sure several bloggers have noted, critical thinking is not something that comes naturally. Not with Malaysians or indeed any other people. The problem is aggravated in this country by the thoughtless violence inflicted upon our education system since the early seventies, when a certain PM pronounced that we must sacrifice efficiency for the sake of unity, meaning training substandard teachers to turn out half-educated kids who were then sent to our so-called "institutions of higher learning", many of them becoming lecturers for still more generations of ignoramuses. Result: we're seeing "educated" adults in so many blogs who're unable to detect logical fallacies, who know nothing about close reading, who cannot detect the gaps and fissures in the dominant discourses.

So it's important that we start educating our people, from kiddies to adults. We can do that by pointing out errors in argumentation whether online or in the press, by giving classes in rhetoric to students and teachers and fresh university graduates, either in formal settings such as schools or in informal ones like private classes in some makeshift surroundings.

Months ago, I'd thought about such a project, but it was more difficult to offer one's services than I thought -- things have changed a lot since I last left this country nearly 30 years ago. I did manage to counsel on the kinds of books and syllabuses and especially exercises I thought suitable for schoolchildren with some educationists (old friends and former students), though I'm not sure whether my suggestions were carried out or not. But each person must do his or her part, however small or insignificant that part might seem to be.

I don't know what else we can do, for sure as the sun rises tomorrow, I'm certain that those in the present government - like the previous one - are more interested in looking after their wallets than in saving the nation from sure and imminent disaster.

I'll wait for suggestions from other readers.

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