SOMEONE should tell the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department that Malaysia is not an egg.
Last week, Datuk Ahmad Maslan reportedly confirmed that Biro Tatanegara (BTN) participants are given eggs to signify how “fragile” our community is. There may indeed be beneficial lessons to be learnt from egg-caring as demonstrated by a US school curriculum for young students.
But that aside, it is unhelpful and unfortunate that the government’s official line about our nation is that we are a community that is delicate and fragile. Yup, liable to shatter at any time if the slightest pressure is applied.
Walking on eggshells
Malaysians have been constantly bombarded about their supposed fragility by our politicians. If some politicians are to be believed, Malaysians are a really sensitive lot, prone to violence and chaos at every insult, imagined or real.
The spectre of racial riots has been branded into Malaysians’ psyche by constant references to the possible “chaos and unrest” that could be caused if fragile Malaysians took offence. Hence, Ahmad Maslan’s egg metaphor is just part of the “Beware of Violence” script that our politicians are constantly trying to scare us with.
Race is sensitive. Religion is sensitive. The NEP is sensitive. All these issues are too sensitive to discuss openly. They must be discussed “cautiously“, carefully and above all, “sensitively”. Best in fact, if all these issues which beleaguer our nation are discussed behind closed doors, or better still, not raised at all.
Malaysians therefore huddle in their dining rooms, mamak stalls or corner coffee shops and speak about their grouses in low voices, just in case the Special Branch overhears and locks them up without trial under the Internal Security Act.
We’re not fragile
Describing Malaysians as fragile and sensitive really doesn’t give us enough credit. Malaysians have in fact demonstrated a huge propensity for mutual respect, tolerance and cooperation throughout history.
The Nut Graph’s Found in Malaysia section for instance, is brimming with stories from notable Malaysians about strong and united communities in their neighbourhoods. These multiple stories speak of great understanding and friendship amongst different cultures and communities. These stories are probably only the tip of the iceberg of similar experiences shared by many others in this country.
Even today, with the increasing polarisation, friendship and harmony amongst different Malaysians can still be found. Anyone who spent time at the recent Penang Jazz Festival would have encountered multi-ethnic Malaysian bands playing together. In the performing arts as well, artiste collectives such as Five Arts Centre involve Malaysians from different religions and backgrounds working closely together.
Statutory bodies such as the Bar Council also remain multiracial and multi-religious in composition, with no reported clashes between members due to their dissimilarities.
So what is this fragility that politicians like Ahmad Maslan keep talking about? And why is it that this fragility is not spoken of when truly harmful behaviour such as the Shah Alam cow-head protest is blatantly acted out in front of the police? Why no talk of fragility then? Surely, Malaysians cannot be prone to suffering a form of selective fragility?
Or could it just be that depicting Malaysians, or in particular, Malay Malaysians as a fragile, sensitive lot is just a political tool to ensure that public discourse remains under our politicians’ control?
It’s time we dropped the eggshell, thin-skin metaphor and started focusing on the ability and maturity of Malaysians to engage on and discuss difficult issues. Malaysians can do it, so why can’t our political leaders do so, too?
Constantly emphasising society’s apparent fragility does not help in nation-building. Telling Malaysians that we are fragile just sets the tone for how Malaysians should engage with each other — which is that we need to constantly tread carefully around those who are deemed “sensitive”. Telling Malaysians we are delicate is also one way, perchance, to perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy amongst certain Malaysians and discourage open and honest discourse about our differences.
We know that Malaysians are different. After all, no two people are exactly the same even if they have the same religion, ethnicity and upbringing. There is no need to keep lecturing us on our differences. Far from being dangerous, this difference is in fact what makes Malaysia so unique in the world. We are a mishmash of cultures that we can derive strength from and be proud of.
If there are issues that arise due to our differences, then they should be discussed openly and respectfully, and resolved in the public arena. Pretending that issues don’t exist doesn’t solve anything and just makes matters worse over time. Leaving so-called sensitive issues unresolved also affects lives and has caused grave injustice to citizens.
Yes, it’s true that there have been riots in the past. It’s true that people do get hurt, and unkind, inciteful words and actions have been perpetrated by all sorts of Malaysians.
But it’s also true that Malaysians throughout history and up till today, more often than not, reach out across the divide and learn to work through their differences. Why can’t we focus on those stories instead?
Our community is much stronger than an egg.
We can talk through things respectfully and maturely. We can find common solutions. We can be resilient in the face of difficulties. We can rebuild a nation that is respectful of each other that we would all be proud to call our home.
So stop calling us fragile. And imagine what it would do if politicians start labelling us resilient instead.
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ali bin ahmad says
Very well done! Congrats! 🙂
siew eng says
At a public forum on national unity held in October, de facto Minister for Unity Koh Tsu Koon shared a similar exercise he underwent at a Kem Bina Negara years ago. But there is an added twist – if the egg was broken or missing, the owner would have to carry a brick in its place; hence, the implication of a heavier burden to bear (on top of the “chaos” from the runny egg and smashed shell).
Imagine, if this is the indoctrination given to our “leaders”, little wonder their mindset and the policies that come from them.
We should not be the victims of our politicians’ insecurity and bigotry. I’ve been to several some interfaith (and multiracial) events the last few weeks and have found that people are very unhappy about the ways race, religion and legislation are being used to manipulate public opinion and stifle open dialogue. And they were more than happy to contribute on ways to improve understanding between various cultures and religions.
Dialogue is the best way to work towards solutions for the various challenges that our society faces. “People and societies that are open to dialogue do not stagnate but grow and develop,” (Daisaku Ikeda). Resorting to labels like “egg” and “sensitive” will not help move things forward.
On many levels, especially at the private and individuals levels, dialogues are going on vibrantly. There are certain official channels that seem reluctant to talk about these issues openly. As private citizens, we need to intensify our efforts on dialogue and dispel notions that we are eggs or eggheads.
It is not Malaysians that are as fragile as the eggshell but merely Umno members that have been indoctrinated with hatred. It is quite common to see Malaysians congregated at a stadium to watch sports competition to support the local team without differentiating between races and religions of the players. If these can be done by commoners, why can’t Umno politicians do it? Wake up Umno, you are still in the Stone Age whereas the majority of the rakyat have reached the cyber age.
Kong Kek Kuat says
Just a point: I think referring to the Bar Council as an example is rather way off reality. The Bar Council is merely a representative of the Malaysian Bar.
Undoubtedly, the Council do take a multi-racial approach to issues. But the Bar doesnÂ´t.
There are many lawyers who intentionally (for whatever reasons) exclude themselves from the activities of the Council.
And just as in Malaysian politics, where you have Umno politicians going abroad shamelessly calling themselves the image of Malaysians, the Council does likewise. But the reality is way off that.
As an example: I recall that one of the points where the Bar (arguably) began to split was years back when there was this small group of lawyers who started the (I think it is called) The Muslim Lawyers Association within the Bar. Whether it was within or outside the Bar, we (as mere freshies then) could already foresee that it would split the Bar further.
But it was then also the Mahathir era, a time when any objection to anything that has anything to do with Islam would be deemed [meddling].
Prior to this, there were no associations in the Bar which were formed based on religion. As it was then, the Bar was quite a united entity.
Then, of course, the others pushed back. And so today, you have other associations within the Bar formed based on religions.
Of course, the different education backgrounds, as well as the quality, of Malaysian lawyers also contributed to the split.
Being a former litigation lawyer should have opened your eyes to the split within the Bar.
Excellent piece of work. 10 out of 10. Hope the article is read by the majority of decent Malaysians. Never mind the self-centred narrow-minded minority.
Yes, I fully agree with Ms Jo-Ann – Malaysians are not fragile. However, we very well know that the BN (i.e. Umno since the MCA, MIC, Gerakan and PPP are just stooges) wants to paint Malaysians as fragile so that they can continue with their corrupted and selfish agenda!
Ding Jo-Ann says
My Bar Council example relates to the point that Malaysians are capable of respect, tolerance and cooperation and are not as fragile as we are sometimes made out to be. The existence of any splinter group within the Malaysian Bar does not detract from the fact the 36 individuals of various ethnicities and religions can work together within the Bar Council, without race or religion being a major issue. This was, in fact, my own experience when I was a member of various committees in the KL Bar and the Bar Council.
I did not consider whether the Bar Council is representative of the Malaysian Bar as a whole as that wasn’t really the point of the example.
Eggs or not eggs, do it really matter?
I’m sorry, but some Malaysians ARE fragile and sensitive. Have you tried telling the truth in a blog? Go ahead, go to one of those “so skewed it’s laughable” blogs and attempt to correct their misperceptions. Chances are that you’ll be censored or banned.
PS Why do you want my name and e-mail if you’re not fragile and sensitive?