THE disproportionate response to the recent “slipper garland” proposal by an MIC delegate highlights once again what the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government really values above all else.
Umno politicians have been falling over themselves in the rush to defend Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad against an MIC delegate’s suggestion to garland the former premier’s portrait with slippers.
Tan Sri Muhiyiddin Yassin, Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir were quick to express their disappointment, shock and hurt at M Sukumaran’s “insolent, rude and extreme” remarks made during the recent MIC general assembly. Cheras Umno division chief Datuk Syed Ali Alhabshee stated that insulting Mahathir was akin to insulting all Malay Malaysians, although how that is true was not established.
Utusan Malaysia, which reported on these leaders’ responses, also made it clear its indignation. Jangan biadab, screamed its front page on 15 Sept 2009. MIC perlu minta maaf, blared another headline on their four-page coverage of the issue. Four-page? Yes, that’s right.
Amidst the clamour, Sukumaran was swiftly suspended on 15 Sept 2009 by MIC president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu, who himself had earlier criticised Dr Mahathir albeit without referring to any footwear. A heartfelt and humble apology was then given by the disgraced delegate, just two days after he was catapulted into the limelight by his offending statement.
“I regret having uttered those words (‘slipper garland’). I regretted it very much. I sincerely hope Mahathir will accept my apology,” Malaysiakini reported him as saying. “I was carried away emotionally when I made the remark which had seriously hurt the feelings of Mahathir,” he added.
Slippers vs cow-head and threats
Now, let’s compare Hishammuddin’s response to the slipper suggestion with his response towards the cow-head protesters who threatened violence if a Hindu temple was relocated to their neighbourhood in Shah Alam.
“I view this suggestion as extreme and disrespectful. We must never forget our values and culture of respecting others. If we want others to respect us, then we must accord respect to others,” The Star quoted the home minister as saying on 15 Sept 2009.
One wishes Hishammuddin was referring to the cow-head protesters, but he wasn’t. He was chastising the MIC delegate for his slipper suggestion.
In fact, Hishammuddin had, several days earlier, welcomed the cow-head protesters into his office and defended them in a press conference, a video report of which the government now wants Malaysiakini to remove from its news site.
Embarrassing doesn’t even describe the value judgement that an Umno vice-president and cabinet member has displayed in his responses towards these two issues — one a merely rude suggestion, and the other a serious show of intolerance and threat of violence.
And even though Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin did condemn the protesters, no Umno leader has called for the cow-head protesters to apologise to all Malaysians for their threat of violence. Selangor Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo even explained, on behalf of the protesters, that the cow head was actually meant to show how “stupid” the Pakatan Rakyat state government was in its actions.
Slippers vs Penan
Umno leaders have also been alarmingly silent about the revelation by a government-appointed task force of the sexual abuse of Penan women and girls in Sarawak by timber company workers.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said at a buka puasa event on 10 Sept 2009 in Kuala Lumpur: “…[T]he government will never condone this. We cannot condone even though they live far away from the capital, that’s why the government authorised the report.”
But keeping the report under wraps for nearly a year would make anyone wonder if the Umno-led government really cared.
In the meantime, now that the report’s findings have been made public, neither the prime minister nor any other senior Umno leader has voiced concern for the Penan. Shahrizat’s ministry has also failed to convince citizens that concrete and immediate steps are being taken to protect the Penan and ensure their welfare and safety.
Young Penan woman (Pic courtesy of Sofiyah Israa @ Flickr)
Since the March 2008 general election, calls have been growing for the BN to rethink the race-based politics that has kept them in government for more than 50 years. In the past, Umno has let its partners in the coalition, such as the MCA and MIC, speak up on Chinese and Indian Malaysian issues. This formula is not just lacking in terms of ensuring national unity; it’s myopic in protecting the legitimate rights of all Malaysians.
The responses of Umno leaders to recent events prove just as much. They tell us that Umno’s main priority is in ensuring that particular interests are protected. These interests, however, don’t include those of minority communities such as non-Muslims and the indigenous people.
Additionally, there are many other ethnic groups that are not directly represented in the BN formula such as the Penan. There is no Penan-based party in the BN. With the current model, who then is supposed to speak up for them? Should the Penan have to set up a National Penan Party and win seats in Parliament before their plight is taken seriously by the government?
A government for all Malaysians
In the run-up to the Umno Youth chief contest earlier this year, all three candidates — Mukhriz, Khir Toyo and Khairy — stated that Umno should meet the needs of all races.
For this to happen, the principles of fairness, inclusiveness and justice should be applied in addressing issues, regardless of race. In the past two weeks, however, we have seen from Umno leaders’ responses to several issues that these principles are not what drive the Umno leadership. If nothing else, their responses have instead called to question how far a race-based party can claim to speak up for and protect all Malaysians.
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