RACE relations stirred up by Umno Bukit Bendara division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s “squatters” remark and his continued refusal to apologise was the main topic covered in the Malay dailies between 6 and 12 Sept.
Utusan Malaysia, in an article titled Ahmad Ismail Nafi Sifat Perkauman on 6 Sept, quoted Ahmad as having said: “I will not deny that in the speech made on 23 Aug [in Permatang Pauh], I had said the Chinese community were only squatters in this country, but I was referring to the time before Independence when the British were still ruling the country.”
Ahmad’s 23 Aug remark was carried the next day by Sin Chew Daily, and caused widespread consternation among the Chinese community.
In the Utusan article, Ahmad continued: “If the Chinese can question the rights and supremacy of the Malays, then in the same context the Malays can also question the citizenship of the Chinese.
“Who was the first to question the special rights of the Malays? The answer is the Chinese leaders.”
The same day, Utusan Malaysia published another article, Ahmad Disokong Tak Mohon Maaf, where 13 Umno Penang branches were reported to have supported Ahmad’s no-apology stance.
The article reported the Penang Umno state liaison committee deputy chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Rashid Abdullah as having said: “Ahmad is not alone in this matter, and along with 12 other Umno branches in Penang that represent Malay and Muslim groups, we are willing to bear the responsibility should any actions be taken upon him.”
Presenting a dissenting view, Berita Harian published an article titled Perlu Dikenakan Tindakan Tegas on 10 Sept quoting Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, a member of the Umno Supreme Council, as saying that Ahmad should be subjected to firm disciplinary action, including being sacked from the party, because he was causing disunity in the Barisan Nasional (BN).
“He (Ahmad) should not make his own personal problems with Dr Koh (ex-chief minister of Penang and acting president of Gerakan, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon) as an internal problem for Umno to the point that it could harm the party.
“Who is he to ask that Gerakan be removed from the BN… he is not the BN chairman,” Nazri said, commenting on Ahmad’s press conference on 8 Sept where one of his supporters took down and tore up a photo of Koh.
On 10 Sept, Ahmad was suspended by Umno for three years and lost all his posts. But the Umno chieftain was unrepentant and vowed to make a comeback in three years.
No need to apologise
Utusan Malaysia published Reaksi Saling Menghasut by Professor Datuk Dr Zainal Kling on 6 Sept, where the author wrote that people should “pity” Datuk Ahmad Ismail and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for having to apologise to the Chinese community.
“How many more Malays and Umno leaders will need to apologise for errors such as taking out a keris in their own political party gathering, defending their ‘supremacy’ in their own country, or being labelled a racist for being a political organisation that defends the Federal Constitution?
“This is the fate of a political organisation whose weakness in spirit and leadership is glaring,” he said.
Zainal wrote that what Malaysians are experiencing right now is the result of the laws of physics: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” He concludes that “the actions of Ahmad Ismail are just bringing to fore the feelings of the Malays, who in turn are reacting to the Chinese questioning the ‘special rights’ of the Malays/bumiputera…
“Even so, we are witnessing a steadily rising temperature of ethnic dissension in these past few months. If the Chinese/non-Malays continue to bring up questions that may be considered seditious, then the Malays, too, would continue to break the same laws, as it is evident that the state has not acted accordingly to quell the actions of the non-Malays.”
Yet Zainal concedes that “we cannot anymore call those who were born here as immigrants…”, and that we should all be more careful in how we talk about each other, as it is integral that we maintain unity for the sake of the country.
Dying for the nation
On ethnic relations, Utusan Malaysia published Punca 300,000 Cina Terkorban on 8 Sept as a response to the statement by MCA secretary-general Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan that 300,000 Chinese had died defending the country prior to 1957.
The article said that according to historians, the Chinese died defending a British-ruled Malaya. It quoted Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia history professor Datuk Nik Anwar Nik Mahmud as saying that the Chinese who died during the Japanese occupation were Malayan Communist Party (MCP) supporters who had struck a pact with the British.
“It has to be clarified that the aim of the MCP was not to defend this country but to maintain their interests and safety.
“The British and the MCP had agreed that the Chinese would be given Malayan citizenship if they helped to fight the Japanese, while the Japanese killed the Chinese because they saw them as British collaborators.”
The article also quoted Universiti Utara Malaysia lecturer of Social Development, Professor Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain, as saying that the Chinese who died during the Japanese occupation were fighting “for themselves”.
Words that matter
Finally, Anuar Ahmad’s piece titled Tercabarnya Hubungan Etnik published in Utusan Malaysia on 10 Sept touched on the media’s responsibility in inciting communities, and the power of the printed word.
In the article, Anuar says all public perception of events begin with the media. “Because of two or three sentences on the ‘immigrant’ and ‘of immigrant descent’ issue, the entire country is in uproar.”
Anuar references the article by Zainal Kling (above), and says the tone employed by the professor indicated his disappointment in the ‘descendants of immigrants’ of this country.
“The warning given by [Zainal and others] would surely raise the ire of the non-Malays. But what the authors wrote was clearly done, and in a good-mannered fashion and with care. It is now up to the ‘descendants of immigrants’ whether they can accept such an opinion.”
Anuar outlines four major factors that have contributed to the spike in discussions on ethnic relations: the loss of support of the main parties – particularly race-based ones like Umno – in favour of multi-race parties; the internal wrangling in Umno; the challenge of rewarding and fulfilling the requests of minority groups by Malay parties to increase support among the non-Malays; and the openness of some Malays, particularly in the cities, who reject ethnic-based parties and “no longer care about the struggle for Malay special rights and supremacy.”
Anuar ends by reminding readers that the way forward is to keep in mind the social pact agreed upon after Independence, and to return to the spirit of perseverence found in those who had come before.