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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Reviving our winning ways

Reflecting On The Law By Shad Saleem Faruqi

 As a nation, we will be celebrating our 54 years of independence. But, regrettably, the enslavement of our mind still continues despite the colonizer having long gone back home.

HARI Raya is approaching and so is National Day. It is time to seek solace in prayer and renew our resolve to overcome some persistent problems that are straining the social fabric.

Among these are the deterioration of inter-ethnic relations and the ascendancy of some shrill voices of discord that trumpet all that divides us as well as trivialise much that unites us.

However, on a positive note, this is the season to count our blessings, which indeed are many.

First, is the area of constitutionalism.

Though the cup is not full to the brim, it is not empty.There is enough in it to relish, cherish, protect and preserve.

The Constitution has survived the vicissitudes of race and religious politics. Despite many political and economic crises that could have torn other societies asunder, our Constitution has endured.

It has provided a firm foundation for political stability, social harmony and economic prosperity.

Second is the wondrous durabi-lity of political cooperation among the country’s racial and religious groups.

The coalition of 14 disparate political parties under a sometimes shaky, but nevertheless enduring, political alliance is perhaps the world’s longest surviving political arrangement.

In 1955, two years before Merdeka, it was built on a spirit of accommodation, a moderation of spirit, an absence of the kind of passions, zeal and ideological convictions that in other plural societies have left a heritage of bitterness and violence.

A similar rainbow coalition is emerging on the other side of the political fence and this raises hope for the eventual emergence of issue-based rather than race-based politics.

Third is the success of our economy and development plans.

These have positive implications for the realisation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Consti­tution and for the success of socially ameliorative programmes.

Fourth, Malaysia has successfully used the economy to unite its disparate racial groups.

By encouraging entrepreneurship and tapping the genius of the minority communities to supply leadership on the economic front, the Government achieved twin objectives. It succeeded in developing the country and also gave every community a stake in the nation.

The fifth sterling achievement is that despite periodic tensions and racist and religious rhetoric, the country’s enduring and endearing inter-ethnic harmony has few parallels in the world.

Instead of creating a melting pot, Malaysia painstakingly weaved a rich cultural mosaic and an extraordinarily multi-faceted society.

The sixth outstanding feature of Malaysia is the peaceful and cooperative manner in which social engineering is being accomplished.

Unlike some other societies with a similar problem of identification of race with economic function and the concentration of wealth in the hands of powerful minorities, the Government did not expropriate the wealth of one community to bestow it on another.

It embarked on a pragmatic expansion of opportunities to give to every community its share of the economic pie.

Many aspects of this policy of social engineering have succeeded, though there is much scope for improvement.

A seventh remarkable feature of the country is the emancipation of women.

In the work place, in schools and in universities, women are easily outnumbering men.

In the professions, they are making their mark and increasingly moving into leadership positions.

Recently, the Constitution was amended to outlaw gender discrimination in the public sector.

Eighth, Malaysia is an exemplar of a moderate and progressive society that embraces modernity and democracy and yet accommodates the spiritual view of life.

The imperatives of modernity and the aspirations of religion mingle together.

This not to deny, however, that there are strong cross-currents of obscurantism in the last two decades that are posing a challenge to social harmony.

Ninth, Malaysia has successfully kept the armed forces under civilian control.

There has been no attempted coup d’etat and no “stern warnings” from military generals to the political executive.

Even in 1969, when law and order broke down in the Klang Valley, the National Operations Council was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak who called the shots with the army and police representatives in attendance.

Another remarkable phenomenon is that the extra-constitutional military-industrial complex, that behind the scenes dictates policy in many democratic countries like the US, has not been able to displace civilian control over military and industrial decisions in Malaysia.

Tenth, Malaysia has successfully used education as a tool of social engineering and upward social mobility.
Primary and secondary education is free and open to all irrespective of race or religion. Tertiary education is highly subsidised.

Though the Government is unable to meet the aspirations of all who seek higher education, the opportunities for upward mobility through higher education are exhilarating.

However, how far our tertiary educational system emancipates us from servile dependence on and mental slavery to Western education is another question.

As we celebrate National Day it must be remembered that the stains of cultural and intellectual imperialism do not end with the attainment of political freedom.

Freedom is a state of the mind and, regrettably, the enslavement of our mind still continues long after the coloniser had gone back home.

Most of our universities blindly ape European curricula and European paradigms.

We ignore the knowledge systems and traditions of the East.

Our books, syllabi and intellectual icons are mostly from the West. Our list of experts, external examiners and guest speakers are mostly European.

Towering personalities of our own region are shunned. Decades have passed, but our servile minds have not woken up to the damage done to our psyche.

While parochialism and narrow chauvinism are not called for, we have to take pride in our own heritage and draw sustenance from it before supplementing it with wisdom from elsewhere.

Nevertheless, as the commemoration day of our independence draws nigh, we must count our many blessings.

There is much in Malaysia’s struggles and successes that is worthy of emulation by friends and foes alike.

This is not to say that we should be complacent. As we celebrate 54 years of independence, our laws and institutions, our values and our views cannot remain impervious to the changes and challenges all around us.

In the realm of law and politics, there are always new challenges and opportunities that beckon the human spirit.

> Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM and Visiting Professor at USM. 

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