I REFER to Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim’s letter “Boosting the good feeling” (NST, July 8).
Among others, he said: “Malaysia is getting more attention in world news for the wrong reasons. Foreign journalists and investors are puzzled at the growing intolerance and the creeping intrusion of religion into schools, universities and government offices, as well as in everyday life, for they have always taken for granted that Malaysia is a progressive Malaysian nation.”
Many share his view, but unfortunately, nothing can be done to reverse the situation.
At the same time, he must be prepared to be criticised for his nostalgic views of the cha cha 1950s, the twist and miniskirts of the 1960s. Those were indeed the good days of easy living, where at worst, students brought only spiders and marbles to schools.
Those were the days when Malay, Chinese, Indian and Sikh as well as boys and girls could mix freely without touching on racial or gender sensitivities.
They could call each other names and make fun of their cultures and laugh it off. The girls were free to wear miniskirts and tight pants and there are no wolf calls or religious departments swooping down on them.
There was no kursus kahwin and yet, the number of divorce cases was few. Even the artistes were not scandalous. Christian-themed films like The Ten Commandments, and Ben Hur were never an issue and many enjoyed the classics.
So, what is wrong with today, as pointed out by Sheriff? It has got to do with over-politicking, and the Islamisation of national schools. There is a generation unfamiliar with Sheriff’s schooling days, and who have been brought up under the National Education Policy where Malay schools are elevated to national schools. Unless you have the money, you have no choice but to send your children to national schools.
The national school environment has produced extremism, narrow mindedness, racial polarisation and religious bigotry.
Instead of shrinking, vernacular schools tend to expand, with more parents clamouring for such schools.
These schools produce another set of Malaysians with a different world view and ideology, which run contrary to a united Malaysian nation.
Then, there’s the product of international schools using English as a medium of instruction, all with their own mindset.
A golden chance to rectify the situation was offered during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s time. But he did nothing until the last phase of his career in public office as prime minister, where he introduced a half-baked solution, the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English. He himself did not agree to English schools, as he wanted to show that he was a true nationalist.
Had he reintroduced English schools using the Cambridge syllabus, the dire situation pointed out by Sheriff would not exist today, despite the onslaught of religious extremism.
Sometimes, when we are in office, we do not see the bigger picture. We do not take the trouble to govern well simply because we are constrained by many factors and intoxicated with power.
Politicians have to consider the political implication for taking a drastic step “backward” to reintroduce English-medium schools.
For people like Sheriff, who was a senior civil servant before he retired, he had to work within the parameters given and not think out of the box too much. It was only after leaving office for good that people like Sheriff, Dr Mahathir and others like the G25 wished they should have done “this and that” when they were in power. Today, they can only give their views, which in many ways, run contrary to current thinking.
Even the ServCorp mascot of a wombat wishing Selamat Hari Raya became an issue as some overzealous holier-than-thou individuals saw it as a pig. Back in the 1960s, nobody bothered about such things. Today, almost anything is fair game or sensitive, ranging from sports attire, way of life and everything else under the sun.
The moderate path, as espoused by Sheriff, can only be achieved if we are prepared to accept English schools using the Cambridge syallabus.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak may sympathise with moderates like Sheriff and others, but his hands are politically tied. How do we help Najib untie his hands? That is a challenge for all moderates.