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Defending customs, Malay unity and rights

FROM 15 to 21 Nov 2008, the Malay press highlighted Raja Dr Nazrin Shah’s speech on integration; Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim’s comments on the position of the Malays; and the threat of a naked protest against the Selangor government’s plan to raise the rent for a public housing programme.

Raja Nazrin’s speech

Utusan Malaysia‘s front-page lead on 20 Nov reported on Raja Nazrin’s speech, stressing on the importance of immigrant communities respecting and accepting the customs, history and government system of the country they migrated to.

According to the report, Terima adat tempatan, the Raja Muda of Perak said immigrants should observe the Malay saying, “Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit di junjung” (respect for local customs).

He said this in his keynote address at the Diversity Matters Forum on Diasporas in the Commonwealth at Monash University, Sunway campus.

In the report, Raja Nazrin went on to say that in a plural society, the different cultures should be allowed to live freely without being made to do anything they do not wish to.

He said democracy means one can choose to adapt to society, assimilate, or not be interested at all. However, it is important to create a society that shares similar values and priorities.

Berita Harian‘s report on the same speech started with a different angle. The report, Komuniti pendatang perlu hormati tradisi tempatan, led with Raja Nazrin saying that people in a multiracial and multicultural society should be given the freedom to choose their way of life without being forced to do what they do not want to.

“However, the need to form a society with similar values, norms and priorities is very important,” he said.

Raja Nazrin noted that the responsibility of integrating with the original or indigenous community does not only lie with the adopted country. Immigrants should also respect and accept local traditions, he said, quoting the same Malay saying.

He also said that in order to uphold fairness and equality, a receiving country should practise integration instead of assimilation. “Integration accepts and enlists; it does not coerce. It respects and values differences as legitimate. Assimilation, on the other hand, seeks to change language, customs, religions and even worldviews,” he said.

On 21 Nov, Berita Harian published an editorial, saying all parties should ponder Raja Nazrin’s reminder that immigrants in any country should respect and accept the local customs, history and governing system.

It observed that of late, there have been efforts to dispute the social contract and special rights of the Malays.

It said in a plural society like Malaysia, each community, no matter indigenous or immigrant, should be mindful of the other communities’ sensitivities.

“Provoking racial sentiments can jeopardise the country’s peace and harmony and economy,” it said.

It added that if all parties acted rationally and did not make statements that provoked racial tension, we would be able to live together and understand one another better.

Call for Malay unity

On 17 Nov, Utusan Malaysia ran a front-page report on Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim calling on the Malays to strengthen their unity to avoid being ridiculed by other races.

In the report, Kukuhkan politik Melayu, he said too many negative remarks have been made about the Malays recently, as if they have lost their purpose and pride.

He said this in his keynote address, Kepentingan Melayu dan pribumi dalam sejarah dan perundangan, at a recent forum on legal issues and indigenous rights in the constitution.

Rais said historical facts have been used as a political game, which insults, humiliates and disrespects the Malays and indigenous people. He said the Malays should react whenever the race and Umno are slandered.

Rais argued that historical facts show that the Malays were the first inhabitants in the Malay peninsula.

On the same day, Sinar Harian published an interview with Rais entitiled Tiga elemen untuk ketepikan “ego politik” Melayu.

He said the Malays will continue to be disrespected if they continue to uphold their political ego and sentiment without really understanding it. “If the Malays want to be proud of their position, they must show their abilities and political strength,” he said.

Rais said the Malays are starting to become weak because of the existence of three camps — Umno, PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat. He said the Malays need to find a unifying factor, such as Islam, to strengthen the race and avoid being ridiculed by the other parties.

In an article in Utusan Malaysia on 20 Nov, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad called on the Malays to adopt a more proactive attitude in defending their rights.

“Nowadays we only see the Malays defending instead of attacking,” he said. “We need to defend our position, and like the English saying that the best defence is a good offence, we need to be on the offensive to defend ourselves,” he said at a Perdana Leadership Foundation talk.

Mahathir said instead of just defending their rights under the social contract, the Malays should start talking about the benefits enjoyed by the other races because of the social contract.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra gave out one million citizenships to non-Malays without any question, he said. “If they want to revoke Malay rights, we too want to revoke the rights given to them,” he said.

Naked protest

On 14 Nov, Gerakan Reformasi Rakyat Malaysia (Reformis) threatened to stage a naked protest in objection to the Selangor government’s move to raise the rent for the People’s Housing Programme from RM124 to RM250 per month.

Reformis plans to stage the protest at the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah state secretariat building in Shah Alam.

On 15 Nov, Sinar Harian frontpaged reactions from the state government. In Mogok bogel kurang matang, local government, study and research committee chairperson Ronnie Liu said he was willing to have a discussion with Reformis to stop them from going ahead with the protest.

On 16 Nov, Utusan Malaysia reported that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) warned Reformis not to go ahead with the protest or it would face stern actions.

In the report, Jais director Datuk Muhammed Khusrin Munawi said naked protests are against Islamic principles.

Selangor mufti Datuk Seri Tamyes Abdul Wahid said the plan to stage the naked protest reflected the person’s level of morality and dignity. “Usually, nudity is done by those who have lost their sanity in differentiating between right and wrong,” he said.

On the same day, Sinar Harian reported that Reformis chairperson Ramlan Abu Bakar had demanded a debate with Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.

He said the movement was tired of the Pakatan Rakyat government neglecting the welfare and problems of the poor and marginalised in Selangor.

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