A Royal Bashing for ‘Pendatang’ Demons

By J.R. Letchumanan,  Klik4Malaysia

Racial issues and name calling like ‘Pendatang’ has lately been a thorny issue in multi-racial Malaysia, especially on the political scene, but it was heartening to know that even the royalty have taken a keen interest in defusing such notion.

With the front page headlines of local dailies highlighting developments on the massive Sime Darby losses or the Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy case, readers of the country’s main English papers may not have noticed news reports of the speech by Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, the consort of the Sultan of Johor.

The occasion of the speech was a conference on ‘Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason’ (PCORE) held in Kuala Lumpur recently.

The prime mover of the meeting was PCORE, a group that represents Malaysians who embrace and share the notion of peace as the way forward to achieve unity and integration.

Credit must go to the PCORE leadership for bringing together a diverse mix of young and older people from different backgrounds to voice their frank concerns on current issues and developments in the country.

According to Dr Lim Teck Ghee who was a panelist in the conference, the real star of the conference was Raja Zarith Sofiah and for readers who missed the news item may be interested in the excerpt from the news report of her speech.

“In her keynote address at the Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason conference, she described the use of ‘pendatang’ to describe non-Bumiputera as “hurtful and ignorant”, and that more discussions were needed to address and resolve the gulf between ethnic and religious communities.

“Rather than simplify and shy away from sensitive issues, we should fight destructive rhetoric with constructive dialogue. It is shameful when apparently educated and mature individuals use such terms or suggest fellow Malaysians go back to where they came from,” he said.

Describing her own ancestral background as a mix between Sumatran and Peranakan Chinese, she said it was important to recognise the diversity of Malaysian society, brought about by centuries of interracial and interfaith marriages and communication.

This open and proud acknowledgment of her mixed ancestral background was quite unprecedented because it puts to shame the way in which many of our leaders who have a similar mixed ancestry either try to hide or suppress the inconvenient truth, or engage in flaunting or agitating a mono-ethnic or religious stance as if this has been part of their, and the country’s DNA from time immemorial.

Raja Zarith Sofiah’s speech was much more than what was reported in the newspapers. It also covered her personal experience and thinking on religions and the importance for Muslims to learn about other cultures and religions and their heritage.

She spoke from the heart, simply and without the need for any convoluted intellectual argument or high sounding clichés to drive home the importance of cherishing and protecting the country that belongs to all of us — highly or lowly born; brown, yellow or black; and worshipping one, many or no god.

Many Malaysians may not be aware of the wide-ranging accomplishments and interests of Raja Zarith Sofiah.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degree from Oxford University (her BA is in Chinese Studies). Besides Malay and English, she is able to communicate in Mandarin, Italian and French.

She is a patron of the arts, an artist and author who has written children’s books including Puteri Gunung Ledang and she is also the columnist of The Star’s ‘Mind Matters’ column, and let out that her articles are being put together in book form soon.

Being fluent in so many languages, she also chided those who claimed that introducing English-based subjects in school would erode the patriotism or make the population less nationalistic.

Having a good command of the English language does not make a Malaysian pro-British or less patriotic, she had said.