Are the Malay linguistic nationalists betraying our children?


Dr Azly Rahman

Nationalists are nationalists. Some remain rooted in the language which shaped their personal reality, in a world of shifting views and multiple interpretations in which one become sub-texts of both Grand and Subaltern narrative.

Nationalist are nationalists. In a postmodern world, we sometimes do not know who the enemy of these nationalists are. Perhaps the enemy lies within. Fear of one’s own shadow?

Nationalists are nationalists. They can remain so. They need to evolve into globalists grounded in the love of many cultures, still.

Perhaps like many, I am a strong advocate of the critical importance of the English Language as, at this point in history, a language not only of commerce, the arts and humanities, but also an inspiration for revolutionary movements that challenges colonialism and imperialism as well. In order to understand the enemy, one must speak its language.  Stamford Raffles knew this well when he was sent to the Singapura to be its “founder”.

The enemy is corruption and social cancer wrought by casino capitalism, spoken in English globalized by high speed Internet, mutating the mind, body, and soul of natives and savages transforming them into neo-colonials. The enemy is the dimension of language that installs regimes and systems of oppression that leeches off blood sweat and tears of the natives transformed into indentured post-modern slaves. The English language of the modern imperialism system and the Gog and Magog of the maddening capitalist world is the enemy.
Many a revolutionary writer opposed to colonialism wrote in the English Language – from Jonathan Swift to Joseph Conrad, from Eric Blair (George Orwell) to V. S. Naipaul, from Karl Marx to Raymond Williams.

Of course for Malaysian children we do not expect them to be passionate of the Greek mythology, the philosophy behind Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, The Chronicles of Narnia, or translation of Ramayana and Mahabharata, or even the Adventures of Asterix – we hope this will one day be a reality when we throw away our TV sets and ASTRO channels or our iPods or Blackberry.

Of course this is a long road for Malaysian children to be engaged in world literature in (English) translation and be a little be more learned and refined and to expunge any sense of racial superiority such as “ketuanan this or that”.

Long road to freedom. There is a reality at hand. When a Malay poet laureate and a chief of a language preservation bureau (I hope this is a close enough translation of ‘dewan bahasa dan pustaka’) and a hundred other Malay Language jihadists were pepper-sprayed for protesting against the English as a language of instruction, we have got a national problem.

What is the message? What is being symbolized? What is the signification? What is the issue? What is the non-issue? Where is the sensibility? Where is pride? Where is prejudice? Where are we taking this argument?

These are difficult questions.

Essentially, in my opinion, the value of teaching the applications aspects of Science and Maths in English is that hopefully the teachers will work harder with the students to master the lingua franca. Perhaps later, when there is mastery, teachers and learners themselves can explore the humanities and social scientific aspects of Maths and Science, and ultimately in their later years understand the philosophical and political–economic aspects of the two “subjects”. One may then, in one’s old age, read the biographies of Sir Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, Henri Poincare, Paul Erdosh, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawkings, etc. Or even read translations of Hamzah Fansuri or Ibnu Arabi.

English Language is one important vehicle for such exploration.

My question is: what is the fate of linguistic nationalists in the age of globalization and deconstructionism? For whom will such nationalists continue to serve? But ultimately, why are the adults arguing for the next generation when the former should be allowing the latter to chart their own intellectual future?

Or– could the answer be in the passion for teaching and the need for an entirely new pedagogy?

We are only beginning to peel the layers of complexity of the issue of teaching of Science and Maths in English.  We need to go beyond the data and conclusion presented mundanely passed as the ultimate truth why we need to teaching Science and Maths in the Malay Language.

We need to rise above the simplicity of concluding, the reductionism of our arguments, and the shallowness of our claim of the need to be ultra-nationalistic about the language to be used.

We need to look at how best can the children of Malaysia be served through multiple languages and through the importance of the English Language. We need to step back – many steps – and look at our philosophy of education, our paradigm of teaching and learning, our training of teachers, our caste and class system in our ‘information-overloaded’ educational system, our politician’s constant interference in schools and in controlling the minds of our children and our teachers, our destiny as a multicultural nation demanding us to master multilinguistic possibilities, and finally how we have built in successes and failures in ours school system

Daunting task for us. Requiring supra-nationalist thinking. But if, in Malaysia, linguistic nationalists are merely players in a world’s-a-stage of build by ‘tuans of this and that culture’ under the ideological direction of ‘ketuanan this and that,’ we must rewrite the script.

Language shapes reality. Or maybe language is reality. Or maybe, in the case of the nationalist, language confines reality.

In multicultural Malaysia, in a world past post- and hypermodernity, our language policy ought to make possible multiple realities, multiple worlds or knowing. So that our children may become world-wise Malaysians.


Azly Rahman:!/azly.rahman