BTN and the canteen controversy

The strict controls on Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia, has nothing to do with faith; but has everything to do with control.

Mariam Mokhtar, FMT

The recent controversy about students eating in a make-shift canteen in a shower room, adjacent to the toilets at the SK Seri Pristina in Sungai Buloh is not a new scandal.

You may remember that three years ago, in Kedah, another school principal accused several Chinese pupils of showing disrespect to Muslims by eating in the school canteen during the fasting month. The Umno-Baru government was damaged by that outrage. The Speaker Pandikar Amin rejected a motion to debate in parliament, the racial slurs allegedly made by the two school heads.

In modern day Malaysia, Muslims are perceived to be an insensitive and intolerable lot, who are easily confused and who will force others, from other faiths to bend to their will.

Umno-Baru claims that using the word “Allah” will confuse Muslims, that promoting “halal bak kut teh” will also confuse the Muslims.

The recent fatwa against Muslims and claims that competing in beauty contests is sinful, as too much flesh will be on show.

Are Muslims so weak willed and easily led astray? What does that say about the faith and Muslims in general?

If the truth be known, the strict controls on Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia, has nothing to do with faith; but has everything to do with control. Umno-Baru will use religion and a few well chosen muftis to impose its will and its Umno-Baru style of Islam.

It knows that Muslims would not dare contradict the word of these muftis. No one wants to be seen to go against the word of God. Does the Umno-Baru government suspect that large numbers of Muslims wish to reject the religion?

Few Muslims would dare question these muftis, despite their incorrect interpretations, because the hassle they receive is not worth it. Anyone who speaks out is deemed seditious. They are arrested, charged and jailed. With this culture of fear, the rakyat is easily cowed into submission.

In the canteen scandal, the Acting Selangor police chief A Thaiveegan has apparently said that anyone spreading photos of children eating in the shower room would be charged with sedition. When this statement made him look foolish, he then claimed that he was misquoted.

This is how our authorities, the Education Ministry and all our government agencies operate. They work in fits and starts. They react. They backtrack. They cover-up their inadequacies.

Breeding places of racism

Although there are many Muslims who realise that Muslim bullies predominate among them, very few will dare to publicly condemn the actions of the thugs. The image of Islam in Malaysia is tarnished. Islam does not need any form of defence, but the country’s image does.

When did the rot set in? Is this scandal a manifestation of the dreaded BTN made popular by former PM Mahathir Mohamad? He alone cannot be held responsible because we allowed him to do as he pleased, so he became emboldened. Some people challenged his authority, but this was not enough.

If our schools are breeding places of racism and religious bigotry, what hope is there for a multi-cultural, multi-faith Malaysia, which we once enjoyed?

If the headmaster of SK Seri Pristina has no respect for children of other faiths, what sort of example is he teaching the Malay and Muslim children? Why is he trying to lower the dignity of the non-Muslims and why is he ignoring the health and safety regulations?

The headmaster, Mohamad Nasir Mohd Noor may have apologised for his action, but a nasty precedent has been set. School children have enough academic challenges to face, but now non-Muslim school children find that religious freedom, a right which is accorded them in the Constitution, is being denied.

The other damaging aspect of this debacle is that Nasir is eroding the true meaning of fasting, one of the pillars of being a Muslim. By hiding the non-Muslim children in the shower-room as they eat their lunch, Nasir will not produce better Muslims.