Get rid of ‘bangsa’ and ‘agama’ in MyKad to achieve unity, says Mariam Mokhtar

(Malaysiakini) – A vocal critic of problems affecting the socio-political fabric of the nation has listed 10 things that must be done in order to achieve national integration and unity.

Mariam Mokhtar said integration with integrity is not a myth, and that it was possible, if all the obstacles that divide the people are removed, and “we start to respect one another’s cultures and faiths”.

“If you want national integration, this is what you must do: remove the ‘bangsa’ and ‘agama’ in our identity cards; ban racism and affirmative action policies; reduce the wealth gaps between the haves and have-nots.

“Also, do not politicise languages; treat east and west Malaysians equally, and allow media freedom and freedom of expression,” she said in her lecture titled “Integration with Integrity: Without Fear or Favour” held at the Holiday Villa here last night.

She likened national integration to a marriage, or a relationship, which “needs hard work, a good sense of humour and mutual respect, to be harmonious”.

“The events of May 9 have provided the catalyst for a new beginning in Malaysia Baru. Next, we should muster the courage to move forward.

“We start now. We may not see the fruits of our work, but our children and grandchildren will,” she said.

Like the late Dr Tan Chee Khoon, Mariam said Malaysians should prioritise the most important things, to have the strength of character to act with integrity.

Speaking at the second Tan Chee Khoon lecture series, Mariam related her schooling years in a mission school, reminiscing how in those days, school life was a reflection of the multicultural Malaysia Malaysians had inherited from the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

She said back then, students were happy to eat, play and work with girls of other races, faiths and cultures. They also visited one another’s homes, especially during festivals such as Hari Raya, Christmas, Deepavali, Gawai and Chinese New Year.

“We enjoyed the best inter-faith and inter-cultural integration. Mission schools and universities were highly regarded.

“School was not just for acquiring knowledge. It was also a place where we learnt how to face challenges, build on our strengths, overcome our weaknesses, accept responsibility and by virtue of mixing with others, learnt about social cohesion and tolerance,” she said.

However, Mariam noted that things were no longer the same today, with education being dumbed down, in the name of race, religion and country, at the expense of integration and integrity.

She said this could be reversed by observing 10 basic rules, namely to not do things for money; to cure one’s Periuk Nasi Syndrome (PNS); to learn to communicate; to fear God, but not religious symbols; to follow the saying that families that eat together, stay together; to have education, not brain washing; to serve the public, not yourself; to stop blaming others; to not be afraid of hard work; and to think and choose wisely.

“Dr Tan did things out of love, and not for money. He was passionate about education because education had lifted him out of poverty.

“He funded various awards and scholarships for top performing students in schools and universities,” she said, adding that he also encouraged others to help the poor.

Mariam said Tan also did not suffer from PNS, and by being vocal, he was called the “Conscience of the Nation” and also “Mr Opposition”.

“If there had been more Dr Tans around, three generations of suffering under unjust policies would have been avoided,” she said.

Despite Tan’s support for the Malay language, Mariam said he had warned that nationalists might derail the speaking of English in Malaysia, which eventually came true.

“Today, some people think that speaking English is unpatriotic,” she said.

Mariam related her nephew’s experience in his first week at a Mara boarding school, where he was beaten up for speaking English. She said one of his aggressors was a teacher.

Mariam also recalled her days in a convent school, where it was common for students to share food at break time, but these days, some teachers scold Malay children for sharing food with their non-Malay friends.

“In my youth, the school canteen remained open during Ramadan, but today, non-Muslim children are forced into changing rooms to eat.

“In some rural schools in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, non-Muslim children are allegedly forced to fast during the fasting month.

“Today, some Muslims refuse to eat at, or even visit, the homes of their non-Muslim friends, despite their friends making special efforts to provide halal food,” she said.

Mariam also spoke on how Tunku sold his house in Penang to fund the running of Umno as the party was broke when he took over the leadership from Onn Jaafar.

“Today, some leaders steal taxpayers’ money to fund their extravagant lifestyle of foreign homes, pink diamonds and designer handbags. They even steal the milk meant for poor school children,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, the wife of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, and the late DAP chairman Karpal Singh were named the recipients of the Tan Chee Khoon Public Integrity 2018 Award for their exemplary service in the public sphere.

The awards were presented by former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan. Mariam accepted the award on behalf of Siti Hasmah, who was not able to attend, while Karpal’s wife Gurmit Kaur received the award on his behalf.

Tan was a major figure in Malaysian politics from 1959 to 1978, at one point being nicknamed “Mr Opposition” for the outspoken views he presented in Parliament. He was opposition leader in Parliament from 1964 to 1978.

Tan was originally the leader of the Labour Party of Malaya and the Socialist Front coalition, which Labour had joined.

Tan later co-founded Gerakan, and also Parti Keadilan Masyarakat (Pekemas), after he became disillusioned with Gerakan.