[lg policy] Malaysia: Malay language policy dividing communities instead of uniting them, forum told

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 18 21:37:35 UTC 2014


Malay language policy dividing communities instead of uniting them, forum
told

*BY SHERIDAN MAHAVERA*
*May 18, 2014*

[image: (From left) Faisal Tehrani, Dr Mustafa Kamal Anuar, moderator Wan
Hamidi Hamid, Prof Muhammad Salleh and Pauline Fan at the forum last night.
– The Malaysian Insider pic, May 18, 2014.](From left) Faisal Tehrani, Dr
Mustafa Kamal Anuar, moderator Wan Hamidi Hamid, Prof Muhammad Salleh and
Pauline Fan at the forum last night. – The Malaysian Insider pic, May 18,
2014.The government’s flip-flop policy on the Malay language and persistent
efforts by Malay supremacists to tie it to one race and religion have
divided Malaysians and sparked conflicts such as the tussle over the word
Allah, a forum heard last night.

By tying together ethnicity, Islam and the Malay language, so-called
“language champions” have in reality reduced the language’s reach and
shrunk the minds of parts of the Malay community.

Novelist Faisal Tehrani said the ban on the use of the word Allah by
Christians, seen in the confiscation of Malay-language Bibles and
restrictions imposed on Christian worship, has made the Malay language the
exclusive language of one community.

However, this practice also contradicts the government’s own policy of
making the Malay language the national language that is supposed to be
adopted by everyone.

“When language is tied to one race and religion, it actually heightens a
sense of sensitivity (among a community).

“So when a Chinese says 'Insyallah', the Malays are shocked. But in
reality, it only means 'God willing'. Just like 'Salam' is just a greeting
of peace.

“This is the problem when the authorities try to control language,” said
Faisal, who is also a fellow at UKM’s Institute of the Malay World and
Civilisation.

[image: Novelist Faisal Tehrani says problems arise when authorities try to
control language. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Shafiq Safiee, May 18,
2014.]Novelist Faisal Tehrani says problems arise when authorities try to
control language. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Shafiq Safiee, May 18,
2014.Faisal’s novel “Perempuan Nan Bercinta” (Women in love) was recently
banned by the Home Ministry for supposedly containing Shia Muslim elements.

The current Barisan Nasional federal administration’s failure to resolve
the row over the use of the word Allah is what Faisal calls “the fourth
sin” the government has committed against the Malay language.

Faisal was speaking at a forum titled “Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa Bahasa Jiwa
Kuasa?” (language the soul of a people or language the source of power?)
organised by the Penang Institute in Shah Alam.

Other speakers at the forum included National Laureate Prof Muhammad
Salleh, Penang Institute fellow Dr Mustafa Kamal Anuar and Malaysiakini
columnist Pauline Fan.

Faisal said Malaysia’s problematic language policy started in the 1930s
when an influential group of Malay writers adopted the belief that each
community should be identified by one language.

This belief had been pioneered before that by famed author ‎Munshi
Abdullah. Interestingly Munshi was an ethnic Tamil who spoke and wrote
fluent Malay, said Faisal.

So the Malay language was identified with the Malay community, when in
actual fact the language, as part of a larger group called
Malayo-Polynesian, was spoken throughout the region by many other ethnic
groups.

This was the first sin against the Malay language, Faisal said.

The second sin was when Munshi’s idea was then adopted and promoted by
Malay nationalists in Umno who also weaved it into their independence
campaign against the British colonial government.

The third sin, Faisal said, was when former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir
Mohamad flipped the national language policy on its head by having
Mathematics and Science taught in English in schools.

“A survey at this time had shown that for a majority of Chinese Malaysian
families in Kelana Jaya, English was their third language. The first was
Mandarin, followed by Malay.”

Muhammad, on the other hand, said the use of certain Malay terms itself to
describe the government and the public were problematic as it nurtured a
feudal master-subject mentality.

“The term 'rakyat' is actually paired with 'raja' (king) and 'kerajaan'
(kingdom). Rakyat has a subjected, submissive connotation. I prefer 'warga
negara' (citizen).”

[image: National Laureate Prof Muhammad Salleh says certain terms nurture a
feudal master-subject mentality. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Shafiq
Safiee, May 18, 2014.]National Laureate Prof Muhammad Salleh says certain
terms nurture a feudal master-subject mentality. – The Malaysian Insider
pic by Shafiq Safiee, May 18, 2014.Muhammad also said paradoxically, the
British school system he experienced in the 1950s encouraged students to
debate and think for themselves as compared to the Malaysian education
system today.

“If we narrow the spaces for debate and dialogue we will never reach new
forms of understanding and knowledge.”

Fan, who translates works in German and English into the Malay language,
said she had always found Malay culture and members of the community
open-minded and tolerant.

These values were the opposite of the tone taken by groups who claimed to
be speaking on behalf of the Malays.

“I have never experienced the racialism that you often read about in the
Malay newspapers from ordinary Malays.”

Mustafa Kamal echoed these ideas and said the tussle over the use of the
word Allah and the identification of the Malay language with a single
community has prevented the Malay language from being a language that
unites all communities.

“When you have one group who supposedly can use certain terms and other
groups who cannot use them, then you are dividing language and people. It’s
a form of apartheid.

“If Malay is to be a national language there should not be any restrictions
on its use and who gets to use it.” – May 18, 2014.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/malay-language-policy-dividing-communities-instead-of-uniting-them-forum-to


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