Rediscovering the truth of who and what we are


Rediscovering the truth of who and what we are
26 Jun 2006

Ethnic Relations, a university course introduced as an elective at Universiti Putra Malaysia, becomes a compulsory course at all public universities next month. ABDUL RAZAK AHMAD speaks to Prof Jayum Jawan, who helped design the course, which has as its objective the creation of a Bangsa Malaysia.

Q: In describing a book you co-edited (Inter-Ethnic Relations in Malaysia), you said “the state of affairs in ethnic relations is rather dismal since the formation of Malaysia”. What do you mean?

A: Weve made progress but its not enough. We keep focusing on the major races but few realise that Malaysia has no fewer than 40 ethnic communities. Weve been a country for 43 years now, so why is it that the smallest of things can still cause a racial incident, like it did in 1987 (Operasi Lallang), like in Kampung Medan? Weve not achieved as much as we should because weve been keeping to ourselves. If we keep saying “race relations is a sensitive issue only to be discussed behind closed doors”, these issues will never be resolved. We have to find a way to talk to each other about these things in a constructive manner. The sooner, the better.

Q: How does the course deal with events such as the Kampung Medan incident and the May 13, 1969 riots?

A: They will be used as reminders. This is not being done to scare them. Its to stress the importance of good inter-ethnic relations. May 13 is a good example when you look at the causes. A good reminder why we all still need to work very hard for ethnic relations.

Q: What has it been like, teaching the course the past six months?

A: This course isnt just about the theories of ethnic relations. Its matching those theories to our own history to see where we stand.

Students seem to like this and the fieldwork. They have to do surveys and interview people. Theyre also sent out to mixed residential neighbourhoods to do opinion polls on actual ground perceptions one race has of another. They find it interesting, yet in lectures, they dont seem to ask enough questions.

Q: Why not?

A: Theyre too afraid theyll offend their course-mates of different ethnic groups. I encourage and remind them to speak out, as long as they back it up with facts and figures, and as long as the discussions arent emotional.

Q: You have served as a member of the Curriculum Sub-Committee on National Service. How much can the NS and this course realistically hope to achieve?

A: The module in the NS programme I helped to create citizenry exposes trainees to how Malaysia was created, and the major ideas involved: accommodation, tolerance, co-operation, mutual respect the very values were trying to promote.

Our nation was built on these foundations. Its important we understand and rediscover these values. They were the hallmarks of our founding father, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Q: What is Bangsa Malaysia?

A: Theres no single authoritative definition. This is what every student will have to figure out together. A Malay will want all aspects of his culture included in the interpretation, so too the Chinese and the Kadazandusun.

It seems therell be no end to the contest on what should constitute Bangsa Malaysia, so this is something we have to figure out together. If not, youll have one community saying, “Bangsa Malaysia is not me, I have no part in it”.

Yes, were still working towards finding out what exactly Bangsa Malaysia is. But at least we can say were not starting from scratch.