Malaysiakini : COMMENT | Academic types have offered a plethora of reforms, but I’m a simple man. “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” ― Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist
COMMENT | Let us test this era of glasnost some claim we are living
in. This is a very specific question I am posing. Considering the
credentials of our newly minted education minister, I am asking if the
education system in our country needs a specific religion not any
religion but a specific religion which I have argued has been weaponised
in this country and elsewhere.
This is not a provocative question considering how the Pakatan
Harapan opposition and now government has contextualised Islam in their
narrative. Remember DAP leader Lim Kit Siang has said that DAP supports
the Islamisation process if done constitutionally. The "true Muslim
meme" as propagated by the Harapan faithful was merely a reaction to the
state-sponsored Islam of Umno and the regressive Islam of PAS.
Academic types have offered a plethora of reforms for our education
system but I am a simple man. Colonialism left us with a pretty decent
education system before religious and racial politics infected the
system. So to me, it is going back to basics with modulations that take
into account contemporary realities that changing geopolitical
landscapes and economic markets necessitate.
Islamists in this country love to go about how the Empire left us
with a “Christian” education system and what was needed for Malaysia –
which they defined solely on a majoritarian view - is Islam and a
revision of history texts to fit the narratives of the dominant
community and the agendas of the indoctrination of the state.
When people talk of vernacular schools which over the years has
become a reaction to the racialisation and Islamisation of our public
schools, all I can say is, that a progressive government should cease
funding these types of schools. They were part of the barter system when
it comes to racial politics anyway. At the same time, the government
should also cease funding religious schools, however one defines them.
If communities want such schools, it should be allowed with appropriate
regulation and on their own dime.
When newly minted education minister said this - “Being religious is
not a crime, you can’t punish people for being religious or for not
being religious” – in a Malaysiakiniinterview,
I call that horse manure. This was a slip-up, not something that
burnishes the "intellectual" credentials of an education minister.
In Malaysia, you can punish people for not being religious
with all the fatwas, laws and other restrictions placed on Muslims when
it comes to their faith. The syariah legal system, when it comes to the
irreligiousness of Muslims, is the most overt form of sanctions but when
you have the death penalty for apostasy, the statement by our education
minister is even more bizarre.
And do not get me started on non-Muslims. How they practice their
faith is limited to what is acceptable to the sensitivities of the
Muslim community, hence any claim that there are no sanctions, either
legal or communal, when it comes to how religious someone is in this
country is total horse manure.
All those pablum from our new education minister are echoes from
personalities of the previous administration. Should we buy it simply
because it comes from a Harapan official? Unless there are concrete
steps to rectify the education system, all these homages to inclusion
and racial and religious tolerance is merely components of the Kool-Aid.
When some folks say let us give our new education minister a chance
despite what he may have said or done before, that is a coherent
argument. After all, a certain segment of the current regime is made up
of people who have engaged in racist, bigoted, fascist and misogynistic
behaviour before but their sins were washed away when they “saved”
Malaysia. Our education minister is not the most egregious offender on
However, while DAP’s Ong Kian Ming attempts to make something out of
Maszlee Malik’s “impressive CV”, the reality is that the only
credentials which are important is the one Maszlee uses to dissect the
society his lives. In other words, his “Islamic” credentials are what
matter. It is also a very “BN” in the way how Harapan politicians are jumping
to defend nomination choices, which is exactly the way how the former
regime operated when it came to Muslims politicians and hot-button
issues. They trotted out their non-Muslim cohorts to defend choices that
raised public skepticism.
Here’s a question for the politburo of Harapan or maybe just the ruling coalition’s grand poobah. Why Maszlee? If a Malay/Muslim academic had to be chosen, surely there were
candidates in a party like Amanah for instance, which is stacked to the
brim, with academic types. Their CVs may not involve the subject of
Islam but a wide range of disciplines which would have looked very good
in the Education Ministry portfolio. Indeed, if I was so inclined, I could rattle off a few names which
only brings controversy because they are “progressive” Muslims who
either are concerned about the role of Islam in this country or they
openly say they believe in the separation of mosque and state.
Both perspectives would have been beneficial in the Education
Ministry portfolio because a weaponised Islam in this country has
brought ruin to our education system and there is enough empirical
evidence to demonstrate this. When it comes to the majority community in
this country, race and religion are not mutually exclusive, hence any
form of education system post-69 would cater to this.
With this in mind, does our new education minister think that we need
Islam in our education system? What to his mind has been the effects of
Islam in our education system? Has the role of Islam been beneficial or
detrimental to our education system? If it the former, how so? If it is
the latter, how does he intend to change it?
You do not change the Islamic discourse in this country by reforming
religious schools, you change the discourse in this country by starting
conversations on whether the supremacy of Islam is needed in a country
which the current propaganda implies that the country is post-racial and
post-religious with the supposed demise of Umno. Religious schools
impart a very specific type of indoctrination and its relevance entirely
depends on how the state uses religion in this country.
Preparing tahfiz students for the real world through vocational and
semi-vocational training merely adds another level of bureaucracy open
to abuse and adds another level of division in this
multiracial/religious society. Can someone argue the utilitarian value
of such religious schools funded on the tax ringgit of the rakyat?
It would be extremely easy to attack superficialities in our
education system and make piecemeal reforms, which would be buried under
the various other bread-and-butter events that are on the mind of the
rakyat. Like I said, going back to basics is painstaking but if there is
the political will to carry it out, we know that it works.
However, the first step is not pussyfooting around this issue. For
all I know, our education minister may be the right man for the job
despite evidence to the contrary. But he first has to lay our reforms
that take into account the most damaging excesses of the former Umno
state when it comes to race and religion in our education system.