RECENTLY, a politician was removed from his position heading a government-linked corporation amidst protests over what was seen as his cavalier treatment of a rail accident that saw many injured, some seriously. Malaysians came down hard on his manners and conduct that seemed, to many, to be rude, unprofessional and demeaning to journalists as well as to the gravity of the accident.
I am not defending that politician but I would like to point out that his unprofessional and un-Malaysian conduct is no more than a reflection of a political culture developed over more than four decades under one ruling power and the support of a great many people of one race as well as the apathy of others.
Let us look at one example of Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman’s “style of politics” in Parliament. He once made a crude “joke” about an Opposition woman MP’s name which was greeted with much hilarity by his party’s MPs, both male and female.
My first criticism is about how our Speakers in Parliament deal with issues of foul language, sexist statements and racial slurs. The Speakers keep saying things like “Yang Berhormat, tolong tarik balik, Yang Berhormat (sir, please retract, sir)”.
If I were the Speaker, I would not say “tarik balik”, I would simply say “Yang Berhormat, tolong balik, Yang Berhormat (sir, please leave, sir)” – I would have suspended him for three months without any allowances if it were within my power to do so.
As a Speaker, I would not tolerate one iota of racial slurs, sexist remarks or foul language. Members of Parliament who make these remarks would never get a second chance from me. Our Speakers and Parliament’s disciplinary practice must be firm or else the august House is just an overdeveloped kedai kopi (coffee shop).
Secondly, what happened to the women MPs of his party? They should have come to the defense of their own gender instead of snickering derisively behind Tajuddin.
It was a rude, sexist and foul remark of the lowest form – on the level of a boy threatening to rape his classmate, as in the recent “rape joke” incident.
Despite the fact that the woman MP was from another party and of another race, other women MPs, regardless of party affiliation or race, should have stood up to Tajuddin and reminded him that it was akin to insulting his wife, daughter and mother. No wonder the likes of Tajuddin can still speak like this in Malaysia’s Parliament.
Thirdly, I want to ask non-Malay MPs why they kept quiet when Tajuddin clearly made a racist joke using the woman MP’s Chinese name. By virtue of their silence, non-Malay groups too allow such behaviour in Parliament. Integrity, dignity and adab (manners) must go beyond race, religion and party politics if we are to rebuild this country and ensure just treatment of all.
Fourthly, I wish to discuss Tajuddin’s political party. In the last 40 years, Umno, to me, seems to have condoned politicians who are quick to use racial slurs. It seems to me that to be elected to higher office in the party, a candidate simply needs to attack other races or make jokes about the “other”.
Some have resorted to waving a keris about, even.
There was a politician who called people who were demonstrating “beruk” (apes) and dubbed the Speaker a “Taliban” – and this politician has worn the mantle of minister for many years.
There are those who use the word “pendatang” (immigrant) to refer to non-Malays and are quick to say that Malaysia belongs to one race – and these people keep rising to ever higher positions. It seems that such behaviour goes down well within the party and among its grassroots.
Finally, I wish to address the people who see the likes of Tajuddin as a hulubalang, or champion, of the race. Imam Al Ghazali’s magnum opus published in the 12th century, Al-Ihya Ulumuddin, has a chapter dedicated to “The Destruction of Speech” in which he described the ethics of communication, conversations and speech that would destroy a Muslim’s piety and good position in the Hereafter. Those who support the behaviour and adab of people like Tajuddin will surely be questioned over their choice of a representative and leader in this life. Such leaders will not only be judged with strict justice but all of their supporters will also be judged. If the supporters make no effort to advise these leaders to treat others with respect and dignity, then judgment will be pronounced on all of them.
Just as in this world where each citizen is responsible for his or her own vote, each soul must answer for his or her actions. People should read Al-Ihya Ulumuddin before they cast their votes to send out their representatives into the world because they will be held responsible for that choice.
Tajuddin is not at fault alone, for it is ultimately us, Malaysians, who have to think about how to create a Parliament with members who treat citizens of all races, faiths and stations with respect, dignity and compassion.
Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.