WE must have read these little reports in our newspapers – female Malay students required to wear headscarves, non-Malay students forced to wear baju kurung, boys discouraged from wearing shorts and a national school that allegedly discouraged students from taking Mandarin and Tamil language papers in PMR if they wanted to get into Form Four science stream.
All these are not government policies but the decisions of ignorant headmasters who impose their own prejudices in schools. Teachers and students, not wanting to offend their principals, are allowing these bigots to get away with such ad hoc regulations.
The sad part is the Government gets the blame from Muslims and non-Muslims who assume that these are government orders.
When state-level Education Department directors and officers refuse to interfere – because they themselves are sympathetic or unsure of the policy and religious sensitivities involved – the school principal gets away with it.
We have also read reports of non-Muslim university students facing difficulties in organising cultural activities because of bureaucratic hindrance from mid-level administrators.
Malay university students, on the other hand, have complained of PAS-influenced student leaders stopping them from holding Malay cultural dances involving men and women.
Recently, Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak correctly cautioned that growing intolerance by some Muslims towards non-Muslims and an Islamic religious school system that preached hatred were threatening the Malaysian way of life.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has spoken about the importance of ending racial polarisation in our education system, from pre-school to university level.
The reality is disturbing, as Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad revealed. Chinese parents are sending their children to Chinese schools because they find national schools too religious while Malays are sending their children to privately-run religious schools because they find government schools too secular.
The end result is that young Malaysians are not mixing enough. Forget about forging real relationships. There will be functional relations at work places and businesses but they will only be superficial ties.
In the long run, Malaysians will come to view their rights and privileges from a narrow racial and religious perspective.
Fellow columnist Shamsul Akmar of New Straits Times wrote recently how a pupil came home crying because she had to lie in her religious class. Apparently, the ustazah wanted to know from the class whether any of their mothers did not wear the tudung. The poor girl was the only one in the class whose mother did not cover her head.
Another counterpart, Zainon Ahmad of The Sun, wrote on a similar issue, pointing out that some Muslim girls were not allowed to wear shorts during physical exercise and sports activity. Peer pressure and other pressures, he wrote, had caused most Muslim girls to wear the hijab.
He also pointed out that Bahasa Malaysia was renamed Bahasa Melayu after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim became the Education Minister. That, of course, robbed the Malay language of its unification role – making it seem like a language of one community rather than the pride of all Malaysians regardless of race.
During my student days at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), I was ticked off by a hostel warden when I walked into the hostel canteen in shorts on my first day in campus.
I did not know I had committed an offence. The other students, including the Muslims, did not complain but the warden was unhappy and openly expressed his unhappiness.
That was not all. The Chinese students wanted a separate section in the canteen, saying it was inconvenient for them to travel to Kajang from the UKM campus in Bangi for “economy rice.”
Despite the support of the Muslim canteen operator, who saw the business prospect, some administrators objected. It was only after much appeal that the students succeeded – thanks to Vice-Chancellor Datuk Dr Yusuf Nor.
Dr Yusuf, who went on to become a Cabinet Minister, had moderate views and sympathised with the minority Chinese students.
The students, members of the Chinese Consultative Committee that organised the canteen, later ran into trouble. The committee, of which I was a leader, was banned by Anwar because it was an unregistered communal-based group.
The other committee leaders were the present MCA Youth secretaries-general: Loh Seng Kok, political secretary to Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik, and Liow Tiong Lai, the MP for Bentong.
I understand a similar group like the CCC is now functioning in UKM with the blessing of the university authorities.
All these cases did not involve government policy, merely restrictions imposed at implementation level by racist officials. Moderate Malaysians should not be afraid to speak up against any form of extremism, whether racial or religious.
Let's not allow extremists, whether Malays, Chinese or Indians, to hijack our education system – the moderate Malaysian way of life must be allowed to flourish.