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Grave defect of revised  “ethnic relations” module – no  proper public feedback and consultation as the draft was also withheld from Parliamentary Select Committee on National Unity

Media Statement  
by Lim Kit Siang  


(Parliament, Thursday) : It is difficult to comment on the revised “ethnic relations” module for public universities announced by the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamed as it has not been made public. 

I had in July last year  criticized the Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM) Ethnic Relations guidebook by two UPM lecturers, Jayum Anak Jawan and Zaid Ahmad, as “tendentious, divisive and mischievous” for its “total failure in their purported purpose to foster ethnic relations, further aggravating racial polarization not only in the university campuses but in the larger Malaysian society with the biased and divisive slant of the country’s history in seeking to pass off ‘historic lies’ as ‘historic facts’ – whether on the May 13 Incident in 1969, the Kampung  Medan riots in 2001 or the Suqiu electoral appeals controversy 1999-2000”. 

What was unthinkable was that Mustapha as the Higher Education Minister could stand up in Parliament in a parliamentary debate on the issue initiated by DAP MP for Bandar Kuching Chong Chien Jen to defend the indefensible by claiming that the “historic lies” in the guidebook were “historic facts” – until the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had to step in “to save the day” by withdrawing the guidebook and directing a review of the module. 

Now, Mustapha has confirmed that the DAP and all critics of the UPM Ethnic Relations guidebook were right when he admitted yesterday  that “the earlier drafts were lopsided and contained sensitive views, especially on the Chinese”. 

He added: “We have taken into account the viewpoints of all races and religions in Malaysia and taken out all objectionable parts. I am confident that it will be well received by everyone.” 

Mustapha’s claim that the “viewpoints of all races and religions in Malaysia” had been taken into account, and that “a rigorous consultation process” was conducted with various parties, including academics, corporate players and political parties, do not bear scrutiny. 

In fact, it can be said without fear of contradiction that the grave  defect of the 190-page revised  “ethnic relations” module is that there had been  no  proper public feedback and consultation, with only a handful of individuals being involved in its preparation.  

The DAP was never consulted and the  draft was even  withheld from  the Parliamentary Select Committee on National Unity, although its Chairman and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Maximus Ongkili said yesterday that the Select Committee  had given its input for the revised module. 

According to  media reports, “all references to the Kampung Medan incident have been removed, parts of the May 13, 1969 race riots scaled down, factual errors deleted and elements in the original module that had caused controversy have been expunged”. 

A judgment whether the revised module is a fair and proper representation of the subject of ethnic relations for university students  will have to await until the 190-page guidebook is available to the public, but the following preliminary observations are in order: 

  • Removing all references to the Kampung Medan riots, the blackest day in ethnic relations since the May 13 Incident, will not promote ethnic relations – as what is objectionable about the UPM guidebook is not reference to this dark chapter in nation-building in the Klang Valley in 2001, but its biased, false and tendentious account in pointing the finger of blame on the “anti-social attitude of Indian youths”.  What had happened cannot be erased or ignored. What is more important are  the lessons to be learnt from the riots so as to prevent a recurrence, whether in Kampung Medan or elsewhere in the country.
  • Although the parts on the May 13, 1969 race riots have been “scaled down”, will it be a fair and rational account allowing students to be aware of all versions, including those which had been denied access to mainstream media and publication – if the right lessons of the national tragedy are to be learnt by the new generation of Malaysians?
  • The UPM ethnic relations guidebook had asserted the Barisan Nasional government’s nation-building policy is based on “assimilation”, which runs counter to Vision 2020 to achieve a Bangsa Malaysia?  Has this been corrected in the revised module?
  • Is the “social contract” reached by  the forefathers of the major communities in the attainment of independence of  country as the cardinal principles of nationhood, in particular that Malaysia is a democratic, secular and multi-religious nation, with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic state, properly explained in the revised module?
  • Is there a proper presentation and discussion of the problem as to why after about half a century of nation-building, there is even greater racial and religious polarization today  than  in the early decades of the nation?



*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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