The fear of our Malay brothers and sisters today is that of their faith in Islam and Malay culture, that, to them, is easily eroded by virtue of teaching math and science in English - in the case of Malay culture. The matter of faith in our religion is a matter for a separate discussion.
Just over the weekend, thousands (reported after the article below) of Malay students, including that of the Opposition (PKR and PAS), staged a massive protest in KL. All in the name of stopping the government's policy of teaching math and science in English. Their reasons: because it will erode our cultural identity, or it will make us respect English more than our own mother tongue.
Goodness gracious. How small minded can some people be?
How on earth can a language erode one's own culture? A language is a means of communication. By virtue that English has been chosen by History to be the standard means of international communication, be it in politics or business, it is therefore important.
Respecting one language over another doesn't make any sense either. This Abu Qassim Nor Azmi, Student Union leader, speaks of this and obviously doesn't know what he is talking about - it sounds idiotic and stupid. I wonder what sort of education he has been receiving. If you watch the video below, you will hear Abu Qassim speak, you will then realise why it is important that English is emphasized in Malaysia. The standards have dropped far below what is needed to be proficient to communicate effectively in this increasingly Globalised world that we live in. The young university scholar speaks like a primary school boy, unable to articulate himself properly and basically speaking in broken English. He seems to say that he has grown accustomed to speaking English, even outside class, however, it appears that he doesn't do it very well.
If my Malay Muslim culture, ingraned into me from birth to adulthood is so easily shaken and eroded by learning a language that would help me communicate effectively in this world, ultimately contributing to the quality of life I will have, then I must be a very weak person.
I would only fear these things if I were of weak character and didn't have any faith in the strength of my principles that are driven by the cultural conditioning that I grew up with.
Culture is more than just a language my brothers and sisters, it is our way of life. And so what if we speak a different language at the workplace? Or even at home? Does that make us less Malay? Less Muslim?
Many of my father's friends who are from a different generation of Malays were brought up with the English language - they are no less Malay than anyone else. Some of them even attended Christian Missionary schools, they were never forced to say the Lord's Prayer, but stood in respect when it was said. Some even know the exact words to the prayer too. They are still devout Muslims who attend Friday prayers and their faith hasn't wayned.
So what is all this protesting for?
Here are some of the facts of how serious the situation is.
1. Proficiency of English in Malaysia is at its worst. It has been going downhill since Anwar Ibrahim was Education Minister, when we came up with the failed Bahasa Baku.
2. Students in Primary school upwards are being taught by young teachers, who themselves are not proficient in the language. My nephews and nieces have often corrected their teacher in matters of pronunciation and grammar.
3. Malaysia used to produce top notch scholars from University Malaya, which in the 60s was highly regarded. Today, our crown jewel has fallen to the rank of over 300. A degree from this university has little value outside Malaysia, for graduates seeking post graduate studies in the West, will need to prove themselves again by retaking certain undergraduate subjects, one of them is English.
4. Malaysia was aiming to be the Cyber centre of South East Asia, and over a decade has passed, with little to prove. Though it has never been said openly, the problem with multinational corporations is that of the quality of human resources available. They have since moved on to form their Outsourcing centres in Philippines and India. Why? Because of proficiency in IT and more specifically for the Philippines, English - spoken and written.
Malaysia with it's vastly Malay language curriculum which is forced upon every ethnic group, has failed to ensure that people are properly educated and proficient in a language that is used to communicate with the rest of the world. English is the official business language of the world. Surely, you won't try educating a Mainland Chinese or a Japanese person in Malay for your convenience of communication.
The government is right in taking these initial measures to restore the standard of English to what it was before.
Take for example the Indians and the Pakistanis, they speak English fluently, so much so, that they can convince most westerners that they can do everything and anything. We all know this. Are they any less Indian or Pakistani? Have they cast out their Caste system? Have they stopped worshipping their Hindu Gods or Allah? No. Have they forgotten their provincial cultures and the crafts that are unique to their cultural heritage? No again.
So my dear brothers and sisters, why so much fear over such matters? Think before you act, do not act in haste and take a step back and see the broader picture.
If you feel that your Cultural heritage is being attacked, remember that culture is instilled into you by your parents, how well they have done it will be evidenced by how you, as an adult choose to live your life. How you, as an individual decide what is important to you. And it certainly has nothing to do with learning how to speak the one language that is understood the world over.
Do not fall prey to the acts and support of some politicians, in this case PAS and PKR. They are simply buying political capital by appearing to support you and your cause.
Malaysia is regressing. This latest protest, in the large numbers that it attracted is one that is of great concern. It appears that the vast number of ignorant people in Malaysia are growing, and they appear to be mostly Malay. It is very sad, very sad for us as Malays.
By this act of ignorance, we only shame ourselves and our culture. Surely it isn't part of our culture to live in our little world where Malay is an effective means of communication among 27 million people.
If the BN and the King doesn't come out to make a strong statement on the matter, and to help the people understand, it will mark the midpoint of Malaysia's regression.
To regain our footing in English proficiency to what it was previously, it will take more than just a couple of generations. May God help our children and help them forgive us for making their future a little more bleak in this competitive world.
Hundreds of Malaysians stage language protest
By Melissa Goh, Channel NewsAsia Malaysia bureau chief
07 March 2009 2238 hrs
Hundreds of Malaysians stage language protest
KUALA LUMPUR: Hundreds of Malaysians, mostly Muslim Malays, had taken to the streets to protest against the use of English to teach Mathematics and Science in schools.
Police fired water canons and tear gas to disperse the crowd as they marched to the National Palace in downtown Kuala Lumpur despite a police barricade, in an attempt to reach the National Palace.
The protest was led by opposition Islamic party president Abdul Hadi Awang, flanked by national laureate, A Samad Said.
Their aim was to deliver a request to the king to change teaching of Mathematics and Science from English back to Malay language.
The switch in languages made by the government six years ago as part of an effort to lift the standard of spoken and written English among students.
The demonstrators claimed that the move has failed and is leading to an erosion of the Malay cultural identity.
Abu Qassim Nor Azmi, of the National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students said: "Now we talk in English when we go to the canteen, and when we go out, we continue to talk in English. This will lead to a crisis of identity, we will repect English more than our own mother tongue."
The police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, but many re-grouped despite heavy rain.
The inspector general of police lashed out at the protestors for being what he called "demo crazy".
More than 120 were later detained for questioning.
The protestors maintained that they are apolitical and their aim is to protect the Malay language which is the national language guaranteed under the federal constitution, but the opposition Pakatan Rakyta alliance is capitalising on the rising public resent towards the UMNO led government.
Mohd Saifullah Zulkifli, an Opposition Youth Leader charged that UMNO is setting a very bad record even though they are supposed to represent the Malays.
Prime Minister designate Najib Razak had appealed to the country's predominantly Malay population not to be overly obsessed in protecting the Malay language.
He assured them the Malay language will always remain the premier official laguage in Malaysia.