Ties that bind a la Sudirman, Yasmin and Siti Hasmah

Singer-songwriter Sudirman and film director Yasmin Ahmad united Malaysians in love.

PETALING JAYA: What do Sudirman Arshad, Yasmin Ahmad, Santokh Singh and Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali have in common? To public intellectual Chandra Muzaffar, these personalities have qualities that bring Malaysians together – cutting through racial and religious lines.

He said Malaysians could relate to them and find their characters endearing.

“Sudirman and P Ramlee had a positive attitude towards all ethnic groups, while Siti Hasmah represents a lot of good values, being a humble and motherly figure who is not confrontational,” he said.

Sports personalities such as Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh and Nicol David have succeeded in bringing Malaysians together through their determination and spirit, while poet Usman Awang and writer Adibah Amin have played a role in uniting Malaysians through their writings.

Chandra said these personalities were seen to be Malaysian first, and had successfully used their position to unite all Malaysians. Unfortunately, he added, many other local personalities did not share the same qualities and had failed to have the same appeal as Sudirman or P Ramlee.

Chandra said Malaysians could help create more such individuals by supporting those who exhibited similar characteristics, “cherishing what they do and showing appreciation for their positive attitude”.

Sudirman was a much-loved singer and songwriter of the 1970s and 1980s whose many hits include “Balik Kampung”, a perennial favourite during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, “Basikal Tua”, “Milik Siapakah Gadis Ini”, “One Thousand Million Smiles”, and “Chow Kit Road”, a song he composed for an open-air concert that brought tens of thousands of people out on the streets. He was honoured on May 29 with a Google Doodle to mark the 65th anniversary of his birth.

Yasmin Ahmad, a film director and creative director for an advertising agency, was known for her evocative and touching festive-season and National Day commercials for Petronas, and the films “Sepet” and “Gubra”. She died in 2009 at the age of 51.

Gap between races widening

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies’ professor Teo Kok Seong agreed that artistes such as Sudirman and P Ramlee had helped unite Malaysians. However, he added that they were more acceptable to society back then.

“Now, too, we have such figures from all races but they are not as admired as those before.”

Teo said people’s opinions today were based along racial lines and that this started taking shape after the May 13, 1969 racial riots.

“Before that, society was tolerant and this was mainly because of the education system which was in the English medium – it united everyone.”

He said things started changing after the racial riots when affirmative policies favouring the Malays were drawn up and implemented, causing a gap between the Malays and other Malaysians.

On top of that, he said the different schooling systems created a gap between the Malays, Chinese and Indians in the peninsula.

“I am not sure if we can ever close the gap now. It has become too wide because the damage is great due to polarisation in schools which continues into universities and is concretised in the working place.”

Teo said the nation needed to sit down and draw up a common destiny for all the races to narrow the widening gap.