So much fuss has been made about the use of certain languages in ministry press statements and in the courtroom. First, we had a group of eminent people taking to the streets demanding that the government charge Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng with sedition over a minor faux pas.
Then we had the case of Attorney-General Tommy Thomas who asked for Najib Razak’s corruption trial to be conducted in English. Thomas, acting as public prosecutor, made the request to the presiding judge after the charges were read out in Malay. Rabble-rousers have since initiated a petition urging the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to remove him for his lack of proficiency in the national language.
It is not uncommon for pleadings to be submitted in both Malay and English. It is also not uncommon for written submissions to be made in English. Judgments are often written and delivered in English. Judgments reported in the law reports are often in both English and Malay. Why make a big issue out of it now?
Lim had issued a trilingual press release, and one of the versions happened to be in Mandarin. Never mind the fact that the Mandarin part was directed at Chinese investors on the bailout of the Tun Razak Exchange project. As far as these people are concerned, Lim committed a crime by translating a press statement into Mandarin.
The appointments of Lim and Thomas were earlier challenged by those who said these key posts were not given to Malays.
Rais Yatim, a well-known proponent of the use of Malay as the national language, said a “passing command” of Malay was needed so Thomas could at least initiate court proceedings in Malay as technically required by law.
It doesn’t matter whether Lim is fluent in Malay or if Thomas has a passing command of the language, enough at least to order “satu kopi-o, dua roti telur” at a mamak shop. It doesn’t matter that the court allows the use of English in certain cases.
What matters most with this group of people is playing up the belief that the Malay language, culture and religion are always under threat from other races. Their actions and statements carry racial undertones.
When former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi spoke atrocious English at the UN general assembly in September 2016, nobody petitioned the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to remove him. In a newspaper column, one writer said: “Let’s face it – Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is not the product of a British boarding school, nor is he from an elite university. He did not even have the benefit of studying at a missionary school, where English was the medium of instruction.”
But when it comes to Thomas, who has not uttered a Malay statement either in court or during a press conference, we are quick to jump on him. If he attempted to speak in poor Malay, would we display the same forgiveness as the writer did over Zahid’s command of English?
Corruption has no language, period. Let’s not fool ourselves over some red herring and create a smokescreen to distract the nation from the crooks who raided our nation.
People need to be reminded that the appointments of Lim and Thomas were with the consent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Petitioning the Agong to remove Thomas as attorney-general due to lack of proficiency in a language is like questioning the ruler’s judgment. Language should not be used as a weapon to discredit a person or create a distraction from the real crux of the matter.
The tone of the language and how you present your thoughts is also important.
PAS vice-president Iskandar Abdul Samad reportedly claimed that the police’s seizure of cash and luxury items valued at up to RM1.1 billion from properties linked to former prime minister Najib Razak was an attempt to divert attention from Pakatan Harapan’s failures.
Here is a leader of a Muslim party showing more sympathy towards a failed leader than the man on the street. It doesn’t matter if Islam teaches you it is wrong to steal, or that your hands can be chopped off for such crimes. For PAS leaders, it seems political games come first and speaking untruths is the first agenda of the day.
If language is a matter of life and death for some, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s suit against Clare Rewcastle-Brown should be filed in Malaysia where people can understand the case in Malay. Why take the matter to a British court? The suit is over a claim in an article that RM90 million entered the accounts of top PAS leaders to woo them into supporting Umno and Barisan Nasional. The wider audience would like to know the truth in Malay on whether Hadi and his Muslim brothers received money, as alleged by Rewcastle-Brown.
Sometimes we make a big deal out of language. But if we watch the World Cup, players from different countries know when the referee speaks to them through his body gestures, when he points his finger, when he uses his arms, and when he blows his whistle.
These Malay groups should display their abhorrence towards corruption instead of using language to cover the blatant misdeeds that have gone on for decades. Language is a matter of words; the right actions speak louder. We cannot be blind to what has been going on and hide crimes against the nation, be it in Malay or English.
Joe Samad is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.