This Hari Raya, think before throwing stones

This Hari Raya, I ask the nation to look at things in a wider construct and not be too excited over one or two statements by Maszlee Malik and other ministers.

The matriculation issue has been a black mark for the education minister in his first year in office. Not only was sticking to the 90:10 quota an unpopular decision, there was a shocking increase in the total intake which could strain public academic institutions in this country. I have gone on record to say that I disagree with this decision by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government – the PH government, mind you, not Maszlee alone. If I were to point fingers, it would be directly at the top man in PPBM for trying to champion Malay populism politics.

Then, Maszlee seemed to drag himself deeper with his statement about employers preferring Mandarin-speaking graduates to Malay- and English-speaking ones. It was mentioned in a mostly Malay audience context, I assume. Now, what did he actually mean by that statement? Maszlee is part of the PH government and his boss is the PM and top man of his political party. A good soldier would just do the bidding of his general until the time comes for him to call it quits. Does Maszlee have facts that we, the people, are not able to access? I have been told by a civil society friend that many statistics about education and economy are jealously guarded by the government of the day. Since that fateful statement, Maszlee appears to have gone into in damage control mode by rephrasing his statements concerning the issue. These are normal days as a minister in Malaysia.

When the media asked me to comment on Maszlee’s statement, I fell back into my academic mode. Firstly, Maszlee is a “soldier” of PH and his party. That is an undeniable fact. Secondly, he can say some things but regarding the most important things such as quota numbers, his tongue is tied to the Cabinet consisting of PPBM, DAP, PKR and Amanah. Thirdly, he has rephrased his statements a few times, and this has to be taken into account when looking at the totality of meaning in a politician’s statement.

After 34 years of marriage, I still do not comprehend many things my wife says in relation to issues of contention. Twenty years ago, this would see us locked in heated arguments, but after so many days in and out of hospitals for both of us, we just keep the peace and try to understand each other in a wider context and not depend entirely on a statement spoken in the heat of the moment.

This Hari Raya, I ask the nation to look at things in a wider construct and not be too excited over one or two statements. Take the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) issue. Maszlee was the one, I am sure, who thought of setting up the task force under the son of our beloved historian who recently passed away. I was also invited to give my thoughts on the issue. Then, Dr Mahathir Mohamad came up with a statement about how there must be more time to accept the UEC as the Malays are still not appropriately equipped to be in competition. By that time, I was no longer excited about waiting for the result of the task force. Maszlee is and always will be tied with a leash. The worst thing for him is when people throw stones at him – there is nowhere to run or hide.

We Malaysians, especially those who make insensitive remarks towards Maszlee during Hari Raya, love throwing stones at those who are tied up with nowhere to run. Why don’t the ones passing these remarks throw stones at the holder of the leash himself? Like Jesus said to the people who were going to throw stones at one accused of prostitution, “Let the one with no sin at all cast the first stone.”

In the second year of PH governance, let us think before we throw stones at any minister. In a democracy, the stones and pebbles are always with us. Let us meditate on Jesus’ words and ask if we could have done any better. Yes, Maszlee should have stuck to his academic and moral principles as a Muslim and proposed his own quota. Yes, Maszlee should not have defended the Cabinet over the matriculation quota. But if that had happened, this Hari Raya we would be celebrating Maszlee as the the minister who served the shortest term in the history of the Malaysian Cabinet.

Once, a forum moderator asked me who I thought would make the best minister of education. I laughed and said there was no single party person who could make a good minister of education and change the country’s ailing education system into a first-class one. I said the only one who could do anything to the education system would be the prime minister. Not the personality, but the office.

Why, the moderator asked? Because, I said, he or she could never be reshuffled! So, whoever is “leashed” as the minister of education, we must be fair and clear in our advice and not make unkind criticism, especially on the eve of a religious celebration. The education ministry would be the biggest cash cow for a politician if he or she wanted to make money for his or her family. But the same ministry is also a quagmire of racial mines and religious traps that would place anyone in misery and despair if that person chose to do the right thing and change the education system into a world-class one.

I wonder very much how the Hari Raya stone-thrower would fare if he were the minister of education himself.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.