Lessons from the Maszlee affair

Two things I learnt in corporate life: change is inevitable and nobody is indispensable.

Some people rue their loss, others pick up where they left off and continue their life journey. Those who see the positives in life are likely to see lessons learnt, and how they can do better to improve ourselves.

Nobody is perfect, in life we all make mistakes. In politics, the power of the people’s vote will decide whether you will remain.

Some mistakes can be forgiven, but when it infects the nation to the point of crisis, there is always a tipping point.

Things don’t happen overnight, like water it takes time to reach boiling point.

Malcom Gladwell defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”.

What was Maszlee Malik’s, or Najib Razak’s, tipping point?

The Jawi issue could be the tipping point in Maszlee’s case which led to his resignation or dismissal, whichever is the case. His “unpopularity” is an accumulation of all sorts. His case is like an old saying about giving someone enough rope to hang himself. But who gave him the rope?

In Najib’s case, the tipping point could be when Muhyiddin Yassin and Shafie Apdal broke ranks and became turncoats.

Jawi is a beautiful art form by itself but Malaysians, with deep distrust along religious and racial fault lines, may see the introduction of the subject as part of Islamisation of the education system.

This situation is not helped when you impose such subjects on vernacular schools while at the same time the very existence of such schools is being challenged in court.

The English language has many phrases, proverbs and idioms to explain situations succinctly. One such proverb is “let sleeping dogs lie”, meaning avoid interfering in a situation that is currently causing no problem but may well do so as a result of such interference.

Would it not have been wise for Maszlee to concentrate in the early years of a new government on the education blueprint of 2013-2025, improving the OECD Pisa scores, and world university rankings, instead of trying to introduce Jawi?

One of the things we learn in life is “to choose one’s battles wisely”. It means to actively choose not to participate in minor, unimportant, or overly difficult arguments, contests, or confrontations, saving one’s strength instead for those that will be of greater importance or in which one has a greater chance of success.

Some see Jawi as a battleground for vernacular schools. Was it that important, a life and death matter to force Jawi as a subject on vernacular schools?

Would it make our kids smarter? Would Malaysia climb up the Pisa rankings in science and mathematics?

In the end, we all lost the plot, and it descended into the usual race baiting and the “this land is my land argument”.

In politics, gathering signatures of support for removal doesn’t help much. It’s the voters who will decide, and not the most signatures collected either way.

In the Tanjung Piai by-election, the people decided who they wanted to represent them and the same will happen in the next general election.

We sometimes are bewildered why issues or government policies are heavily politicised along religious and other fault lines and we cannot argue decently on the merits of each topic in a gentlemanly fashion.

There are merits to the teaching of Jawi as it is much connected to the Malay language and culture. The High Court in a case last year, in dismissing a suit, ruled that the Jawi script is part of Bahasa Malaysia and can be taught to pupils in vernacular schools.

The problem with tweaking policies without consulting or involving stakeholders is that its implementation can lead to negative results.

There was “no buy-in”, for a start, from when Khat was introduced in the school curriculum. The matter was further aggravated when a key stakeholder, the vernacular school board, was left out of the process in deciding on the teaching of Jawi.

Maszlee had an image problem that was difficult to resuscitate. Even he lightheartedly made fun of himself on Twitter when asked about his ministry’s accomplishments last year. Maszlee joked that “black shoes” were among his ministry’s greatest achievements.

Whether it’s sarcasm or Maszlee seeing the funny side of things, when you are in his shoes (forgive my pun), what else can you do?

Sometimes you are not remembered for your achievements in life. Like Bill Clinton, the name Monica Lewinsky is synonymous with his presidency.

With Maszlee it’s the same; even if you list his achievements, people will remember him as “the black shoe” minister.

Well, unless you are like Najib who reinvented himself and created a new image “Bossku” by travelling around in a small motorcycle wearing a tight fitting T-shirt and frequenting roti canai stalls to remain relevant.

Maszlee can easily pick up the pieces and contribute to the nation as an MP. Look at Anwar Ibrahim. He was on the brink, now he’s the prime minister-in-waiting.

The Jawi issue has consumed the nation, sidelining the poor performance of the stock market and the ringgit.

Since June last year the ministry of education has been hogging the headlines and turning an innocent subject into a religious and racial issue.

People like Abdul Hadi Awang of PAS fanned the discontent and took advantage of the situation. Luckily, common sense prevailed.

The beauty of Jawi writing has already been demonstrated. On hindsight, there is no harm in introducing Jawi as part of the Malay language.

It’s how we implement the subject that matters. All cultures and languages should be preserved, be it Kadazandusun or Iban for that matter.

For now the nation should focus on improving the economy as that will bring benefits to all Malaysians. The prolonged argument over Jawi does nothing to improve the economy.

An art or writing should not distract us from the real tasks at hand, that is to put Malaysia on the right economic footing and to regain its glory on the world stage.

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