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Media Conference Statement (2) by Parliamentary Opposition Leader and DAP MP for Ipoh Timur Lim Kit Siang at DAP PJ Hqrs on Friday, 11th January 2008:

Songkok to be compulsory uniform for school prefects and students of Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar in Johor Baru?

I have today received a complaint from a parent of a prefect in Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar (formerly English College) in Johor Bahru expressing the strongest objection to any attempt to make “songkok” part of the compulsory uniform of school prefects and students in the school.

He said his son, who is in Form Five, has been a school prefect in Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar since he was in Form Two and had always been an exemplary student, as well has won praise from many teachers for his exemplary conduct and commitment to his duties and studies. He is also a member of the ExCo of the Prefectorial Board.

The parent wrote:

“Recently, in the beginning of this year, there was an instruction from the school, which I believe came from the teacher advisor to the Prefectorial Board, that Prefects have to start wearing the Songkok as part of the official uniform. At first, the instruction was that it would only be required during ‘official functions’ like school assemblies and during interschool events or major events like sports day and speech day. However, this has now been revised to include daily prefectorial duties.

“There are reasons to believe that the practice of getting Prefects to wear the Songkok, is a prelude to getting ALL the students of the school to eventually follow suit.

“My son, after conferring with me, has decided that he will NOT wear the Songkok. He is willing to resign from the Prefectorial Board if forced to wear the Songkok.”

The parent expresses grave regret at the utter lack of sensitivity of the school authorities on this issue, stating in considerable detail his objections – as “the songkok is an emblem of the Malay identity” and “non-Malays should not be forced to don attire which does not reflect their identity”.

I put up the parent’s letter on my blog and in a matter of six hours there had been some 70 responses - demonstrating the strong feelings evoked by another addition to a catalogue of insensitivities recently shown by those in power or in authority in government to the legitimate rights and sensitivities of diverse races, religions and cultures in a plural society – aggravating racial and religious polarization instead of forging greater unity and understanding among the different races, religions and cultures in the country.

What has happened to the former English College, which has produced many prominent Malaysians, including former Deputy Prime Minister and elder ASEAN statesman, Tun Musa Hitam – who has been described as “the best Prime Minister Malaysia never had”?

It is very sad that the 50th Merdeka anniversary had been marked by an unprecedented display of insensitivity to the diverse races, religions and cultures in Malaysia to the extent that the true meaning of the Merdeka “social contract” had been distorted and overturned.

Some of these examples of insensitivity during the 50th Merdeka anniversary are:

• Declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state;

• The keris-wielding by UMNO Youth leader and Education Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein;

• Demolition of Hindu temple on the eve of Deepavali;

• Holding of the UMNO General Assembly on Deepavali itself;

• Public excoriation of the Indian news vendors as if they were at fault for Deepavali being an annual press holiday, resulting in no newspapers the next day to cover the UMNO Presidential speech of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi;

• Call by extremist UMNO MPs in Parliament for the removal of the “cross” and Christian symbols in mission schools’;

• The ban on the use of “Allah” by Christian and Sikh religions; and

• The revocation of approval for building the 108-ft Mazu statue in Kudat, which will be the tallest Mazu statue in the world and would also, be a tourist revenue-earner for Kudat, Sabah and Malaysia.

Recently, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called on moderates to take the centre stage and not to allow extremist elements to occupy it to raise sensitive religious and racial issues detrimental to nation-building in plural Malaysia.

Abdullah should maintain the 50-year status quo where the racial, religious and cultural sensitivities of all communities in plural Malaysia are given proper regard and respect and send out clear directives to the Education Minister to nip in the bud all insensitive and divisive tendencies in all educational institutions like the retrogressive proposal to make the songkok part of official uniform for school prefects and students in Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar, Johor Baru.

* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman


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