DAP-Gerakan Cultural Debate (Speech)

REF: LKS/16/11/68

Speech by DAP Organising Secretary, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at the DAP-Gerakan cultural debate at the MARA Auditorium on Sunday, November 24, 1968 at 10 a.m.

Mr. Chairman and fellow Malaysians.

We gather here today to debate and discuss the DAP and Gerakan cultural policy, so as to ascertain whose policy is more relevant and suitable to Malaysia.

I submit that what we are debating and discussing today is one of the most vital problems facing Malaysia, because on it will depend the success or failure of the Malaysian experiment in multi-racial nationhood.

There are two cultural policies open to Malaysians. One is to recognise that Malaysia is a multi-cultural nation, and to allow the diverse cultural strands to freely develop, grow and interact with one another. The other one is to choose to promote the hegemony of one culture and the elimination, over the passage of years, of other cultures.

The adoption of a multi-cultural policy would mean that the objective is a multi-racial nation, while a policy to promote the hegemony of one culture over others must mean the striving for a communal nation.

Before we go further into this subject, it may be useful to ask what do we mean by ‘culture’.

‘Culture’ has probably as many definitions as there are academicians. The late Indian Premier, Jawaharlal Nehru, declined to define ‘culture’ because of its complexity, but he commented, and I quote:

‘But among the many things the culture includes are certainly restraint over one-self and consideration for others. If a person has not got this self-restraint and has no consideration for others, one can certainly say he is uncultured.’

It is quite clear what we mean by a ‘cultured’ and an ‘uncultured’ man.

A ‘cultured’ man possesses good manners and good taste. One may be inclined to think that a bachelor of arts degree or doctorate of philosophy symbolizes possession of culture, but unfortunately this is not always the case.

We have a recent illustration in Kuala Lumpur. An academician of the University of Malaya, who holds a doctorate of philosophy, was guilty of the most shocking language in public.

I refer of course to Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas’ public statements. In his statement of Nov. 4, accusing me of distorting his University of Malaya forum speech, he indulged in a string of abuse and name-calling, like ‘crabs – groping and creeping about perversely and futilely’, ‘a confused company of futile clowns disguised as politicians’, ‘the entire tribe of highly strung political nomads that constitute the DAP leadership’, and ‘to drive the whole tribe to its proper breeding grounds.’

I have, as Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas pointed out, no academic standing. But I would have been thoroughly ashamed of myself to have used such language.

Last month, in the October issue of Berita Pelajar, a University of Malaya student publication, a lecturer wrote with alarm at the growing number of undergraduates who make it a point to be ‘uncultured’ – from whose lips a torrent of abuse flowed with the greatest of ease.

Whether this is the result of undergraduates imitating their senior lecturers, what in the social sciences, I think, is called the law of imitation, it will be interesting for sociologists to study. Equally interesting will be to find out where we can find the largest collection of nomadic politicians, who creep from party to party. But we are talking about culture, and not nomads and crabs.

In schools, in an attempt to bring up a ‘cultured’ generation, teachers try to impress on students not to be pompous, arrogant or conceited. Before he left to take up his Australian appointment, Professor Wang Gungwu advised graduates not to become ‘misfit graduates’ by expecting too much of their degree or to feel superior to the ordinary man.

Yet, right here, in the University of Malaya, we have a senior lecturer unashamedly flaunting his degrees publicly.

The Malay Mail of 8th November reported Dr. Syed Naguib asking, when referring to me:

“Who is he to discuss with me the culture policy of Gerakan?”

Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas added, reported the Malay Mail, that “it was pretentious and irreverent of Mr. Lim to challenge him to a debate on culture because Mr. Lim was of no academic standing and knew nothing about Malaysian literature and culture.”

I did not know that one must go to McGill University in the United States to get a M.A. and later a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies before one qualifies to talk about culture.

On this basis, only a few thousand Malaysians will be qualified to talk about culture, while over 9 million Malaysians must not even think about culture because they have no ‘academic standing.’ Is this the democracy the Gerakan is working for?

It is probably fortunate that Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas wasn’t a contemporary of any of the great religious founders, or Prophet Mohamed, Buddha or Christ would have to shut up, and would not have laid the basis of great religions, because they had no ‘academic standing.’

This is a digression, but not entirely irrelevant, because we are talking about ‘culture’. But here, we are not referring to the individual’s personal refinement, which makes him ‘cultured’ or ‘uncultured.’

By culture, we mean the sum total of the ways of life of men in society. It means not only art, music, literature, religion, language, but all the socially created and inherited beliefs, customs, laws, political and economic institutions and the material creations of man which mould the thoughts and attitudes of man.

The debate today is to place before the nation the cultural problems of the country, and let them judge which is the best cultural policy for the nation – the DAP’s, the Gerakan’s, or anybody else’.

As the debate was sparked off by two public pronouncements by Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas, I will deal with them first.

I must assume, as any man of common sense will assume, that what Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas said reflected the Gerakan’s stand – as he is one of the national leaders of the Party.

The first pronouncement was made by Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas at a University of Malaya forum on “Eastern and Western Literature: Their contribution to the development of Malaysian literature” organised by the Malay Language Society of the University of Malaya.

I quote from the Berita Harian of 13th July 1968, which reported the forum:

“The problem of the use of the National language in Malaysian literature was keenly debated at a forum entitled ‘Eastern and Western Literature: Their contribution to the development of Malaysian Literature’ organised by the Malay Language Society of the University of Malaya on Thursday night.

“The time was extended till 10 o’clock at night for further analysis of the problem.

“The problem was first raised when one of the three participants said the first question that should be given attention was the medium aspect.

“According to Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas, the medium must be based on the Malay Language, which had become the national language in the country.

“He said Malaysian literature must be written in the Malay language because every citizen of this country had accepted the Malay language as the National Language.

“So, with the National Language as the medium, the literature can be enriched by influences and contributions from Western, Chinese and Indian literature.

“’This is what is called Malaysian literature’, he said.

“He made this explanation when asked why MALAYSIAN Literature must be written in the Malay language and not in the English language.

“Together with Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas in the forum, which was chaired by Dr. Taib Osman, were Mr. E. N. Dorall and Mr. D. E. Ward, both lecturers in the English Department of the University of Malaya.

“Before this, Dr. Syed Naguib, who was the second speaker, said that a discussion of Malaysian literature requires careful thought.

“He said from history, what is known as Malaysian literature to historians and sociologists is Malay-Indonesian literature, which existed in the 19th century, in a region now known as nusantara.

“So, he added, genuine Malaysian literature is not literature which appeared since Malaysia was formed five or six years ago.

“To me, Malaysian literature comprised writings in the Malay language, with ideas which came from east or west.’

“According to him, people like Chairul Anwar, a member Generation 45 in Indonesian literature, can be considered as an author of this Malaysian literature.

“But he added, woman novelist, Han Suyin, cannot be admitted to this list, because she writes in English, although she has works which are Malaysian-oriented.

“If Han Su-yin is accepted as a writer in Malaysian literature because of her contents only, then novelist Somerset Maugham can also be recognized as a writer of Malaysian literature.

“In Somerset Maugham’s works, there are also material about Malaysia.

“This is reason Malay language is vital in establishing Malaysian literature, Dr. Syed Naguib reiterated.”

From the above extract, Dr. Naguib Alatas’ attitude and approach to Malaysian literature is made very clear. We can draw three main conclusions:

* Firstly, to write Malaysian literature, the language used must be Malay;

* Secondly, Indonesian writing, or any writing in Malay regardless of the nationality or loyalty of the writer, must be considered as part of Malaysian literature.

* Thirdly, no writings other than in the Malay language, whether English, Chinese or Tamil, even if the authors are Malaysians and the works are about Malaysian life, values, hopes, and aspirations, can be considered Malaysian literature.

Dr. Naguib Alatas reiterated his stand on Malaysian literature in an interview a month later to the Malay Mail, which showed that his forum speech was not an ivory-tower academic exercise.

On August 13, the Malay Mail reported:

“In an interview, Dr. Alatas said a future Malaysian culture must be based on Malay.

“Since the various races in Malaysia had decided on Malay as the national language, they should abide by their agreement in good faith.

‘A nation’s spirit and ideals were reflected in its literature and he could not conceive a Malaysian literature in any language except Malay.

“The writings about Malaysia in foreign languages reflected ideals and values from the foreign viewpoint, for they were written for a foreign public.

“Genuine Malaysian literature, he said, was written in Malay by people, who not necessarily being Malay, had imbibed the traditions and culture of the Malay archipelago.”

In the second pronouncement, Dr. Syed Naguib clearly advocated that

* Malaysian culture must be based on Malay.

In a separate report on the forum of July 10, the Eastern Sun (July 12) quoted Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas as saying that “no literature could develop independent of nationhood” and that “literature reflects the values, pride and honour of the nation.”

Based on his two public pronouncements, I discussed the cultural policy of the Gerakan in a talk at the first anniversary celebration of the Klang DAP Branch Women’s Section on September 8, 1968. This speech was reproduced in Opinion of Sept. 20 – Oct. 20.

In my Klang speech, I said the policy expounded by Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas was a ‘clear-cut attempt to Indonesianise Malaysian culture, and to deny Chinese and Indian cultures an equal place in the free development of the cultural streams in Malaysia to evolve a Malaysian culture which is a synthesis of all that is best of the four great cultures that meet in Malaysia.”

I also asked the Gerakan cultural expert whether the Gerakan seriously suggested that Indonesian writing on Indonesian aspirations and life reflect the ‘value, pride and honour’ of the Malaysian people and honour. And also whether the Gerakan thought that Indonesian literature was dedicated to the growth of multi-racial Malaysian nationhood?

I stand by my speech in Klang, and I challenge him to answer the questions posed, and to prove that I had distorted him.

The cultural policy expounded by Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas in the two public pronouncements deserve close study, because it is a highly obnoxious and dangerous policy, pregnant with far-ranging mischief. Such a policy must be exposed and denounced in no uncertain terms, because if unchallenged, it will impede the growth of a united multi-racial Malaysian nation, and sow the seeds of racial misunderstanding and conflict.

Only those who have no place for the other languages in the Malaysian scheme of things will take the stand that Malaysian literature must be in the Malay language. This accords with the Gerakan’s rejection of a policy of multi-lingualism.

What Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas said corresponded with what the UMNO ultras having been pressing for. The Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Inche Senu bin Abdul Rahman, was reported in the Malay Mail of September 5, 1966, to say:

“If Malaysia is to have its own literature which can be identified as distinctively Malaysian in form and content, then the medium of expression cannot but be the National Language.”

If this policy is accepted, then there is no room for a Malaysian Chinese or Tamil to express Malaysian nationalism, aspirations, struggles, hopes and sorrows, unless he thinks and writes in Malay.

The basic premise of such a concept is that the other languages, Chinese, Tamil and English, are not qualified or fit vehicles for the expression of Malaysian nationalism, values, aspirations, viewpoints and hopes.

Or to put it more bluntly, Chinese, Tamil and English are regarded as un-Malaysian languages which could only be vehicles of un-Malaysian expressions. Hence the blanket rejection of non-Malay medium Malaysian writings.

I shudder to think of the logical development and consequences of such a narrow and intolerant attitude.

Having reached the conclusion that English, Chinese and Tamil are un-Malaysian languages, then we must further conclude that there is no justification for retaining or permitting their usage in Malaysia’s national life, whether over radio, television, newspapers, cinemas.

In fact, this constituted three of the seven-point plan for integration of the races proposed by a Utusan Melayu staff writer on April 9, 1968. They are:

* Ban all languages other than the National Language and ban all films using languages other than the National Language unless these films have been dubbed into the National Language.

* Ban all scripts other than the National script from being written at any public place or on signboards of shophouses; and

* Ban all non-National Language newspapers, like Chinese and Tamil newspapers.

Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas’ stand is a clear violation of the Malaysian Constitutional guarantee enshrined in sub-clause (1)(a) of Clause 152 which states:

“152. (1) The National Language shall be the Malay Language and shall be in such script as Parliament may by law provide:

Provided that –

(a) no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes) or from teaching or learning, any other language.”

What is the use of learning other languages, when they are not barred from official usage, but rejected as legitimate vehicles for Malaysian expression?

The tragedy is that there are people who want to make Malay as the sole language in Malaysia, to the exclusion and suppression of other languages.

The stand that only literary works written in Malay is to be considered as Malaysian literature is completely indefensible.

Malaysian literature cannot be limited to works of one language, if Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-lingual nation. Malaysian literature must comprise all writings, whether drama, novel, short story, play or verse, written by Malaysians, which by emotion, identification, description, social context and involvement relate to Malaysia, whether written in Malay, Chinese, Tamil or English.

After 1945, there was a great controversy between two schools of Malaysian Chinese writers. One was the Overseas Chinese school of literature and the other Malaysian Chinese school of literature.

The Overseas Chinese Literature school maintained that the writings of Chinese abroad, irrespective of their content, were part of Chinese literature. These writers were completely China-oriented and paid no attention to their environment.

The Malaysian Chinese School of literature insisted that the Chinese writer in Malaysia should be part of his environment, and that his responsibility was to the land where he lived, and that he should not engage in expatriate writing.

As a leader of the Malayan Chinese literature movement, Mr. Fang Hsiu, later put it:

“In Malaya there are millions of Chinese, many of them here for centuries, taking part in the evolution of Malaya’s history. They have played a role in the country’s economy, in its government; their emotional identification with the country has been proved; with their bodies they have defended Malaya, shedding their blood against the invader, for they consider Malaya their Homeland.

“However, in spite of their loyalty, their toil, their ancestors, and having renounced any connection with China as the ancestral land….they are still being refused their right and equal place within the body politic of the country; they are still being maintained within an alien status, their loyalty suspect…

“They want to be citizens of Malaya, and not Overseas Chinese, but the government discriminates against them in this respect in such manner, that it perpetuates the notion of alienation. They want to live in peace, harmony and companionship with the other races in Malaysia, but barriers are erected…

“Literature reflects reality, and in reality, the Chinese in Malaya have worked and written for race harmony…

“Literatures has a formative influence upon events, by writing and telling our grievances, and our hopes, we want to reach out to the other races, to achieve mutual understanding…we want everyone to know that although we use the Chinese language, yet we belong here…

“In China, the role of literature is the liberation of the people of China. Here in Malaya, the role of our Malayan-Chinese literature is to stimulate and to consolidate the unity, mutual understanding and harmony of the three great races of Malaya.

“This is the special and particular character of Malaysian-Chinese literature.”

The Malayan Chinese school of literature prevailed and triumphed, and the Overseas Chinese School of Literature has died out. But here comes along the Syed Naguib, the Gerakan, the Senus, the ultras, to say that whatever their content and loyalty, they are not part of Malaysian literature.

Let us take Tamil writings. If, for instance, Mr. V. David was moved by the Muses and writes excellent Tamil poetry on Malaysian themes, will the Gerakan dismiss them as un-Malaysian literature?

We know Mr. V. David not have these poetic impulses and inclinations, by as a hypothetical case, we will want the Gerakan and Mr. V. David to let us know.

Are we to view Tamil Nesan, Tamil Murasu and other Tamil language newspapers, which have opened their columns to budding young Tamil writers, as vehicles of non-Malaysian literature and expressions?

Or let us take the English language. Some of the finest literature of the Indian national renaissance, in both the political and cultural aspects of the renaissance, was in the medium of the English language.

Let us take first the large corpus of the political literature, which inspired the Indian independence movement. Tilak and Aurobindo, the great predecessors of Gandhi and Nehru, used English as their pre-eminent vehicle of expression. Later on, a whole great generation of Indian national revolutionary leaders, including men like Gandhi, Nehru, Subbas Chandra Bose, C. R. Das and others, gave inspired utterances to the value and demands of Indian nationalism through the medium of the English language, without ceasing to be the giants of Indian nationalism which they were in the eyes of their own people, and indeed, of the whole world.

In the field of the great cultural renaissance in India also, the giants of literature, philosophy and the arts, found in the English language an effective vehicle of utterance, philosopher-saints like Vivekananda, fired the Indian imagination with the pride and glory of India’s cultural past – and most of his lecturers and writings were done in the English language. The great Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote with equal facility in English as well as in his Bengali mother-tongue, but India does not reject his English works as not being part of Indian literature.

The Indian poetess, Sarojini Naidu, who served several terms of imprisonment for her part in the Indian national struggle, wrote her poems entirely in English.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the former President of India, wrote all his works on Indian philosophy in English, without ceasing to be an Indian.

The Indian Philosopher and poet, Sri Aurobindo, wrote all his great works, prose and poetry alike, in English – and yet he is regarded in India as being in the great line of Indian saints and seers from the Vedas and Upanishads downwards.

All this establishes one cardinal principle – and it is this. Language as such is a neutral vehicle. It is the people who use the vehicle who are important.

English, which was and is accepted in India as one of the Indian languages, by virtue of the fact that millions of Indians speak it, is recognized as being just as fit a vehicle for the expression of the values and demands of Indian nationalism, as any of the indigenous Indian languages, which brings us to another equally significant point, which we in a multi-racial and multi-lingual Malaysia might profit from.

Nationally orientated literature easily recognise as distinctive Indian literature, continues to be written in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and Gujerati, and nobody in India suggest that literature produced in all these various languages are un-Indian.

It is only the chauvinist, concealed or otherwise, who suggest that linguistic uniformity is a necessary basis for cultural unity.

In fact, as the examples of India, Switzerland and several other multi-racial and multi-lingual nations show, linguistic variety in cultural expressions only serves to enrich the cultural wealth of a national community.

What leads to cultural impoverishment is not linguistic variety, but a narrow-minded insistence on linguistic uniformity, and this is precisely what is wrong with ideas like – ‘Malaysian literature must be based on the Malay language’.

If they had said things like that in India, then neither the Indian cultural or political renaissance would have taken place. Fortunately for India, Indian universities did not produce Syed Naguibs.

“Malaysian literature must include Indonesian literature”

It was Dr. Syed Naguib’s contention that Malaysian literature must include Indonesian literature that prompted me to say that this was a policy to Indonesianise Malaysian culture.

To my knowledge, even the UMNO ultras have not made such a claim.

We are not here to assess the merits or demerits of Indonesian writers or poets.

But when it is maintained that Indonesian writers must be included in Malaysian literature, while a Malaysian writing in one of the non-Malay languages is excluded – we are not hearing the voice of Malaysian nationalism, but of Melayu Raya.

When Sukarno launched his confrontation policy, he was partly trying to revive the Melayu Raya concept and revive the glory of Nusantara – the golden days when the Malay Archipelago was under one rule, during the Srivijaya and Majaphahit empires.

In the Melayu Raya concept, the focal point of loyalty is not multi-racial Malaysian nationalism, but the solidarity of all blood-brother in the Malay Archipelago.

Malay as the basis of Malaysian culture

Dr. Naguib advocates that Malay should form the basis of Malaysian culture.

This again, is exactly what was advocated by the UMNO Executive Secretary, Inche Musa Hitam, in July 1966. Inche Musa Hitam said all Malaysians must accept Malay culture as their own culture.

I had earlier referred to a seven-point integration plan suggested by a Utusan Melayu staff writer. Three of his proposals were:-

* Ban the use of all symbols which are not Malaysian in characteristics like the dragon symbol;

* Ban the construction of all buildings which are not Malaysian in architecture;

* Ban all un-Malaysian costumes

The Minister of Lands and Mines, Inche Rahman Ya’akob, opening a University of Malaya Language Society seminar on October 29, 1966 said:

“Those who struggle for the Chinese language to be made an official language are people who want to give a place to Mao Tse Tung in Malaysia.

“Malaysia is not responsible for cultures which did not originate in Malaysia, including Mao Tse Tung’s culture.

“We are only responsible for the culture that we have formed, that was born and that was created in Malaysia.”

I have said earlier that culture means all the socially inherited beliefs, practices and institutions of a given group of people, including their social, economic and political institutions.

A strict application of the demand that Malaysian culture should be based on Malay culture would mean the restoration of pre-capitalist Malay society, rejecting the one-man one-vote system, electricity, radio, television, the motor-car, democracy, socialism, rural development planning, because all these are alien to traditional Malay culture.

The Naguibs, the Musa Hitams and the Rahman Ya’akobs, do not really know what they mean when they demand that Malaysian culture should be based on Malay culture.

But there is not doubt that they are possessed by an intense intolerance of other cultural forms, and would want to see their disappearance.

What they understood by the slogan, ‘Malaysian culture must be based on Malay culture’ is probably what the Utusan Melayu staff writer had elaborated: Ban all non-Malay languages, non-Malay schools, non-Malay signboards, non-Malay newspapers, non-Malay symbols, non-Malay buildings and non-Malay costumes.

Cultural Democracy vs Cultural Dictatorship

I had said that there are two cultural policies open to Malaysians. The one espoused by Dr. Naguib Alatas is the policy of culture dictatorship – which rejects other cultural forms so as to bring about the dominance of one culture.

This is not only the policy of Dr. Syed Naguib, but also the policy of the UMNO, and all those who seek to bring about a communal Malaysia.

The other cultural policy is the one advocated by the DAP, which allows the various cultures to freely interact and interchange, leading to the evolution of a common Malaysian culture – what we called cultural democracy.

The outcome of the contest of these two cultural policies will decide whether Malaysia succeeds as a nation.

This is because cultural policy in a multi-racial nation is a reflection of the nation building policy. A cultural policy can neither be formulated nor discussed in a vacuum.

Those who advocate the policy of the dictatorship of one culture, do not accept that Malaysia is a multi-racial nation. They reject the following three basic fundamentals of Malaysian nationhood.

* Malaysian is a multi-racial nation, and does not belong to any one particular race, but belongs to all races who have made this country their home. In consequence, no race should regard itself as typically Malaysian, a norm to which the other races must conform. In fact, all races, whether Malay, Chinese, Indians Ceylonese or Eurasians, must consciously undergo a mental re-orientation to feel, act and think as Malaysians.

* Malaysian culture is not Malay culture, Chinese culture or Indian culture, but the synthesis of all that is best from a free interplay and interaction of the culture in Malaysia.

* All the languages spoken by Malaysians of different racial origins are Malaysian languages, and to describe or treat Chinese or Tamil as foreign languages is tantamount to regarding or treating Malaysian Chinese or Indians as foreigners.

Since independence, the forces for a communal Malaysia, which advocate cultural dictatorship, have been stronger than the forces for a Malaysian Malaysia, which advocate cultural democracy, because the foremost exponents of cultural dictatorship is the Alliance Party, with people like the Syed Naguibs to provide spurious intellectual justification for the doctrine.

Let us ask ourselves whether in the last 11 years since Merdeka, the policy of cultural dictatorship has succeeded in welding the diverse races into one people, and in instilling a common sense of national identity and consciousness to replace racial appeals.

Any objective answer must be a big ‘No.’ If we are succeeding, year by year, to get more and more Malaysians to be Malaysian-centred and Malaysian-minded, will it be necessary, 10 years after Merdeka to pass a law to compel respect to the national anthem, or put up on the highways throughout the country huge hoarding signboards urging people to respect the national flag and national anthem, thus degrading our national symbols to the status of advertised items like groundnuts, beer, cigarettes, coca-cola, etc?
Or would it have been necessary for Tun Tan Siew Sin to periodically urge the MCA to launch ‘loyalty’ campaigns?

Or would have the Penang and North Malayan racial riots last year occurred on the same scale and intensity over the devaluation of the old Malayan dollar?

The Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, said at the opening of the $70,000 UMNO Division building at Banting last Saturday that there was a communist plan to recruit pupils from Chinese secondary schools to rebel against the government.

He said the pupils were taught “the greatness of China and the personality cult of Mao Tse Tung and his achievements”.

The Tengku added:

“This is rather unfortunate because we have difficulties in countering their propaganda. China is truly a great nation and possesses the atom bomb.

“How can we compare ourselves with china? We can only explode fire-crackers.”

Why is it that 11 years after Merdeka, more and more people feel less and less MALAYSIAN?

Basically, the problem is because they do not have a sense of belonging to Malaysia.

Malaysians are divided into ‘bumiputras’ and ‘non-bumiputras’, strictly on racial grounds.

Celebes-born Syed Jaafar Albar and Bogor-born Syed Hussein Alatas are bumiputras. But Seremban-born Chen Man Hin and Ipoh-born D. R. Seenivasagam are ‘non-bumiputras’.

In schools, a whole new generation of Malaysians are growing up feeling aggrieved and resentful at this distinction, which they do not fully understand but know denotes inequality and injustice.

This ‘bumiputra’ policy in differentiating citizens is transferred also to the cultural field, where we are swiftly having ‘bumiputra’ language and culture and ‘non-bumiputra’ language and cultures.

When it is now demanded that ‘non-bumiputra’ languages like Chinese, Indian and English, should be eliminated – which the cultural policy of the Syed Naguibs, Musa Hitams, Ya’akobs, finally leads to – Malaysia can explode any amount of fire-crackers or even an atom bomb, but the ingredients for welding the diverse races into one Malaysian people simply does not exist.

Let me stress that the DAP is not anti-Malay. We are anti-Malay Chauvinism, just as we are anti-Chinese Chauvinism or anti-Indian Chauvinism. We will be as vigorously opposed to any call to make Chinese or Indian culture the basis of Malaysian culture, or any call that Malaysian literature can only be written in the Indian or Chinese language.

The DAP is the only party which has given consistent thought and attention to the cultural problem of Malaysia.

In November 1966, the Central Executive Committee of the DAP issued a policy statement on the question of language, education and cultural. In July 1967, in the Setapak Declaration, and in June 1968, in a special policy paper entitled “Cultural Democracy”, we have explained our attitude and approach to his question.

The DAP advocates cultural democracy, based on the principles of equality, tolerance, justice and harmony. There will be free opportunity for the cultures to interact and interplay, so that out of the culture diversity, a unity emerges.

Already, today, Malaysians are more and more coming under the influence of two and very often three cultures.

A Chinese may enjoy Chinese films, appreciates Malay dances, and love Indian food.

But it is decreed that a Chinese cannot appreciate Malay dances or loves Indian food, then it is cultural dictatorship in practice.

Broadly, the DAP’s cultural policy involves three major planks:

(1) Language: Acceptance of Malay as National Language and Multi-Lingualism.

(2) Education: An integrated Education System with multi-media instruction and examination.

(3) Culture: Full and free cultural diversity and variability, so long as they are Malaysian-centred.

(1) Language: Acceptance of Malay as National Language and multi-lingualism

We accept unconditionally Malay as the National Language. We need a common language as a common medium of expression and communication among the diverse races.

But we reject the ‘one nation, one language’ school of thought. In a multi-racial nation like Malaysia, any attempt to impose linguistic uniformity will not bring about national unity. In the contrary, it will disrupt national unity by provoking cultural resistance among the people whose languages are being threatened.

Partitioned Vietnam, Germany, Korea are good examples that a single common language does not automatically produce a united nation.

In a multi-racial Malaysia, the only sane and prudent language policy is multi-lingualism, by according official status to Chinese, Tamil and English.

These languages have by now become Malaysian languages used by large numbers of Malaysians.

Multi-racialism is the only answer to allay fears among the diverse races that their languages may be eliminated, over a period of time.

Apart from multi-lingualism, there is no guarantee whatever that their languages will be allowed free growth and development.

The growing claim that Malaysian literature must be written solely in the Malay language is nothing but a step in the direction of eliminating other languages.

So long as there is a race of people who feel that its language is being threatened and discriminated against, so long will that race of people feel alienated from the nation.

The accordance of official status to Chinese, Tamil and English will also once and for all remove language as an issue, whether politically, economically, socially or culturally.

Multi-lingualism means that in the Parliament, in State Assemblies and local councils, in government correspondence, any of the four main languages may be used.

There are those who wonder whether this is practicable. Other countries have practiced multi-lingualism successfully, as in Switzerland, Canada and Singapore. There is no reason why it not could be equally workable in Malaysia.

The adoption of multi-lingualism will involve increased administrative problems, but this is surely a small price to pay to ensure national unity.

(2) Education: An integrated Education System with multi-media instruction and examination

The elimination of Chinese and Tamil as media of instruction and examination in secondary schools, and their coming elimination as media of instruction in primary schools, is a good example of the policy of linguistic uniformity in practice.

It is in clear violation of the constitutional guarantee for the sustenance and preservation of the major languages.

An education expert, Professor Wolfgang Franke, who has with the Department of Chinese Studies of the University of Malaya in 1965, made a study of Malaysian Chinese who did not receive ‘mother-tongue’ education.

He said that English education had a deculturising effect on Malaysian Chinese who receives exclusively or predominantly English education, because the uprooting of the Chinese humanistic tradition was not replaced by an acquisition of western humanistic tradition.

No deculturised group has anything to contribute. This is why the declared policy of eliminating Chinese and Indian as media of examination and instruction has aroused misgivings and resistance among large numbers of Malaysian Chinese and Indian parents.

The question of cultural and linguistic diversity is again involved here.

We hold that so long as the content and syllabi are Malaysian-oriented, irrespective of the language of instruction, it is a Malaysian institution, and it will produce Malaysian-minded products.

It is on this principle, and the principle that all the major languages are full Malaysian languages, that we support the Merdeka University and the National University.

As Malay is the common language, it will be the compulsory second language in all schools, so that the next generation of Malaysians will have a common tongue.

(3) Culture: Full and free cultural diversity and variability, so long as they are Malaysian-centred.

The four main cultures, Islamic, Indian, Chinese and Western, in the country are allowed to inter-play, without any stifling of cultural differences or diversities, to achieve a unity of content and cultural integration.

It does not matter whether we express our views, directed to a Malaysian loyalty, in Chinese, Tamil, English or Malay. They are all Malaysian.

Gerakan’s Cultural Policy

From what we can learn, the Gerakan is opposed to the granting of official status to Chinese, Tamil and English; opposed to the use of the main languages as media of instruction and examination and opposed to cultural diversity in unity, in the two public pronouncements by Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas.

I need not mention of course that the variegated leaders of the Gerakan, who had come from all places, had had variegated policies before as well.

For instance, on the Merdeka University projects, in March this year, Mr. Teh Ewe Lim, then UDP Penang Chairman, and now Gerakan leader in Penang, condemned the MCA for not supporting the Merdeka University project. He went on to say that the MCA had sold out Chinese eduation.

In the Dewan Ra’ayat on January 22, 1968, Dr. Tan Chee Khoon said that if the Chinese educational authorities wish to have a Merdeka University, the Minister of Education, Inche Khir bin Johari, should not oppose.

But on 3rd September, Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas, Gerakan Chairman, said his party opposed the Merdeka University because the initiators of the university are dominated by a certain section of the community not best qualified for the task of setting up a university. He said the attempt was dominated by ‘communal sentiment’.

Be that as it may, the Gerakan’s cultural policy belonged to the same school as that of the Alliance-cultural dictatorship and a communal Malaysia.

The Gerakan cultural policy appears to be more extremist than the UMNO one, because Dr. Syed Naguib Alatas’ cultural stand is not only for a communal Malaysia and cultural dictatorship, but for Indonesian Raya.


Although the debate today is between the DAP and the Gerakan, it is in fact between the two national forces which I earlier spoke about – the forces for cultural democracy as represented by DAP on the one hand, and the forces for cultural dictatorship as represented by the Gerakan here, but even more effectively, by the Alliance Party.

We are not interested in scoring debating points, but in letting the public know the options open to them.

Before I conclude, let us remember that when discussing the cultural problems, policy and future of Malaysia, we are in fact discussing the survival or disintegration of Malaysia.

Let us not be complacent about the possibility of a Malaysian racial conflict and national disintegration.

For the first ten years after independence, Ceylon was mentioned as the country which had solved its communal problem. Then it blew up in racial flames.

Until two years ago, Nigeria in Africa was described as the shining example of multi-ethnic democracy, often compared to the Malaysian experiment in Asia.

But today, it lies in shambles and has become the theatre or tribal massacres, carnage, genocide and gross inhumanity.

The Alliance boasted about racial harmony but 10 years after Merdeka, the worst racial riots erupted in Penang, spread to North Malaya, and left in its wake scores of dead, hundreds of injured and over 1,600 arrests.

What is the lesson for all? It is this: We must be courageous and realistic enough to face the problems of our country, and acknowledge that racial harmony in Malaysia is a fragile one, because there is lacking a Malaysian outlook.

If the present drift towards racialism and cultural intolerance continues unchecked, then Malaysia is heading towards the way of Nigeria.

The choice is with the people, whether to choose the cultural dictatorship policy of the Gerakan and the Alliance, or the policy of cultural democracy of the Democratic Action Party.

We know that we are likely to be accused of being communal, of being anti-Malay, because we advocate multi-lingualism and oppose Malay as the sole language acceptable for Malaysian literature.

We will urge the thinking Malays to give this serious thought and not be influenced by meaningless accusations.

If the DAP is anti-Malay and a Tamil or Chinese chauvinist party, then we will not have unconditionally supported Malay as the national Language, Malay as a compulsory second subject in all educational institutions, and supported the National University project.

I am sure the Malays do not want a Chinese or an Indian Malaysia, or accept Malaysian culture to be based on Chinese or Indian culture or that Malaysian literature must be based on Chinese or Indian language.

Similarly, they will understand that the non-Malays do not want exclusively Malay-based culture and society.

Any narrow racial or cultural domination of Malaysian life will be resented by the rest, which in this case, always comprised the majority as Malaysia is a nation minorities.

The debate today is for the country to know the cultural problems and policies open to Malaysia, and it is now up to the Malaysian electorate to judge for themselves what cultural policy they prefer. The Alliance stands for a Malay Malaysia. The Gerakan stands for an Indonesian Malaysia. The DAP stands for a Malaysian Malaysia.


Audited on 2021-03-04