Khat is a non-issue, but …

I went to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition early this week before it ended yesterday at the National Art Gallery. It was, perhaps, the first time the art gallery had featured an exhibition by a world-class artist like da Vinci and, needless to say, it was a memorable experience.

Although the paintings were very high-quality digital reproductions of the originals, they were able to capture the artistic quality of the originals and gave people a glimpse of the master strokes of a master craftsman. The month-long exhibition featured da Vinci’s famous masterpieces like the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and Madonna with Child and some of his writings on the flight of birds.

I enjoyed standing and gazing in the presence of truly great art. So, did the huge crowds that thronged the exhibition hall! Noticing them, I came away from it with two clear observations.

Firstly, the exhibition attracted record numbers of visitors. People of all races came to see da Vinci’s classics. They took time to read the descriptions of each painting and took selfies and pictures of the paintings! Most of the visitors were Malays and they simply enjoyed the art for art’s sake. The Christian themes of some of the paintings didn’t bother them. Many were seen taking selfies with The Last Supper and Madonna with Child and, of course, the Mona Lisa.

Apparently, despite the Christian themes of many of the paintings, these visitors didn’t see the exhibition as an attempt to “Christianize” them. The event, fortunately, was not politicised and it gave people a chance to freely witness an extraordinarily high standard of art and appreciate it without some politician making an issue of it! The result: the people got exposure to way-at-the-top art and, hopefully, some would learn from it.

So, I can’t understand why there was such a hullabaloo over the introduction of khat in public schools. It may be Islamic calligraphy but it is still art. If politicians and paranoid parochial Malaysians didn’t make an issue of it “Islamizing” pupils, it would just have been an art form worth learning about. By itself, khat is no threat to anyone.

If the critics are concerned that the fundamental issues of education are not being addressed and, instead, khat is being introduced as a piece of window-dressing and would add to the stress of pupils rather than enhance learning, that is a legitimate concern. That is a serious concern that the education ministry must address, instead, of throwing tidbits to appease some people or so it seems. But, khat, by itself does not “Islamizise”.

If it was introduced to give the education system a Malay or Muslim identity, even that is not an issue. Malays are the majority race and adding a bit of their culture into the education system wouldn’t hurt anyone.

One positive result of the protests against khat is that the six pages of text included in the teaching of Bahasa Malaysia (BM) in Year Four has been reduced to three pages and khat (now known as Jawi writing) will not be tested, and it is optional in vernacular schools where the parent-teacher associations will have a say as to how and whether it should be taught.

Perhaps, the education ministry should have given greater thought before introducing khat. Whatever new ideas are introduced must be aimed at improving the quality of education — not over-burden pupils — and thoroughly discussed with stakeholders before implementation.

If, however, the aim of introducing khat was to appease particularly the rural Malay majority in order to win their votes, even that isn’t an issue, despite the protests. If it hurts no one and can win rural Malay support to the Pakatan Harapan government while the status quo remains, it has political merit.

If, however, the introduction of khat is one of many subtle little projects being introduced that aligns to Islamization at the expense of non-Malays and non-Muslims, it is definitely cause for concern.  It appears as if some issues are being quietly pushed through for the explicit purpose of pacifying the rural Malay voters in order that they would switch sides to PH Malay parties.

There are cases of Orang Asli ancestral land that is not recognized in Perak and not retained for the Orang Asli. In Selangor, a bill to allow the unilateral conversion of a minor child by one parent under Syariah law was thwarted at the last minute. If khat is one these efforts to win Malay support which are being introduced at the expense of non-Malays and non-Muslims, then it is unacceptable. Creeping Islamization for the sake of the Malay vote at the expense of the rights of non-Muslims and non-Malays can not be tolerated. It is an old, tried and tested formula that no longer works. See what it cost the nation: corruption at all levels with the majority of the Malays still dependent on the government.

That brings me to my second observation at the da Vinci exhibition. People recognize a good thing when they see one. The people saw it was a top-grade exhibition and flocked to it. If government services reached the target groups with minimum wastage, people will see it as a “good thing” and it would be foolish not to switch to the side whose help benefits them in real, tangible ways.

There is a need to find a new way to win more Malay support and it is in good government that delivers services to the target groups. The strategy must be to strictly follow procedures in the provision of government services, eliminate the culture of the greasing of palms, and reward meritorious service and terminate deadwood.

In other words, government servants and public officials must do their job instead of politicising government services. Keep politics out of the government and work at improving delivery and quality. The benefits will reach the target groups and they will see it as a “good thing” and they will flock to that side that gives them long-term skills to earn an honest living and be self-reliant.

 

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