Friday, May 19, 2006

Penang State Education Department - An Anti-national Den?

The Report (part of it):
Call to stop 'unity tour' for students under fire. By Regina William.

PENANG: The state education department has come under fire for stopping students from taking part in the Global Ethnics project launched earlier this year to promote social integration.
Penang DAP chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the party was concerned that the department had abruptly ended the programme meant to promote mutual respect and awareness among students from different cultures.The department allegedly sent out the circular cautioning students and teachers from taking part in it.
He was responding to a newspaper report yesterday that the department's Islamic Education section chief had sent a circular to all schools advising them against taking part in the project organised by Universiti Sains Malaysia, Konrad Adenaeur Foundation and the Malaysian Interfaith Network.
It was reported that 400 students from 13 schools had taken part in the project which was launched by the Yang DiPertua Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas on Feb 4.
One of the main activities was a guided tour for students along the "Streets of Harmony" in Georgetown, including Jalan Kapitan Keling where some of the country's oldest religious buildings, namely the St George's church, Kapitan Keling Mosque, Mariamman temple and Goddess of Mercy Temple are located.
Chow said the department should explain why a bona fide programme to promote history, culture and integration among the younger generation should be stopped.
"Although no reason has been given, the DAP believes that certain quarters are feeling uneasy that students are taken on a tour of different places of worship to learn about cultural and religious diversity.If this is true, it shows that those in the Education department are narrow minded and unable to appreciate and embrace the multi diversity characteristics of the country.This is a popular programme among students as the tour puts into life what they learn in the classroom," he added.
He said the "Streets of Harmony" had also been chosen by the state government and tourism ministry to showcase Penang's rich social, religious and cultural heritage and has been described as a "Living Museum" of the diverse people living in harmony in this country.
Chow said it was a perfect location and programme to inculcate greater awareness and sense of appreciation among students of the diverse cultures within the society. (The Sun)

Points to note:
1)The Penang state government and the tourism ministry chose the 'Streets of Harmony', a living museum of the diverse cultures.
2)The programme was meant to promote mutual respect and awareness among students from different cultures.
3)No reasons were given for stopping the programme.
4)The Penang education department's Islamic education section chief had sent a circular to all schools advising them against taking part in the project.

The discussion:
It seems so strange that on the one hand the government is spending hundreds of millions of ringgit to promote, establish and successfully run National Service camps. Absentees and those who are AWOL are liable to prosecution showing the seriousness and importance it attaches to this programme and touting it as an example and opportunity for our younger citizens to get to know each other's culture, traditions and practices, showcasing it as a shining beacon of mutual tolerance and racial integration. Great. I bought that line, I still do.

On the other hand we have this example of idiotic bloody-mindedness, a display of buffoonery with the department's Islamic Education section chief playing the role of court jester. How does a mere section chief overrule a state government? Or are there other perverse players behind the scenes as in the Article 11 fiasco? Is Penang the new hotbed of religious intolerance and all that is undesirable in a multiethnic, multi-religious society? If any of you have answers to these questions do let me know.

The state economic planning, education and human resources, science, technology and innovation committee chairman Datuk Dr Toh Kin Woon expressed the state government's disappointment with the state education department's move, and rightly so. I wonder what our Education Minister has to say. That should be interesting, or is he waiting to see which way the wind blows? Frankly I have nothing against the man and I've not even seen him in person but when you're holding that portfolio it is crucial that you come in fast to correct messes like this one instead of waiting for things to play itself out. Make an example of these bigots a few times and they'll get the message. Otherwise more such adventurers with worse agendas may start crawling out of the woodwork in the future.

It is reports like this that make non-Muslims very insecure and fearful and leave them in doubt if the government is really serious in inculcating muhibbah; if they can trust their elected leaders to walk the talk. It is not enough to just verbally assure them that they have nothing to worry and that semua-nya OK.

Finally a suggestion to the government. Think carefully on the implications and consequences of the Islamic education section chief's circular advising against participation. If you feel that what he did is appropriate and in line with government policy on national unity, then promote him and recommend him for a datukship. If however the consensus is that his actions run counter to all that the government is trying to instill in our citizens, then punish him and make it public. You won't need an opinion poll to know how much higher your stock would have risen in the non-Muslim view.


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