By S Pathmawathy
Two days ago the government announced its intentions to enact a piece of legislation aimed at effective elimination of racial extremism.
This went against its previous repeated dismissals that such a law was not necessary to keep discrimination at bay.
The Race Relations Bill as Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz put it would weed out discrimination on the grounds of race, colour and ethnicity as well as nationality in employment, provision of goods and services, education and public functions.
In an interview with Chinese-language newspaper Sin Chew Daily on Dec 27, Nazri (left) said the Bill which will be tabled in Parliament for first reading in March will be one out of two legislations to replace the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA).
Undoubtedly, the move has raised numerous questions on the necessity to legislate race relations and whether it would drive people of diverse cultures further apart.
Scholars, on the other hand, believe that such a law is not essential, for two starkly different reasons.
Socio-political analyst Kua Kia Soong cautioned that the need for the law in 1985, was to deal with “blatant racism” projected by politicians and the media controlled by parties within the governing coalition at that time.
Growing ride of racism
“This need to deal with racism, racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance is still paramount today in the light of the rabid racism and growing fascism in our society,” said Kua, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) director.
However, 26 years later, Kua says Malaysia needs more than a Race Relations Bill to stem the tide of racism.
The proposed Bill modelled after the British’ 1976 Race Relations Act will set the limits on what can be said and done in a multi-racial country.
The Race Relations Act in the UK was superseded by the Equality Act 2010 which was designed to tackle a wider scope of discrimination to protect the dignity and equality of all ethnic communities in society, Kua (right) said.
“We should also do the same since the British have learned about the limitation of (the race relations) law from their experience since 1976 and also the need to bring the law in line with European Human Rights legislation.
“Incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offence and the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 made the incitement of racial hatred an offence (where one can be arrested for),” he added.
In order to facilitate effective implementation of the Bill, Kua argued that the existing Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) must be integrated with an equality commission.
“(One with) legal powers to help eradicate racial discrimination and harassment,” he added.
Professor Ramlah Adam of UiTM’s Administrative Science and Policy Studies Faculty, offered a similar viewpoint, contending, however, that the constitution isgood enough to ensure that the rights of all communities are not trampled on.
More mayhem in the offing
Sounding shocked when informed of the proposed Bill, Ramlah warned that it would only lead to more “mayhem and confusion”.
“An act of this nature would only make things even more complicated… if people feel the constitution has failed to address that is clearly misinterpretation and simply a matter of perception,” she said.
Instead of drafting a new bill to counter racism, Ramlah (left) said, promoting a better understanding of the nation’s highest law and history behind its formulation would suffice.
“We already have the Sedition Act, why more? The race relations bill would just be redundant and above all it might over lap the provisions and rights guaranteed under the constitution,” she added.
The government took heavy fire last year for failing to take severe action against two school principals, in Bukit Selambau, Kedah and Kulai, Johor, for their alleged racial slurs levelled against students of minority communities.
In Bukit Selambau, the school head was alleged to have reprimanded several non-Muslim students for eating within the school premises during Ramadan while Muslim students were fasting, telling the students to “go back to China”.
Earlier , the principal in Kulai caused a furore when she stated that ethnic Chinese students should “go back to China” and that the Hindu prayer strings on their wrists were akin to dog leashes.
“The world is made up of diverse ethnicities and it is the responsibility of governments to protect each and every ethnic community.
“The idea of forcing an assimilated ‘1Malaysia’ based on ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay supremacy) is a fascist pipe dream,” Kua said. – Mkini