BOB TEOH on Rais Yatim’s Post-Truth Politics over the Malay Language

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Given his penchant for post-truth politics over the use of Malay as the official language, Rais Yatim may be unsuitable to be the next Dewan Rakyat speaker. This is because parliamentary debate should be moderated by the speaker to ensure it is fact-driven.

Already he has slayed the new finance minister, Lim Guan Eng, for translating his press statement into Mandarin from the official Malay version. This undermines the position of Bahasa Melayu as the national language, he claims. Clearly, Lim has complied as his official statement was in Bahasa Malaysia.

Next, Rais skinned the new attorney-general Tommy Thomas alive for his lack of command of the national language and wanting the court to allow him to use English in prosecuting ousted prime minister Najib Abdul Razak for alleged corruption and abuse of power. This also subverts, as Rais claims, the constitutional position of Bahasa Melayu as the national language and the place of honour that it so rightly deserves.

Rais’ obiter dictum is, “Cakap Bahasa Melayu lah, bukan susah (Just speak Malay, it isn’t hard).”

Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics and post-reality politics), according to one definition, is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy or facts, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.

The phenomenon has become immensely popular, so much that in 2016, “post-truth” was chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year, due to its prevalence in the context of that year’s Brexit referendum and media coverage of the US presidential election.

Coming back to Rais, he too is skilful in this political sleight of hand. He was a former senior minister and Umno party leader. He is also a lawyer with a PhD from King’s College, London to boot. So let’s fact-check his post-truth politics over the position of Bahasa Melayu as the official language.

Article 152 (1) of the Federal Constitution states, “The national language shall be the Malay language” or in its Malay version, “Bahasa Melayu.”

However, the National Language Acts 1963/1967 do not define what is the national language. So the term “national language” is Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Kebangsaan or by convention, Bahasa Malaysia, or all three.

In this context, should the attorney-general then be told, “Cakap Bahasa Melayu lah?” Or should he speak Bahasa Kebangsaan, Malay or Bahasa Malaysia? What’s the difference? Semantics, my friend. Therein lies its usefulness as fodder for post-truth politics.

Fact-checking Rais

Let’s fact-check Rais again on the usage of Malay in the judiciary. Rais, who had served as de facto law minister, is quoted as saying he would always address the court in Bahasa Malaysia even if the judge allowed the use of English.

Before Tommy Thomas, all attorney-generals in the country since the formation of Malaysia in 1963 have been Malays. Did they prosecute in Malay or English? All chief justices in Malaysia since 1974 have been Malays. Did they hear cases before them and write their judgments in Malay or English? The answers to these two questions will reveal the bullshit in post-truth about usage of Malay in our courts.

I am using the BS word for the first time in my writing and it may sound offensive to some. But I find myself in good company when the University of Sydney takes an academic interest in post-truth, and its Sydney Research Excellence Initiative seek to “examine fake news, alternative facts, lies, bullshit, and propaganda, with the aim to understand them, and to advise on how the truth might survive in this climate (of post-truth).”

In a Twitter posting, PKR supreme council member Latheefa Koya said, “I wish to ask when PAS hired Thomas to represent the Kelantan government in 2010 to file a demand for oil royalty in court, what language did Thomas speak in?” Spot on.

Latheefa was responding to PAS ulama wing treasurer Khairuddin Aman Razaki, who claimed that Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and Thomas proved that Pakatan Harapan undermines the national language.

Where was PAS and their birds of the same feather when the various attorney-generals defended the government of the day in high-profile cases like the Altantuya murder, Teoh Beng Hock’s mysterious death and the like? Even Malay lawyers intervening in the decade-long “Allah” case argued in English.

A tool of oppression

My disgust with this whole post-truth charade over the use of the national language is the hypocrisy of it all. More than that, in the eyes of non-Malays, the language is seen as a linguistic tool of oppression against them.

I know this too well. Although the constitution allowed for the use of English for ten years after independence, the zealous among the patriots were already making great efforts to exclude non-Malays from the mainstream earlier.

My late father was not allowed promotion from second to first division officer unless he sat for a Malay language test in 1962. He was determined to beat the ruse. He passed and went on to write all his official correspondence in grammatically correct Malay.

My cousin, was denied entry into the health service as a nurse because she did not have a credit in Malay in Form Five. And that was in the sixties.

When I was at Universiti Malaya, the whole bunch of us who did not have a credit in Malay way back in Form Five had to pass a Malay language paper, otherwise we would not be able to go on to year two. This was a post-May 13 policy. Fortunately for us, we had a very understanding Malay teacher and she was such a help and an encouragement that we all passed, compliments to her leniency.

If Rais is so desirous of using Bahasa Melayu in courts, then we should see the judiciary taking the initiative. The so-called pathetic state of affairs in the usage of Bahasa Malaysia is truly an indictment of the judiciary itself in this department. And Rais was a former law minister too.

Perhaps Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the custodian of the national language, could come up with a “kamus undang-undang” or law dictionary or lexicon. Established in 1956, one year before independence and after all the millions poured into it, all that was done was to come up with a 15-word “istilah” or word list for law in 2000. And what does the Dewan suggest the court use for the word “fraud”? Answer: “fraud”; not even with an attempted change in its spelling! For “mandatory”, “mandatori”; yes, spelt with an “i”!

Similarly, the Home Affairs Ministry could do better than to write to church leaders on April 1, 1986 a circular that they cannot use a list of 16 words or “senarai perkataan sensitif” they considered so sensitif (oops! sensitive) as to be prejudicial to national security. Among the words was “Wahyu” (for the Book of Revelation) which is the recognised translation. The ministry ordered them to use the word “Revelasi.”

And for “prophet”, the Malay word should be “propet”, for Alkitab (Bible) the word should be “Baibel.” I could go on enlightening readers with the ministry’s attempt at humour if not for the fact that the whole exercise over use of the Malay language in the church had taken a sacrilegious turn for the worse.

So, given Rais’ penchant for post-truth politics over Bahasa Melayu, should he be considered for appointment as the next speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, never mind that he’s not an elected Member of Parliament? That’s your call. – Malaysiakini