Dong Zong has rebuffed Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s assertion that the association is “racist” and that it opposes all government education policies.
In a joint statement with sister educationists’ group Jiao Zong, the two said there were others who were also opposed to the imposition of khat lessons for vernacular schools and that this was the mainstream view of the non-Muslim community.
“In fact, not all Malays agree with this move. For example, (former international trade and industry minister) Rafidah Aziz also said that khat should be an elective subject, not compulsory,” the two associations said.
DAP’s Lim Kit Siang said today that Dr Mahathir’s description of Dong Zong as “racist” for objecting to khat in primary schools was misguided.
However, the Iskandar Puteri MP said the United Chinese School Committees’ Association (Dong Zong) was also incorrect with its claim that the jawi calligraphy was a form of Islamisation.
“Both these incidents illustrate the gravity of the misperception that engulfs the subject of Jawi in Chinese and Tamil primary schools,” Lim said in a statement.
The prime minister criticised Dong Zong yesterday over its vehement rejection of khat on the grounds of religious freedom, saying the group was consistently against any policy related to education.
Lim has dismissed conspiracy theories circulating among the DAP grassroots that the khat controversy had been engineered by Dr Mahathir or Education Minister Maszlee Malik to serve political purposes.
“The Jawi subject controversy was a legacy of the former government. The (current) Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching only knew about the matter when the controversy blew up last month.”
He urged people to recognise that had the previous Barisan Nasional government retained power in the election last year, the Education Ministry would not have agreed to scale down the plan to teach khat.
Now, khat is not compulsory, it will not be assessed in examinations, and students will not undergo actual learning or writing of the script but only receive an introduction to it, he said.
He added discussions and consultation with all groups on the subject should be continued.
Another DAP lawmaker, Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh said Dr Mahathir’s labelling of Dong Zong as racist was “uncalled for and most regretted”.
“Instead of allaying the concerns of Dong Zong on the khat issue, calling it racist will only distance it from any compromise or negotiations that should be had by all stakeholders on the matter.
Yesterday, DAP secretary-general and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, said he would raise the matter again at the Cabinet meeting this week.
MCA says the statement by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad labelling Chinese educationist group Dong Zong as “racist” is uncalled for, says MCA.
Party president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said the Chinese and Indian community, former minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, activist lawyer Siti Kasim, columnist Azly Rahman and many other Malay intellectuals had also opposed the inclusion of Jawi calligraphy in the Bahasa Melayu subject for Year Four pupils.
“We are not racist. Thousands of us oppose this, but it’s not because we hate khat.
“We respect the cultural and artistic value of Jawi calligraphy, as well as the direction of education in Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
“As the only prime minister who used the now-defunct Internal Security Act against Chinese educationists, Dr Mahathir should not stir racial sentiments and create a split among the people for political mileage at the expense of Chinese education.
“If defending vernacular education is said to be racist, what about the remarks claiming ‘Chinese are rich’ and the decision to maintain the 90% quota for bumiputra students in the pre-university matriculation programme?” he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir’s labelling of Dong Zong as “racist” has sparked calls to rise above name-calling, amid criticism of the prime minister for being unfair and insensitive.
Vincent Lau, a former chairman of the Dong Zong, said Mahathir’s comments were unfair.
“When the people oppose, you call them racist,” he said, adding it was not right for government leaders to resort to name-calling against those who disagreed with its decisions.
“The government is just too insensitive to the voice of the people. The prime minister and his ministers are appointed for all Malaysians, not just one particular group,” he told FMT.
Johor DAP committee member Dr Boo Cheng Hau said Mahathir should do more “field work” and understand how Dong Zong ran a multilingual education system.
“I believe there is a lot of misunderstanding of Dong Zong which has been running a multilingual education system in the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC).”
Accusing Dong Zong as being racist, he said, was not only wrong but irresponsible. “Mahathir should no longer live with the same prejudice and ignorance; that will only adversely affect the country’s development,” he said.
According to DAP’s Sungai Pelek assemblyperson Ronnie Liu, criticism levelled at the government over a host of hot button issues were “constructive” and made with Malaysia’s best interest at heart.
Hence, he said there was no need for the sarcasm directed at him and DAP’s Klang MP Charles Santiago by Dr Mahathir yesterday.
“I don’t think there is any necessity for him to be sarcastic. After all, our criticisms are constructive and made because we want a better Malaysia, in line with what the electorate wants and expects,” Liu said in a statement.
Liu called on the premier and the Pakatan Harapan-led government to instead U-turn on “unpopular” policies, including on Lynas’ operations, Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, third national car, khat (Jawi calligraphy), matriculation quota and the unrepealed Sedition Act.
“Right now, many of them (the people) are saying with increasing regularity – This is not what we voted for.
“I hope Mahathir realises that people on the ground are saying things like … The people voted for change, not for BN-like policies,” Liu’s statement read.
“So, I hope Dr M will do the right thing and make a U-turn on policies that are unpopular and in contradiction with what Pakatan Harapan supporters want.”
Liu had yesterday commented that closing down the Lynas rare earth processing plant in Pahang would not spook away investors.
Santiago, meanwhile, had expressed concern over the seeming “troubling frequency” with which Mahathir was making unilateral decisions on important issues.
This prompted Mahathir to take a sarcastic swipe at the duo, saying that perhaps he should have consulted them prior to making a decision.
In the meantime, two Sarawak lawmakers from DAP said Dr Mahathir’s description of Dong Zong will not help allay the communities’ concerns about the introduction of khat in primary schools next year.
Expressing regret that the prime minister chose to respond in such a way, they claimed that Dong Zong was simply expressing public views about the issue.
“That is why I urge the Education Ministry to properly engage in more dialogues with the relevant stakeholders, including Dong Zong, Tamil school educationist and even the public at large, to properly allay the concerns of the ‘khat’ issue,” Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said.
Yii said more explanation should be given on the educational aspect of the move and steered away from the topics of race and religion.
Acknowledging that Dong Zong’s claims of Islamisation were inaccurate, he claimed that such concerns should not be callously dismissed as it could represent a large section of the Chinese community.
Padungan assemblyman Wong King Wei said the Chinese community were entitled to express their views and Dr Mahathir, as the PM, should listen.
“The old way of doing things should not be continued,” he added.