Everything starts at school – racism will get worse if education ministry closed one eye over racist bigotry

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So far, the new government of Anwar Ibrahim does not appear interested in tackling the sensitive issue, largely because the offenders are Muslims while the victims are non-Muslims.

Besides home, school is the most important place to fight – or breed – racism, extremism, gangsterism and discrimination because children and youths are most vulnerable and could be easily influenced here. A school is where students receive education, hence how they are nurtured and shaped depend on the school programme and educators known as teachers.

In Germany, fighting against extremism starts at school where children were taught not to say mean things about Syrian refugees, for example, through workshops and other projects. In Malaysia, however, not only students are loaded with massive hours of religious studies, teachers in national schools become the main players in promoting racist bigotry and religious extremism.

The latest racism and extremism involved a disgusting teacher who told a 15-year-old student that in order to join the national soccer team, he has no choice but to convert to Islam. It doesn’t matter if the talented boy is as good as Pele, Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi if he isn’t a Muslim. The shocking religious extremism was exposed by the boy’s mother, who identified herself as “Vasan”.

You don’t need a rocket scientist to tell the race and religion of the teacher and the student. Apparently, the “Islamisation” attempt by the Muslim teacher came to light on February 3 when the student revealed to her mother messages in a WhatsApp group created for the class by the teacher, who has been preaching to the student about Islam for the past six months.

Heck, the teacher has even told Vasan’s son that “only Muslims are allowed to enter stadiums in Malaysia”, despite the fact that sports facilities are built and maintained using taxpayers’ money. Worse, the radical teacher was so daring that the class was roped in to suggest an Islamic name for him. But when Vasan and her husband tried to call the teacher to discuss about it, their numbers were blocked.

A police report has been made and Cheras district police chief Zam Halim Jamaluddin confirmed that an investigation is being carried out. The teacher could be charged for trying to convert the student, which is against Article 11 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion. As the boy is a minor, attempts to convert him without the consent of his parents are unconstitutional and illegal.

However, Vasan said her son was worried that he would be removed from the school team or be given lower grades if a police report is lodged. But it was the right thing to do. The fact that the teacher chose to block the numbers of the parents instead of engaging them suggests that the coward teacher knew he had crossed the line and was as guilty as hell.

Not only the despicable teacher has broken the law, he has irresponsibly misled students with false information that only Muslims are allowed to enter stadiums in the country. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the religious extremist has “threatened” the Hindu student with the ultimatum – become a Muslim or risk being dropped out from the soccer team.

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It also means religious extremism has been going on in the school for a very long time. It seems Islamization is part and parcel of the school based on the teacher’s open discussion with the class to recommend a Muslim name for the non-Muslim student. Unless the school allows such practice, which means the principal is equally guilty, disciplinary actions must be taken against the teacher.

Exactly what does a Hindu student’s talent in soccer or football got to do with Islam? Why must he convert to Islam to qualify as a school or national soccer team player? Instead of using such a cheap gimmick to brag that Malay-Muslims have great talents, they should look back at the golden era of “Taukeh” Soh Chin Aun, “Spiderman” Arumugam and “Supermokh” Mokhtar Dahari.

They still haven’t figured out that Malaysia, once the best soccer team in Southeast Asia, has been reduced to the current pathetic stage – struggling to beat even Thailand or Vietnam – thanks to “Ketuanan Melayu”, the ideology of Malay supremacy espoused by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) under the Mahathir leadership during his 22 years iron-fist rule.

Through systematic discrimination against the minority Chinese and Indian even in sports, talents like Vasan’s son are ignored and dumped because of skin colour and religion. They would rather splash top dollar to import foreign players (and treat them like royalty) than to give a fair chance to fellow Indian or Chinese citizens to contribute to national soccer.

The most hilarious part was their fondness to celebrate with special public holiday every time they won local tournaments like the Malaysia FA Cup, as if they had won the FIFA World Cup. While there’s nothing wrong with the “syok sendiri” (full of oneself) mentality, obviously it has not brought the “jaguh kampung” (village champion) national team far on the international stage, has it?

While the teacher must be named and shamed, not to mention investigated and punished accordingly, the education ministry must also share the blame for closing one eye over the spread of racism and extremism in schools. So far, the new government of Anwar Ibrahim does not appear interested in tackling the sensitive issue, largely because the offenders are Muslims while the victims are non-Muslims.

After the religious conversion was exposed, the bet was already on the table that nothing will happen to the teacher except a slap on the wrist. His race and religion mean he is “untouchable” even by the most powerful man in the country – the 10th Prime Minister. The issue could be easily manipulated and politicised by Opposition Perikatan Nasional to put Malays and non-Malays at loggerheads.

Last month, another episode of racism happened at a national school in Johor – SMK Infant Jesus Convent – where special SPM workshops held at Hotel Suasana were conducted for only Muslim students. When the “secret class” was exposed and went viral on social media, the school lied that it involved only religious-related subjects. But the lies didn’t last long.

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It turned out to be a comprehensive workshop covering subjects such as Chemistry, Additional Mathematics and other subjects. Even Sultan Ibrahim of Johor condemned the discrimination, issuing a statement that no one should be left out of any public programmes because of their race or religion. The school then cooked up more lies to cover their lies.

The spectacular half-baked story went from helping some Malay-Muslim SPM candidates who had failed their Bahasa Melayu and History subjects to dubious claims that the workshop was held separately based on sessions to avoid disturbing candidates who were preparing for Chinese New Year. Obviously, they can’t explain why Indian students could not join the workshops.

Furious parents shared that out of the 40 students who failed, 21 were non-Muslims while 19 were Muslim students. There were actually more non-Malay students who need help than Muslim students. The best part was the Malay students attending the programme on Jan 19 and 20 were asked to take a pledge not to tell their peers about the programme.

When parents raised the matter in the school’s parent-teacher association (PTA) WhatsApp group, the principal – Ande Noor Munawarah Bachok – quickly shut down the conversation, only allowing admin messages in the group and enabling the chat’s setting for disappearing messages. The Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) chairman, Nasution Putra Saad Putra, claimed that the SPM workshop had been blown out of proportion.

It’s not rocket science that the workshop was nothing but a cheating class to share questions in the upcoming SPM examination with the Malay students to ensure they score with flying colours. After all, how much could you help the weaker students during the “express two-day, one-night” SPM class? That’s how unemployable graduates are being produced by planeloads in the local universities.

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Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek, in her attempt to run away from the issue, said it was up to the Johor education department to take action against the school. The incompetent Education Ministry then said there was no discrimination involved in the SPM preparation workshop, despite the glaring evidence of not only discrimination, but racism and cover-up.

Of course, no one has been punished simply because PM Anwar Ibrahim, in his crusade to prove that he is more Islamic than opposition PAS Islamist party, cannot afford to be seen as punishing Muslim teachers. The most shameful part of the drama is the participation of the education ministry in helping to cover-up the racism, instead of taking stern action to send a message to little Napoleons.

Like it or not, it was the reluctance of ministers like Fadhlina to boldly and decisively punish those responsible in the SPM workshop fiasco that encouraged the teacher to abuse his authority and try to convert Vasan’s son when a school should be the place to produce quality students and talents in sports. Why can’t the clueless and incompetent education minister do what Hannah Yeoh did?

Minister of Youth and Sports Hannah Yeoh, along with the Malaysian Volleyball Association, decisively revoked the coach’s licence of 44-year-old Saiful Hadee Amar after he was caught in a video clip slapping two teenage players during the Under-14 Youth Volleyball Championship – despite the coach’s apology. It was to send a message across the board that an apology is not the licence to commit violence.

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When national hockey player Hanis Nadiah Onn made a racist remark on her Instagram on the recent AR Rahman concert, the Youth and Sports Ministry investigated and suspended her. The 26-year-old player who helped Malaysia win gold medals at the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games has now been dismissed for the upcoming SEA Games in Cambodia.

Even though the sportswoman had made an open apology and claimed that her racist remark was a “joke”, the ministry understood that racism will continue if offenders could easily get away when caught by apologizing. The fact that she was a gold medalist made it even more crucial to punish her to send a message that the ministry does not condone any racial comments made by athletes. – Finance Twitter