Race relations laws will assist the authorities to manage race relations, to clarify any uncertainty, but may to a certain extent suggest that Malaysians are, perhaps, racists.
IT is of crucial importance for the citizens of any growing nation to also grow intellectually. A mature nation is not just a nation of financial wealth, but a nation filled with people who can articulate their points intellectually and critically, and do so calmly and with poise.
In 2007 and 2008, the National Young Lawyers Committee of the Bar Council (NYLC) held a series of forums – known as “Siri Pemikiran Kritis” (SPK) – which encouraged open debates and discussions of issues which affected the people and the nation.
These debates and discussions included issues relating to the economy, civil liberties, and human rights. It was hoped that these forums would activate quality dialogues, over rhetoric and emotional outbursts.
The series was very well received. The panel of invited speakers ranged from national leaders to NGO members.
The attendees were mostly normal Malaysians who cared for the country and who were keen to hear the views of the panel speakers.
As the name of the series suggests, its purpose was to encourage critical thinking. The forums took a standard format.
The NYLC would invite a few speakers who were well versed with the topic, and have a moderator to host.
After each speaker presented his thoughts on the topic at hand, the floor would be open for the attendees to pose queries and sometimes debate with the panel speakers.
The very first SPK was held on Jan 11, 2007, and the topic was the New Economic Policy. It was a good start, and eventually, eight further forums were held.
This year, the NYLC is reviving the SPK series. This is part of the NYLC’s on-going community programme, which includes not only offering people legal and non-legal assistance, but also to educate and engage via public forums such as the SPK.
The idea of public forums where Malaysians can gather and listen to the ideas and views of others, and partake in open dialogues, drove the current NYLC team to re-visit the successful SPK.
To kick start the 2012 version of the SPK, the NYLC will host a forum on the issue of the proposed race relations law in Malaysia – “Race Relations Laws: Backwards or Forwards?”
Law Minister Datuk Seri Mohamad Nazri Aziz, announced that a Bill would be presented in Parliament, which would be in similar vein with the race relations laws of other countries.
What are race relations laws? In its simplest sense, race relations laws govern the relations of different races in a country. In the United Kingdom and the United States, laws governing race relations were passed and are used to manage the different races.
Do we need such laws in Malaysia? Does Malaysia not already have a sufficient legislative framework to govern race relations? How have we been governing race relations since 1957? Is our Federal Constitution a sufficient guide on race relations? Is it not enough for race relations be governed by honest and benevolent government policies?
Perhaps the new laws would assist the authorities to manage race relations. Arguably, there is an opportunity to clarify any uncertainty.
To a certain extent, the proposed race relations law suggests that Malaysians are, perhaps, racists. Only in countries where racism is rampant, or where it is damaging the roots of the society, would such a law be necessary.
Are Malaysians really racists?
That would be a question which only the Malaysian people can answer.
It is possible that this country is not, by majority, filled with racists, but instead that Malaysia has been subjected to unfortunate and sometimes insidiously enforced policies, which gives the impression that we are racists.
Taking a general view of Malaysian society, there is hardly any open, blatant racism.
For example, in the US, at the peak of racism, African Americans were not allowed to share seats in buses with White Americans in some states.
That was a dark moment in American history and their Senate had to intervene with laws to legislate that.
Policies in America also changed to discourage segregation.
Unlike in the US, any Malaysian can hitch a ride on a bus and share seats with people of different races. This is, of course, a simplistic example. Perhaps Malaysians may feel otherwise.
People may feel that we need such laws. Malaysians may also feel that we should discuss and perhaps debate on this proposed law.
So, do we need race relations laws in Malaysia? Or do we actually need race relations policies instead? And if we do introduce race relations laws, what would they contain?
So many questions. So many issues.
That being the case, we invite you make your way to the upcoming SPK Forum, which will be held on Saturday, March 31, at the Bar Council Auditorium in Kuala Lumpur from 10am to 2pm.
The forum will be initiated by Senator Gan Ping Sieu who is also Youth and Sports Deputy Minister. The speakers will be Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, Farish Noor, and Faisal Moideen. It will be moderated by Syahredzan Johan.
Please register with the Bar Council by contacting Janet Nathan, the Executive Officer in charge at firstname.lastname@example.org, as seats are limited.
> The writer is the chairperson of the National Young Lawyers Committee. PutikLada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, visit www.malaysianbar.org.my.