Khat Or No Khat Malaysians Must Go Beyond Zero Sum Game Of No Return


This morning over breakfast in the South Indian city of Salem, Tamil Nadu, my conversation with Lim Kit Siang invariably gravitated to the controversial topic of the proposed introduction of khat calligraphy in the Bahasa Melayu syllabus of primary schools
We agreed that somehow or rather, Malaysians must go beyond the zero-sum game of thinking and acting as to who gains and who loses
The government in Putrajaya might be different, but the old and archaic zero-sum game seems to take precedence over determining the political discourse
At one level, the introduction of khat is a simple exercise in terms of exposing students to artistic expressions and values
But at another level, no sooner has the policy been announced with or without public consultation, there is already hue and cry
It is argued that the introduction is seen as a gain for Malays and a loss for non-Malays
Some quarters have gone to the extent of saying that khat might constitute a subtle attempt at Islamisation
Maybe there is no basis for this fear, but the polarised nature of politics and the mutually exclusive conception induces fear among non-Malays, particularly among those who think that such a policy might dilute the vernacular content of Chinese and Tamil primary schools
Khat’s integration is not compulsory in schools but does not help in mitigating the worst fears of the non-Malays
However, there are some who think cutting across the racial and religious divide as to the significance of khat when there are other urgent matters to consider
The urgency to prepare our students to face the challenges of the 4.0 industrial revolution by the introduction of science and technology programmes seems to be the order of the day
But to what extent that this is a priority seems not clear
Education Minister Maszlee Malik takes the trouble to explain on khat but fails in addressing other pressing concerns of schools
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s statement that the government will not backtrack khat and the fact that Malaysia allows for the use of Chinese and Tamil scripts in vernacular schools was a reminder to those who oppose khat
Mahathir’s statement seems to be quite harsh towards those who are opposing the khat policy
While some might oppose for the sake of opposing, but in the polarised atmosphere of Malaysia where things are often figured in mutually opposing terms, there might be grounds for concern both imagined and real
The PH government backtracked on ICERD and later the Rome Statute out of concern of the possible backlash from the conservative racial and religious forces
Those who voted PH were disappointed, but the government being responsible had to take the retrogressive measure
The introduction of khat might not be a big issue but if it is not handled well, it could be an albatross around the PH government for a while
The DAP is expected to address this issue of khat at least to quell grassroots dissatisfaction that might emerge
The party being in the coalition faces difficulty in managing the matter in the best possible manner
It must go beyond simple-minded rationality to embrace the pernicious nature of zero-sum politics in the country
The compromise on Lynas has not gone well with the supporters, and now khat
So how the DAP leaders are going to manage the unfolding crises and, at the same times, maintain intact its support base among non-Malays remains to be seen in the coming days
It is not khat or ICERD or the Rome Statute, but how Malaysians are going to navigate the rough waters of politics that are structurally embedded in a zero-sum game
To get out of this structural conundrum, it will take several parties to tangle and move beyond the dark ages that have crippled Malaysia as a nation
At the end of the day, it is not so much khat or the fears of non-Malays but the poisoned atmosphere of extreme racial and religious politics
The challenge before us: how to get out of this imbroglio
P Ramasamy is the Penang deputy chief minister II. - FMT

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