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Hishammuddin’s keris desensitization and the Boiling-Frog syndrome

2008 Budget Debate Speech (2)           
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament, Tuesday): National unity is one of the challenges of the Prime Minister’s Department but it is sad and scandalous that on the occasion of the 50th Merdeka anniversary celebration, there has been an escalation of incidents which further undermine national unity and polarize race and religious relations.

The most recent incident was the demolition of a 40-year-old Hindu temple at Kampung Rimba Jaya in Shah Alam, Selangor last week, showing utter contempt of the Selangor State and Shah Alam Municipal authorities for legitimate and constitutional rights and sensitivities to the extent that even the MIC President, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu had yesterday to momentarily announce the cancellation of all MIC Deepavali Open Houses, to be reversed a few hours later.

Why couldn’t the demolition of the Kampung Rimba Jaya Hindu temple wait for a week for Deepavali to be celebrated by the Hindu devotees? Why couldn’t the Selangor and Shah Alam municipal authorities allow time for the Hindu temple to be relocated?

What action would be taken against the Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Khir Toyo and the Shah Alam Municipal authorities for their insensitivities in demolishing the Hindu temple in Shah Alam, seriously damaging the process of nation-building?

Another grave setback to national unity and nation-building took place just today – at the UMNO Youth General Assembly, where for the third year consecutively, the UMNO Youth leader and Education Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein wielded the keris and attacked those who had criticized him for his keris-antics in the past two years as “real racists”.

Last week, Hishammuddin said that despite nation-wide controversy and protests he would continue to unsheathe the keris at the UMNO Youth general assembly this year until the non-Malays become “desensitized” to it.

I am reminded of the Boiling-Frog Syndrome. If you put a frog into boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out. But if you put the frog in cold war and increase the heat of the water slowly, it will get accustomed to the increasing heat.

This is not the first instance of the “desensitization” strategy, using the Boiling-Frog Syndrome, in nation-building which will result only in greater disunity and polarization in plural Malaysia.

We can see this “desensitization” strategy in the Islamic state issue, where the arbitrary and unconstitutional revision of the Merdeka Constitution and social contract to make Malaysia an Islamic State is periodically repeatedly hoping that over the passage of time, Malaysians will get desensitized to it from their initial outrage and indignation begin to accept Malaysia as an Islamic state.

Another is the New Economic Policy, which was meant to be a 20-year policy from 1970 to 1990. Today, we read of the latest demand by the Malacca Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam that bumiputra quota should be 40 to 50 per cent – another example of “desensitization” of UMNO policies!

What is most objectionable about the NEP is that it is eventually a small section of Umnoputras who benefit at the expense of the Malay masses.

Let me make it very clear that non-Malays in Malaysia fully accept keris as a symbol of justice whether at national or state government level.

In his opening speech of the UMNO Youth, Wanita and Puteri Assemblies yesterday, Deputy UMNO President and Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak said:

When Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj declared that the date of Merdeka would be Aug 31, 1957 at a special rally held in Bandar Hilir Malacca on Feb 20, 1956, he was handed a symbolic 100-year-old keris by Wanita UMNO which the Tunku then unsheathed, kissed and thrust towards the sky. This act was witnessed with great jubilation and pride by all races who were overjoyed about the forthcoming independence. At that instance, the keris was a symbol of the success of a united struggle.”

“And so when UMNO Youth produced the Panca Warisan keris and raised it symbolically, it was quite unfair for the opposition to turn it into a political issue. The UMNO Youth was not declaring hostilities but was instead reaffirming its struggle within the boundaries of the Federal Constitution.”

This is precisely the point. Tunku’s unsheathing of the keris was the symbol of national unity and accepted by all communities, but Hishamuddin’s unsheathing of the keris was the symbol of national disunity which was why it was so divisive and polarizing.

The issue is not the use of the keris but the context in which the keris was used. When Hishammuddin unsheathed the keris, it was not to unify Malaysians regardless of race but in a confrontational, combative and hostile manner which tramples on the rights and sensitivities of the other communities.

For instance, Hishammuddin’s unsheathing of the keris at the UMNO Youth General Assembly was made in the contest of extremist, incendiary and seditious utterances such as:

• “when tension rises, the blood of Malay warriors will run in our veins”;

• “Datuk Hisham has unsheathed his keris, waved his keris, kissed his keris. We want to ask Datuk Hisham when is he going to use it”; and

• “Hak Orang Melayu tidak boleh dicabar, jika tidak orang Melayu akan mengamok, peristiwa Mei 13 akan berulang yang ianya akan lebih teruk daripada tahun 1969 yang akan menjadikan Kuala Lumpur padang terkukur”.

Even MCA and Gerakan had initially strongly protested against the symbolism and implications of Hishamuddin’s keris antics, although MCA Youth was later reducing to waving the Malaysian Constitution and Gerakan to proclaiming the Rukunegara principles!

For the sake of national unity, such Hishamuddin keris-antics and “desensitization” should end forthwith.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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