Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Raja Nazrin: "A place under the Malaysian sun for all"

A striking display of quality from the man who will one day become King.

"Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun."

Lead... and your people will follow, my liege.

Previous blogpost on Raja Nazrin: About Unity: An Interview with Raja Dr Nazrin Shah.

The full text of his speech at the Bar Council below:



Ladies and Gentlemen:

1. It is my pleasure to be here to deliver the keynote address at this Roundtable Discussion on National Unity and Development in Malaysia: Challenges and Prospects for Nation Building. I am always happy to take part in an event where there are many young informed Malaysians. I find that this is time well spent. Not only does it give me a chance to share my thoughts, but it also lets me do a bit of opinion research among the younger generation. We like to say that our youths are the future of this country, but then we proceed to ignore or marginalise them. We want our future generations to be able to think and act wisely, but then we do not give them sufficient opportunities to do so.

2. In my view, this is not a good way to prepare those who will take our place. If the young are to be good leaders and citizens, they must be exposed to more than just abstract concepts. Even those nation states which have failed miserably have had great political ideals. I believe that good and upright leadership must be demonstrated. It has to be both taught and observed at work. Then, those who are found to be able must be mentored by those who are capable. In this way, success can be learned and replicated. Finally, the young must be given responsibilities they can handle. They should be allowed to make mistakes along the way as part of their overall learning process. If we do these things, our actions will echo loudly into the future.

3. My address this morning is on the challenges and prospects of nation building, a topic that is of the greatest and gravest importance. Nation building is essential to national unity which lies at the heart of what this country was, is and will be. With the passage of time, it seems that we are starting to forget this and it is imperative that we do not. In the time available, I hope to say enough to provide some fuel for the discussions to follow. It is my earnest wish that you will gain some further perspectives on the nature of nation building and that you will also deliberate on specific actionable ways to further it in this country.

4. Confucius insisted that language must be properly used if things are to get done, if justice is not to go astray, and if people are not to "stand about in helpless confusion." He disapproved of those who misused words to hide their true intentions and actions. So what exactly is nation building? Not surprisingly, there are many definitions, some which differ by a little and others by quite a lot. In his book, The Making of a Nation, for example, Professor Cheah Boon Kheng defined it as "both economic progress and socio-political integration of a nation, i.e. prosperity and national unity." This captures what are hopefully the two end results of nation building, but it makes no mention of its nature and process. I prefer the more common understanding, which is that it is the use of state power across different dimensions to ensure that a country is politically stable and viable in the long term. These dimensions include ethnicity and religion.

5. As a brief footnote, it should be noted that nation building is a heated and even hated notion in some parts of the world. The main reasons for this are, first, that it is taking place in the midst of great domestic turmoil and, second, that it is primarily initiated and managed by foreign powers. Trying to cobble a functioning state by papering over deep social and political rifts is, of course, easier said than done. History has shown us time and again, that it is much easier to break down, rather than build up, nations.

6. In the case of Malaysia, nation building has occurred in generally peaceful circumstances. It was not imposed by another country. And it is undertaken mainly by collective choice rather than compulsion. The fact that we have been able to forge a nation without resorting to the rule of the gun has made us something of a rarity and a case to be studied, if not emulated. It has allowed a relatively effective system of governance to develop. Our track record at development and resolving problems such as illiteracy, poverty and poor health has been good.

7. There is, of course, much more that can be done. Our institutions of governance are far from perfect and quality improvements will probably occupy us for at least the next fifty years, if not longer. Nevertheless, for all the criticisms that have been made, it is only common sense that we could not have survived, let alone prosper, these last 50 years if government institutions had not been responsive or effective.

8. So what are the central challenges to nation building going forward? Let me speak first more generally about the world, and then move specifically to Malaysia. To my mind, there are many challenges, but the one that stands out most is that of having to balance the need for change with that of continuity. Globalisation, in particular, has unleashed sweeping economic, political, social and cultural transformations that have weakened national institutions, values and norms. It is as if all the boats on the ocean had suddenly lost their anchors, rudders and compasses overnight. Naturally, this has produced a strong reaction in the form of a desire to preserve identity, character and tradition. These are among the strongest motivations known to mankind and have been at the foreground or background of practically every conflict that has ever been waged. Add to this, a deep sense of deprivation, powerlessness and injustice, both real and imagined, and the tension between change and continuity mount greatly.

9. Managing change on a national level is never easy, and certainly not on the scale and speed that we are witnessing. Multi-ethnic countries have to be especially watchful, and particularly if they have a weak sense of national collective identity. In the absence of a strong binding nationalism, they are prone to polarisation and competition along ethno-religious lines. The state, which may well start out by being a relatively honest broker, can become increasingly pressured to act in ways that favour the interests of one group over another. If the pendulum swings too far in one direction, dissatisfaction and frustrations will inevitably result. These can be expressed in ways that range from passive non-cooperation to active opposition and even violent conflict. To a large extent, this has led to the fragmentation of states.

10. Countries need to recognise the larger macro forces at work and understand their implications. They have to engage creatively to ensure that there are sufficient investments in social capital and cohesion. They must create and capitalise on co-operative systems within societies. In recent times, it has become usual to try and place the blame for the disintegrating state of world affairs on the doorstep of religion. This is a misunderstanding of the first order. Religion is not the cause of societal dystrophy; it is the antidote. It is a social stabiliser that allows believers to reconnect to values that are fast being lost in today's ever more materialistic and self-centred world.

11. What does Malaysia have to do to ensure that it continues to be successful at nation building? Psychologists say that our short-term memory can only hold seven items. Let me outline seven guidelines that I think will have to be borne in mind in future national building efforts.

12. First, Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun. Only when each citizen believes that he or she has a common home and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she make the sacrifices needed for the long haul. In Malaysia, the Federal Constitution, the Rukun Negara and Vision 2020 encapsulate the rights, hopes and aspirations of the population in a way that no other documents do. The integrity of these documents must be defended and promoted, especially the first.

13. Second, when we seek solutions to problems in nation building, we must be careful not to assume away problems. Nation building is required precisely because there are stark differences within society. If we all walked, talked and thought the same, it would probably not be needed. There will therefore be chauvinistic groups in this country, just as there are in others. They will fight the idea of national unity, block social change and try to be politically dominant. The existence of these groups, however, does not mean that nation building is a futile exercise. It does mean that we must be prepared to negotiate our way through and around these differences. We can, for example, create social movements that aim to enlighten and dissuade popular support being given to them.

14. Third, nation building requires accommodation and compromise. In our haste to be prescriptive, we should not be so idealistic that we are incapable of also being practical. We should not allow perfection to be the enemy of the good. Yes, we should seek the best solutions and expect the highest standards of performance. But we should also be prepared to sacrifice some part of our positions for the good of the whole. The virtues of pure self-interest are largely a myth. What seems to be a reality is that individuals end up worse off when they act out of self-interest, as opposed to acting in their collective group interests.

15. Fourth, if nation building is to be successful, enforced solutions must be avoided. Nation building is effectively rendered null and void by coercion or the threat of violence. 'Might' cannot and must not be shown to be 'right'. If solutions cannot be found within the political and social structures, there will be a strong temptation to resort to illegitimate ways and means.

16. Fifth, nation building occurs when society is open, tolerant and forward-looking. So important are these values that they are embedded in Vision 2020's nine strategic challenges, as are those of mature democracy, caring society and innovation. Only by being inclusive and participative can the various sectors of our society be productively engaged. It follows that all forms of extremism, chauvinism, racism and isolationism must be guarded against. They must be soundly sanctioned socially, politically and, if necessary, also legally.

17. Sixth, nation building is a process rather than an outcome. When Malaysia started off 50 years ago, there were no examples to study. There were no manuals to follow. Mistakes were made and, to a greater or lesser extent, lessons have been learned. While a sense of impatience is perhaps fully understandable, nation building takes place over a period of time and only with persistence. Where there is no trust, trust has to be built. Where there is no cooperative network, one has to be established. Building on layers of foundation is the only way to ensure that the process is solid and sustainable.

18. Seventh, the political, social and economic incentives must reward good behaviour and penalise bad. I know that this statement is virtually self-evident, but it is a fact that many countries are as likely to punish good behaviour as to reward it. After all, if there are benefits for corruption, then there is a real cost to being honest. The incentives for building up a nation must be greater and more compelling than breaking it down. The price of racial and cultural intolerance must be made prohibitively high.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

19. I believe fostering national unity is the responsibility of every Malaysian. However, schools, institutions of higher learning and sports centers have a very special role to play. This is because the sense of national unity is best inculcated in the young. Through textbooks, sports and interaction, educators should eliminate ethnic stereo-types. Through the imaginative teaching of the history of Islamic, Chinese and Indian civilisation, educators could foster greater understanding among different ethnic groups.

20. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. I believe this is true. To me the village comprises three main institutions - family, school and community. From birth we should be taught to respect and honour each other's culture and heritage. Learning to interact with others is part of this process. Playing with children of other races on the play ground and in friends' homes, we learn to go beyond the colour lines early in life. In school we should be taught about other cultures and beliefs under the same roof as others of different ethnic groups - once again cutting through the colour lines.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

21. I am aware that there are many Malaysians who are deeply troubled at the state of national unity in this country. What I have tried to do today is disabuse you of the notion that there are any 'quick fix' solutions in nation building. If you look closely enough at any country, even ones that are regarded today as highly successful such as Japan, you will find there have been episodes in its past where events were very tenuous. I hope we will do our best to guard against cynicism and hopelessness. And I hope we will all stay the course. Failure, may I remind you all, is a costly option.

22. I wish all speakers, facilitators and participants a constructive and fulfilling day ahead.


seantang said...

Perak prince has hit the nail on the head
Thursday April 5, 2007

COMING from Penang, I feel a little weird around royalty. We are just not used to them, you see. In fact, there is a family legend on my Mom’s side that illustrates this.

My great granddad was from Penang and he moved to Kedah to take up a teaching post. While working in his garden, a group of men came up on horseback. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

“Hello,” said my ancestor.

“Don’t you know who I am?” asked the lead horseman imperiously.


“I am your Sultan!”


Or something like that.

I must confess that great-grandpa’s temporary cluelessness has been passed down to me. So at functions with royalty, I stand when others stand, sit when they sit and generally try to be inconspicuous. I don’t pay much attention to their speeches either because the “beta’s” and “titah’s” confuse me.

Raja Nazrin of Perak’s speech two days ago at a Bar Council do was a bit different though. For one thing, he wasn’t using royal language. For another, he was speaking about a pressing issue in the country, in a manner that was, for a royal address, detailed and pointed.

The topic was about nation building and the first point he made was that at the core of the nation-building process was the need to have a citizenry that actually felt that they were a part of that nation.

I am glad the prince said this because it can’t be stressed enough that this is a major problem in Malaysia as more and more people are feeling disillusioned with the way they perceive themselves to be treated. There is a loss of a sense of belonging and an isolation of spirit that comes from being seen as the other.

It is one thing to have policies that favour one group over all others; it is another thing to make the other groups feel totally left out and uncared for.

When affirmative action becomes oppressive and when respect for one group is not matched with equal respect for another, what we will have is an atmosphere of cynicism and anger. This is not conducive to the well-being of the nation, be it economically, politically or socially.

His Highness (see, I’m learning the proper terms as I write) went on to say that in order to continue to grow as a united country, we must reject extremism and bigotry with dialogue and civil action. Tolerance and forward thinking ought to be the order of the day and inclusive participation as opposed to enforced solutions, the method of overcoming problems.

Underlying all this is a need for the total respect and protection of the Federal Constitution.

This call to look unto the Constitution as the guiding light this nation needs to adhere to is not new or revolutionary, but coming from Raja Nazrin, it takes on a certain resonance.

To the royalists out there, it is a call for the adherence to the law from a ruler. To me, it is an indication that things have reached a point where the direction this country is taking is a matter of concern of such importance that it affects not only the man on the street but also a man who could not be further away from it.

If now is not the time to make sure our country reaches for the ideals of fairness and justice, so that together we can grow as a nation, then I have no idea when is.

seantang said...

Raja Nazrin lauded for his concerns on unity

Nazrin: Won praise for his views and concerns on nation-building and national unity.
KUALA LUMPUR: The Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah has drawn praise for the timeliness of his views and concerns on nation-building and national unity.

In his keynote address at the Young Malaysians’ Roundtable Discussion on National Unity and Development in Malaysia: Prospects and Challenges for Nation-Building on Tuesday, Raja Nazrin had said that Malaysians of all races, religions and geographic locations needed to believe “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that they have a place under the Malaysian sun. (See: Star Online for full text)

Kota Baru MP Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said it was refreshing to hear a member of the royalty say these things.

“Raja Nazrin’s views are not novel. These thoughts should be part and parcel of our lives but they are important because they are timely,” he said.

Parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang called the address a timely reminder just as Malaysia is turning 50 because of the fundamental issues facing the nation.

Lim said the statement about Malaysians having a place under the sun had a resonance because more and more were feeling and being made to feel that they do not have a place, resulting in despair and hopelessness.

Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said Raja Nazrin’s call reflected the deep concern that there has been some departure from the true administration of the Constitution and implementation of the Government’s socio-economic policies in accordance with the spirit of the Rukunegara, Vision 2020 and national unity.

Bar Council chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan said: “When we speak of the Constitution, we are touching base with the roots of our nation because it’s the Constitution that provides the fundamental framework for Malaysians to live in peace and harmony.”

International Movement for a Just World president Dr Chandra Muzaffar, who said it was significant that a person of Raja Nazrin’s stature had touched on the issues, said there were forces at work which have chosen to interpret certain Constitution provisions in a way to create anxiety in some segments of society.

“By reiterating the Constitution as a defining document in Malaysia’s journey, he has drawn attention to its importance and need to adhere to it.”

Sisters in Islam (SIS) said it supported Raja Nazrin in denouncing all forms of extremism, chauvinism, racism and isolation.

It also urged Muslim organisations and individuals who believe in justice, equality and human rights to “show solidarity with our non-Muslim friends by speaking out against any form of injustices that may be perpetrated against them.”

In the Dewan Rakyat, several MPs also voiced their support to defend the Constitution and work towards national unity.

seantang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seantang said...

Inculcate inquisitive minds in students, says Raja Nazrin

IPOH, THU.: The cultivation of inquisitive minds among students in all schools nationwide must be given attention if Malaysia aspires to continue achieving greater glory in the next 50 years, the Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah says.

To become a developed country, the society must possess authentic thinking, clear perspective, open and inquisitive mind, and the ability to analyse objectively, he said.

“The country not only requires students who can give accurate answers in examination scripts, but the country is in greater need for citizens who can act intelligently when facing the reality of more challenging situations whose answers are not found in books and examination curricula.

“Be mindful that the ability to brave the ocean of life which holds various opportunities and waves of challenges is more important than records set when competing at the school swimming pool,” he said at Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan (SMJK) Ave Maria Convent here today.

Raja Nazrin also said school students not only have to be guided to know each other but they must also be given opportunities to actively interact with people of various races.
Each citizen of the country must be open, avoid prejudice and reject extremism whether in the name of race or religion, he said.

On convent schools in Malaysia, Raja Nazrin said: “Something must be said of any institution that can endure and grow stronger with the ups and downs of history which is a tumultuous background of foreign influence, social upheaval, independence and the many changes that came with development.

“Though most of the positive aspects and distinguishing features of convent schools are retained, these schools have been well-integrated into the mainstream education system,” he said.

At the function, he presented awards to the SMJK Ave Maria Convent students who excelled in Penilaian Menengah Rendah and Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations and co-curriculum activities.

Among the recipients was Tan Bing Xuan, 15, who suffers from generalised dystonia but is highly determined in seeking knowledge.

Raja Nazrin also made a personal donation of RM100,000 to the school.