51 Ideas for a Better Malaysia – #3Posted: September 14, 2008
Prologue: I was tagged by Walski of myAsylum about a week ago to participate in this blogger initiative started by Nizam Bashir. The idea behind this initiative is to come up with 51 ideas on how to make a better Malaysia, with one blogger posting one idea per week. The first post started, of course, with Nizam himself, which he tagged next to Walski. This week, it is my turn to come up with:
IDEA #3: Educate Malaysians on Human Rights
This, at first glance, would seem like nothing. After all, who doesn’t know what human rights are, right? We all know that we’re free to speak, free to express ourselves, free to walk and talk and buy things, free to work, free to earn, free to..whatever. We all know that.
But that’s not what I mean. To randomly pick an analogy that would be easy to grasp my idea of “educate”: I am a non-Muslim. But I KNOW what Islam is. I know it’s a religion in which Allah is the Almighty, that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is/was the last true prophet, and that the Quran is the holy book in Islam.
But to educate me about Islam, is quite something else. It is to teach me about the teachings of Islam. It is to allow me to understand it more deeply. It is to allow me the privilege of seeing the beauty of Islam the way Muslims see it. And by educating me, you are also teaching me to respect Islam.
And that, is what I propose we do with Human Rights in Malaysia. It is not enough that we know we can walk and talk and everything else, we must also be informed about what it really is, what laws bind us, what laws discriminate us, what laws do not conform to human rights, and what we as the people should know, and how it is influential in our everyday lives.
Recognising the problem
First and foremost, we as Malaysians must know what it is that is guaranteed as our basic rights as humans and citizens of Malaysia. This can be found in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not many of us know that.
When we talk about human rights, there is this funny misconception that it is “western” and so is not suitable for our country, which is “eastern” in culture. Then there are other skewed beliefs of the declaration, like “if we allow for human rights, there will be anarchy”, or “what about the sensitivities of people”, or “Malaysia doesn’t need this”.
All these views betray a lack of understanding for what is true human rights, and what human rights activists have been fighting for. And this is where educating the public becomes so important in disspelling these myths.
How do we do this
There are many, and I mean MANY, human rights groups in Malaysia. SUARAM is just one of them. And if I may say so myself, I think they’re doing a pretty good job. Just not too long ago, SUARAM organised roadshows and workshops, opening them to the public, so as the public may get to know more about what rights they have, and why they are so important.
And roadshows like these are always a good way to start. Get the community involved: the local townhall, the local school, the local church or masjid or temple. Don’t think that just the teachers, the students, or the educated need to know what human rights are. The makcik who sells cendol at your favourite stall should know about her rights. The uncle who sells you newspapers should know about his rights. The retired old man across the street who lives his days smoking out in his garden needs to know about his rights. Get them involved.
And there’s always school. Taking cue from Walski, our fundamental human rights should be taught in schools, possibly in Civil Education. It’s not enough to learn “Pendidikan Moral”, that incidentally the Muslim students forego. It’s not enough to be “moral”. We need to teach our children that we have our rights, and others have their rights. And that we need to respect their rights the way we want them to respect ours.
The media, and I mean the mainstream media, has a huge part to play in educating society. Much as some people have come to distrust the papers, it is highly naive to think that the papers carry no more weight. Given, in this day and time, the Internet is reaching out to more and more people. But the media is not called “mass media” for no good reason. It is supposed to be a media “for the masses”. And that’s why the media has to be roped in to help disseminate information about our rights.
The media can help by publishing articles and columns that touch on explaining our rights. Tell them what they have, and what they should be grateful for. Then tell them what they don’t have, and why. Teach them about the laws of the country. Don’t just go “The ISA is draconian and against human rights”, and expect them to clap their hands. Explain the law to them. Tell them what it does. (Added: And THIS article is a good start. Let’s have more of this forthcoming.)
To educate means to get people to understand.
It is important that we all know, knowledge is power. And with it, comes a deeper understanding for what is happening around us.
From learning about human rights, we learn that we need to respect our neighbours by not walking into the garden in our undies, in the same way we expect them to respect us by not wearing shoes into our houses.
We learn that when we don’t agree with something, we don’t shoot that person down, but rather we sit and have respectful dialogue. We learn that if after the dialogue we still cannot agree with each other, we don’t label them traitors of our kind, simply because they think differently.
We learn to respect dissenting views as a part of life, and a crucial part of growing.
And is that not what is fundamental in forming a united Malaysia?
Epilogue: Next person tagged for this initiative is Crankster of Crankshafted. Great place to visit, plenty of good writing, and you can expect a good idea coming from her, which is due next Sunday, 21/09/2008.