KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has hit out again at the Chinese schools association over its opposition to the teaching of khat calligraphy, saying that legal action could be taken if the association instigates negative racial sentiment.
"It is going against the law. We have freedom of speech, but we are always sensitive about not instigating people to fight with each other,” he was quoted as saying by the Star.
"Dong Zong is only talking about one community, forgetting that this is a multi-racial country,” said the prime minister, referring to the United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia.
"It is for the police to decide (whether to ban Dong Zong)."
The prime minister was asked by reporters to comment on an online petition by a Malay rights group to ban the association for opposing the teaching of khat calligraphy in vernacular schools. This came after Dong Zong had started its own petition to protest the learning of khat calligraphy.
Earlier this month, the Education Ministry said that khat would be taught to Year Four students in Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools as part of the Malay language syllabus beginning next year.
The decision caused an uproar among the local Chinese community, which is known to be protective of its mother tongue education.
Chinese educationists questioned the rationale behind introducing khat, which is usually associated with Islam, adding that it would not help the students enhance their Malay language skills.
Later, the Cabinet said that khat would only be an elective in the Malay language curriculum.
On Monday, Dr Mahathir said that Dong Zong was racist as it never agreed with national education policies, including the introduction of khat calligraphy in schools.
The prime minister said apart from the calligraphy issue, the association was also against the setting up of a campus containing different vernacular schools during his first stint in office, for fear of Chinese students mixing with other races.
“Dong Zong is racist; we set up a campus in Vision School to put a Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (SJK) Cina, a SJK Tamil and a sekolah kebangsaan (national school) in one campus, but they were against it,” he recounted.
“They are afraid to let their children mix with Malays, so they did not want it. They are against all (policies implemented by the government), never agreed with anything.”
WRONG FOR MAHATHIR TO LABEL DONG ZONG RACIST: DAP POLITICIANS
Dr Mahathir’s comments drew flak from Democratic Action Party (DAP) politicians.
In a statement on Tuesday carried by Malaysian media, senior DAP figure Lim Kit Siang said the prime minister was wrong to brand Dong Zong as racist.
However, Mr Lim also noted that Dong Zong was in the wrong for equating khat calligraphy with Islamisation.
Bukit Gelugor lawmaker Ramkarpal Singh added that Dr Mahathir’s remarks were “uncalled for and most regretted”.
“Instead of allaying the concerns of Dong Zong on the khat issue, calling it racist will only distance it from any compromise or negotiations that should be had by all stakeholders on the matter,” he was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insight.
“Dong Zong’s concerns over the khat issue should not be brushed aside as such concerns are not unfounded and possibly represent a large section of the Chinese community on the said issue. That there is dissatisfaction over the matter on the ground is a fact and cannot be taken lightly.”
DONG ZONG "STRONGLY DENIES" RACIST LABEL
In a statement on Tuesday evening, the association said it "strongly denies" Dr Mahathir's accusation, saying it was not the only body that rejected the introduction of khat in vernacular schools.
"This view is shared by the mainstream non-Muslim community across the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak. In fact, not all Malays agree with this initiative. For example, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz has said that the art of khat should be made an elective and not mandatory."
The association also said that opposition to the teaching of khat on the basis of it being associated with Islamisation is justifiable, citing the Islamic Da'wah Foundation's (YADIM) Nik Omar Nik Abdul Aziz, whom it said suggested that learning khat would make it easier for young generations to learn the Quran.