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Going to the polls without Oath Stone pledge honoured
Published on: Saturday, March 03, 2018

By Datuk Dr Johan Arriffin
Somebody forgot to tell the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry to move the clock forward.

Their 2018 Chinese New Year advertisement depicts a cockerel while the message congratulates the dog.

It seems that the man’s best friend had to wait a little while longer to be ushered into the new year.

A cockerel and a dog are two distinct animal producing different sounds and any three year old could tell the difference between the two animals. We have yet to find a dog that crows and a cockerel that barks wang wang.

How the advertisement managed to pass through the desk of the approver at the Ministry, the graphic designer and the printer is beyond everyone’s comprehension. While some may suspect sinister motives, others dismiss it as pure carelessness on the part of the Ministry. Whatever the reasons, it was ridiculed by members of the Chinese community and created suspicion and mistrust.

In another incident, Petronas was caught off guard with the colour “white” ang pau packet.

The light coloured background has been mistaken for white, which in Chinese culture is considered inauspicious, and normally associated with death. Instead of giving out “white” ang pow packets, redoing it with a new colour and getting irate calls, Petronas should knock off a few cents from the pump price to build customer loyalty.

It seems our country has gone to the dogs. The world media, have covered the Muslim sensitivities towards the Chinese Zodiac symbols. This has brought more embarrassment to our nation which was once a bastion of racial and religious harmony.

Chinese New Year prints or display now have to omit Chinese Zodiac animals like the pig and the dog which is considered unclean to Muslims. One day, somebody will come out with another harebrained idea that the cockerel is haram, as the cockerel is associated with cock fighting and gambling.

Next year, people with acute sensitivities have to blank out another animal, the pig.

It’s the pig’s turn to grace the 12 year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar. Will we see the cockerel be retained as the Zodiac symbol for another year, skipping the dog and the pig?

While the Chinese around the world welcome the Year of the Dog, decorations and merchandise showing the dog is noticeably absent in major shopping complexes. According to CNN, “The omission has raised hackles in the Chinese community and caused concern among Malaysians of all faiths, who see it as yet another symptom of the country’s growing Islamic conservatism, driven by the government’s flirtation with hardline Islamist policies and a cultural shift by religious students returning from the Middle East”. The Daily Express UK headlined, “Year of the dog images removed in Malaysia as it’s deemed offensive to Muslims”. It seems that our only mission now is to amuse the world with our silly idiosyncrasies. If it’s not 1MDB, Mara or Felda corruption battering Malaysia’s image overseas, it will be some antics like swapping a cockerel with a dog in a Chinese New Year advertisement.

We used to celebrate our cultural and religious diversity without any problems years past, but today we live in a different world. Because of our religious insecurity, we are easily spooked by symbols and pictures.

Our weaknesses are subject to temptations – certain men can’t even see women in tight fitting cheong sam or kebayas as they would likely succumb to evil temptations.

While we trumpet our harmonious multi-racial and multi-religious society in tourism advertisements and speeches on the world stage, the opposite is happening in Malaysia. We have to admit that we are now an intolerant society and vulnerable for exploitation by extremists and politicians for their own ends.

One prominent Sarawak Muslim politician told me recently that they have reached out to other faiths to promote religious harmony. At one event held in a Church, the media printed a picture taken of the group with the Cross in the background. The innocent picture of the cross became an issue and he was advised to stop such events.

Such are the sensitivities today.

The natives Chiefs of Sabah somehow saw this issue coming and had the foresight to create the oath stone in Kenigau, Sabah. There was considerable apprehension and opposition by the native Chiefs of North Borneo prior to forming Malaysia. To ally their fears on native rights it was agreed by all parties to erect an oath stone summarising the guarantees given by the Malaysian government, and in return the people of Sabah interior pledge their loyalty to the Federal government.

A ritual with an animal sacrifice by native shamans was held in accordance with the traditional beliefs of the Dusun people to bind the guarantees. Apart from religious freedom and rights to land matters, native customs and traditions will be respected and upheld by the Government.

The Oath stone or Batu Sumpah has a chequered past. It was at the centre of controversy some years ago when key words on the plaque affixed to the stone “Kerajaan Malaysia Jamin” (The Government of Malaysia guarantees) were removed by vandals or people with ulterior motives.

To appease the native community and to quell anger, the Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz provided funds to restore the original plaque and to find a permanent home, knowing the importance of the Oath stone in the formation of Malaysia.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Dept, Sabahan Tan Sri Joseph Kurup also promised to see it done.

Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, the State Assemblyman for Bingkor warned that any attempt to change the wording of the plaque and to remove the earth stone from the original place shows disrespect to the people’s customs and beliefs.

He warned that they will be cursed by the spiritual forces of our ancestors. The Federal government should take note of Dr. Jeffrey’s warning of keeping their promises, especially 2018 is election year.

To date there is no indication that what was promised by Federal and State leaders that the oath Stone will be restored with the original wording would be honoured.

The rest of Malaysian should follow the Sabah example to keep the Federal government true to its promise.

We should not let bigots trample on customs, traditions and beliefs of the communities that has been practised for centuries because of their insecurities or political agendas.

Datuk Dr Johan Arriffin is a member of G25 and a columnist at TMI

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