Empathy for those far away but no sympathy for those amongst us?

ONE of the pillars of our national philosophy, the Rukun Negara (National Principles) emphasises on good behaviour and morality. We had the full text of the Rukun Negara printed on the back cover of school exercise books. Children were made to memorise this and recite on certain occasions.

Did all these efforts produce results to make our children’s conduct praise-worthy and enhance their value system? If we had succeeded, we don’t need to have a week’s solidarity programme in schools now to cultivate empathy among our school children.

What we failed to achieve over the years, we now hope to attain within a week! What teaching module have we invented for such instant results?

Seriously, if we truly wish to inculcate certain values in our children, we have ample local shortcomings to focus on with greater possibility of success. But why choose distant Palestine? Some may think that you are far-sighted because you are looking at issues that are far away!

Seriously, haven’t we done enough as a country to identify ourselves with the Palestine cause? We have had three or four gatherings to express our solidarity with the Palestinians, the last one being a mammoth rally at Stadium Bukit Jalil with 20,000 attending! These rallies would not have gone unnoticed by the world and the international communities.

Abuse of donation

We have donated RM100 mil of the taxpayers’ money even though such money is not readily available for the needy in our country. With regard to this donation, two views have been expressed. How do you ensure that this monetary aid goes to provide food, medical supplies, clothes and homes for those displaced by this senseless war?

Berjaya Land deputy chairman Datuk Seri Robin Tan presenting the contribution to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is flanked by Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Mohamad Alamin (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof. - Picture courtesy of Afiq Hambali/Prime Minister’s Office
Berjaya Land deputy chairman Datuk Seri Robin Tan presenting a RM1 mil contribution to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for the Palestinian cause (Pic credit: Anwar’s Facebook)

How do we prevent the money from going to Hamas which will use the money to build more bunkers and tunnels, and buy even more lethal weapons without caring for the welfare of the poor Palestinians?

Another view is that shouldn’t the donation be halal? After all, the money is meant for the Muslims. When the money comes from our Consolidated Fund, it includes money from non-halal sources such as gambling, alcohol, sale of pork, etc which PAS has been vociferously against. But they don’t mind that money to support their own lifestyle!

Some even suggest that if the donation had come from the zakat funds, it would be more appropriate and not controversial! But we shouldn’t be narrow-minded and petty when it comes to humanitarian causes. The source of money should not be an issue when it comes to this tragedy.

On top of all the on-going efforts to show solidarity with the Palestinians and efforts to help them monetarily, now the Education Ministry’s sudden directive for schools to hold a week of solidarity with the Palestinians will seem redundant and can be perceived as a pea-brain plan which imports politics into the classroom.

This is strange. At one time, there was fear that PAS’ influence might infiltrate into our schools and make the children fanatics. It was felt this must be prevented – and wisely so. But now Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) brand of politics is creeping into the classrooms in a big way!

Already, alarm bells were ringing loudly when a video went around showing some teachers and school children dressed in Hamas garb totting toy guns and Hamas flags and shouting slogans went into the assembly hall with little kids finding the whole matter amusing!

These participants were in no way depicting the cause of injustice perpetrated by Israel. They were identifying themselves with Hamas, not with the worthy cause they are supposed to empathise with.

Problems at home ignored

When criticism mounted from many NGOs (non-governmental organisations), the Prime Minister consequently declared that this school programme will not be a compulsory week for schools. Since then, more politicians, MPs and state assemblymen have openly criticised the Education Ministry.

In trying to ward off criticism, the Education Ministry clarified that the solidarity week was meant to instil humanism and empathy among children. How do children absorb these values based on what is happening in a land thousands of miles away from Malaysia. Do the children even know where Gaza is?

P. Ramakrishnan

If we truly wanted to inculcate these values, why don’t we use local issues where injustice is caused by discrimination and by unjust policies that denied opportunities to the deserving because of their ethnicity?

In this land of plenty, we shockingly learnt that a mother of five had to go hungry four or five days in a week to feed her hungry kids. Shouldn’t our school children sympathise with this issue and show their empathy?

Shouldn’t we inculcate abhorrence against corruption that has been the bane and curse of this nation? Shouldn’t the children be allowed to empathise with the farmers who are being evicted in the PM’s very own constituency? Is this eviction any less cruel and dehumanising as compared to what is happening elsewhere?

Talking about empathy and human rights, why not teach our students that it is not right to dispossess the Orang Asal of their ancestral lands and give away the lands to companies owned by the political elites and their cronies which forcibly displaced the Orang Asal from their ancestral lands like what happened to the Palestinians?

It is rather unfortunate that there is an element of religiosity when it comes to Malaysia’s stand in the Middle East. Didn’t Putin bomb towns and cities, killing children, women and the elderly?

Where was our outrage against the carnage in Ukraine? Did we propose a week of solidarity in schools? Is the blood of a Ukrainian child any different from the Palestinian child?

Finally, the children should be told that in any war the unfortunate victims are the non-combatant civilians who are caught in between two contending enemies. The African proverb illustrates this very powerfully: “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled”.

Likewise, when powerful forces go to war, it’s their people who are hurt. Those who never asked for the conflict in the first place are caught and killed in the crossfire.

It’s either we learn to live in peace or get blown to pieces! – Oct 31, 2023


P. Ramakrishnan is the former president of ALIRAN, a reform movement in Malaysia promoting justice, freedom and solidarity. He is now a veteran columnist and committee member of ALIRAN.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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