(Kuala Lumpur, Friday): One of the real basis of national unity for multi-racial Malaysia is to foster a spirit of mutual tolerance and respect for the diverse racial, linguistic, cultural and religious heritage found in abundance in the country, recognise them as an integral part of the Malaysian national mosaic with Malaysians standing up with by other compatriots to help defend their racial, linguistic, cultural and religious heritage though different from theirs.
If Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs can equally stand up to be counted to defend the freedom to religion of Malaysians of other faiths, and not just be concerned about their own religions, then the country is in the advanced stage of shaping another important building block for genuine national unity.
The long-standing controversy over the SJK © Damansara is a test case as to whether we have another vital building block for genuine national unity in place after 43 years of nationhood.
All Malaysians, regardless of race, accept Bahasa Malaysia as the official and common language in accordance with Article 152 of the Constitution, which also provides constitutional recognition "for the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation".
All through the decades, Chinese mother tongue education had made a great contribution to nation-building and national prosperity especially in the training of qualified manpower country - which is only given recognition by the Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional leaders whenever they want to fish for Chinese votes in a general election or by-election.
Forty-three years after Merdeka, the country should have gone beyond the stage of regarding the development and promotion of Chinese primary schools as a chauvinist, extremist or even "communist" manifesation of the Chinese community in Malaysia - which is totally inapt as there are now over 60,000 Malay and Indian students who prefer to study in the Chinese primary schools than in the national primary schools because, in the words of the Prime Minister before the 1999 general election, of the greater dedication and commitment of the teachers and students in the Chinese primary schools.
The controversy over the SJK© Damansara is therefore not a communal or chauvinistic issue, but a national education issue concerning the misguided Education Ministry decision to close the original school which could continue to be used as a school for students in the local vicinity, at a time when there is long-standing acute shortage of Chinese primary school places in Petaling Jaya and the Klang Valley to the extent that school children had to wake up before 5 a.m. to catch the school bus and do not get home until some 12 hours later.
Up to now, neither the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad nor any MCA Minister could give one good reason why the original Damansara school could not be retained as an additional Chinese primary school so that students in the vicinity has a school near their homes in keeping with sound educational principles and practices - adopting a "3-Win" formula whereby the aspirations of all the parents of Damansara school could be fulfilled, whether to send their children to the new school to be built at Tropicana or to retain them in the original school, resulting in a third "win" with the increase of an additional Chinese primary school in the Klang Valley.
The Damansara school controversy is now faced with a stalemate with the stubborn refusal of the Education Minister and the Cabinet to heed a "3-Win" solution.
One way to break this stalemate is probably to launch a nation-wide million mass signature campaign, getting the support of Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or political beliefs throughout the country for the "3-Win" formula and retention of the original SJK © Damansara to impress on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that this is a national education issue which transcends race or religion.
If such a multi-racial multi-religious nation-wide million mass signature campaign for the preservation of the original Damansara school could be launched with success, it would mark a major milestone in Malaysian nation-building and the promotion of national unity.
This is because it will connote a major demolition of the ethnic barriers in the country when mother-tongue education ceases to be regarded by other communities as "chauvinistic" manifestations of the Chinese community but a common heritage of all Malaysians.
This "bottoms-up" lesson by the ordinary rakyat in Malaysian consciousness should serve as a lesson to Barisan Nasional Ministers and leaders to teach them how to become better and more wholesome Malaysians in the evolution of a Malaysian nationality where everyone is Malaysian first and Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan or Iban second.