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Respecting diversity is essential for the armed forces

M Kula Segaran  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MP SPEAKS | The statement by National Patriot Association president Brigadier-General (Rtd) Mohd Arshad Raji that in the 1960s until the late 1970s, non-Malay Armed Forces personnel comprised about 30 percent of the total manpower, but over the years, this figure gradually dropped to around five percent at present is a great cause of concern.

He said that one of the reasons that non-Muslims shied away from joining the military was because there was now a distinctive division along ethnic lines in the armed forces. He added that the government’s affirmative action policies of the 1980s had seeped into the military administration, and “strange sayings like 'orang kita' (our people) had crept into the minds of military commanders”.

Erosion of the value of diversity
The honest account by the army veteran reveals a vital truth that the value of unity in diversity which reflects multicultural and multi-religious Malaysia has been lost in the recruitment process and goals of the armed forces over the years.

The former defence minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (photo) once said that non-Malays are non-patriotic, as a reason for them not joining the military, without addressing policies that negate diversity. He has never apologised for these false claims, although I have raised this matter in Parliament in 2010 during the debate on the motion to cut RM10 from the defence minister's salary.

There is a need for a holistic change of attitude in recruiting especially non-Malays in the forces. When I question this issue seven years ago, much could have been done if the government was serious.

Yet, even after seven years, the same complaints of a lack of non-Malay intake in the forces is erupting again. Clearly, it shows that the government has not been listening to the people's grouses, and a lack of political will could be the cause.

Lack of opportunities for non-Malay advancement
The fact is there is no empirical evidence to show that non-Malays are not patriotic when comes to serving the military. In fact, it is known that there is a great interest among non-Malays to take up a career in the armed forces.

However, a lack of promotions and the very nature of recruitment itself have denied them the opportunity to join the armed forces. Having spoken to many in the armed forces, the denial of promotion is the main factor behind why non-Malays now avoid joining the armed forces.

Will this be addressed?

This brings about the principal question of whether the military establishment in Malaysia adheres to the policy of diversity.

The values of diversity entail recognition and respect for Malaysia’s foundations of multiculturalism, respect for human rights, equality and the respect for the diversity of all individuals regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, and linguistic background. The fostering of a climate of inclusion, tolerance, and accommodation of difference is vital for an effective military force.

The value of benchmarking
In order to attain a climate of inclusion, there should be benchmarking on diversity and policies on promotion and compensation, by studying and adopting positive policy/institutional frameworks of the armed forces of countries like Australia, Britain, and Canada, which are fellow Commonwealth countries.

Such benchmarking would help us to follow the best practices of diversity and the best compensation practices that would encourage the strongest candidates among both the Malays and non-Malays to join the armed forces.

The respect for diversity should be the main thrust of our armed forces. Malaysia today is blessed with a diverse and plural population that would enhance the strength of its military force.

Clearly, at the strategic level, diversity has the highest value, and it is viewed as an operational requirement: The way wars are fought today requires our military to be capable of working in environments that require knowledge about diversity, whether one is deployed in war zones or even working with somebody in a unit from a different part of the country.

There is a need to know how to work in diverse teams with diverse partners.Therefore, it is vital to increase the participation of non-Malays into the armed forces to enhance the value of diversity.

M KULA SEGARAN is the Ipoh Barat MP and DAP national vice chairperson.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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