Proposal to Restrict Citizenship Based on Language Competency by Gan Ping Sieu
Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It is senseless to deny anyone born in this country of full citizenship on account of weak command of the national language. In fact, convicted hardcore criminals do not even have their citizenships revoked and there is no reason why those who do not meet language competency standards should be treated as second-class citizens. 

Universiti Utara Malaysia's Professor Dr Zainal Kling, who mooted the idea had obviously confused the issue with the granting of citizenship to migrants. While migrants should be subjected to more stringent screening before being granted citizenship - including loyalty to King and country and acceptable command of the national language - it is ridiculous to impose the same linguistic standards on those born here.

Due to the complexity of our social fabric, some children lag far behind in their command of the national language through no fault of theirs. These children may not be academically-inclined, less fortunate in their upbringings, or belong to socially-deprived or marginalised communities. It is heartless to penalize these children by denying them of their right for subsidized healthcare, proper education, employment opportunity, financial access and voting rights, among others. 
Citizenship is sacrosanct and rules pertaining to it are already clearly spelled out in the Federal Constitution. Historically, citizenship occupies an important chapter in the founding of this nation. Revisiting this issue in a provocative manner will only embolden racial radicalism which we can do without in an already fragile environment. In fact, it can be construed as elitist, obnoxious even sinister. 

It is every citizen's duty to enhance their command of the national language. In fact, the national language is a useful tool to promote national unity. The question is how to give every child the opportunity to improve on their command of the Malay language, and not harp on it on purported nationalism grounds.

Having said that, the professor's suggestion that only 1% of the population needs to master English for the country to advance scientifically is illogical. His idea will only deprive our talented children from connecting to the wider world and result in a much smaller pool from which we can harness our young talent from. 

English is the lingua franca in the fields of science and technology. Even the Germans, French, Spanish, Arabs, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian are learning English in full vigour, and have resigned to the fact that it is the language of knowledge.

It is also a fallacy to think that mastery of English and a good command of the Malay language are mutually exclusive. Many of our national leaders who vigorously promote Malay language speak flawless English. Mastery of both languages can, and ought to, go hand in hand. 

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