Thursday, May 17, 2007
Raja Zarith Sofiah Idris
"In a world where being negative about political and social issues means being clever or seem to be clever, I would rather appear naive and believe that there is still a lot of good in a lot of people, whether in this country which I truly love, or in other countries." -- Raja Zarith Sofiah Idris of Johor* in her keynote address at the opening of the Language, and Nationhood Discourses Across Cultures and Disciplines at the Sheraton Subang Hotels & Towers, on Tuesday, May 15, 2007.
Raja Zarith Sofiah, the consort of the Tunku Mahkota of Johor, spoke about the use of language in political speeches, the power of language in influencing or winning the hearts and minds of the people and the reality that only political leaders can effect changes in society, including improving the lives of their people.
In her paper, "Hearts and Minds : language in Political Speeches", she chose to examine some of the speeches of South Africa's illustrious son, Nelson Mandela and the charismatic pro-democracy leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi to prove that political speeches must not only be delivered well but must have the right content so that they can attract and sustain the attention of the audience to whom it is spoken.
"I am aware that my choice of these two political figures may appear unoriginal since it has become quite 'trendy' to admit to admiring both of them."
She said she had, for a long time, admired both of them because they epitomize and are the symbols of the "sincere leader", an idea that is scoffed at because "there aren't many such sincere people".
Raja Zarith Sofiah said she chose to speak about language in political speeches because, like everyone else, she cared about what was happening around the world.
"We live in a world where information is so readily available, and yet, despite having so much information at our fingertips, what remains a reality for many millions of people around the world is having to live in fear and in poverty, or to live as refugees, away from their own countries.
"It is this awareness - that there are people who do not enjoy freer lives or who have lived in areas of armed conflict for many years - that I decide to present this paper, because in the end, it is political leaders who decide and who are responsible for the well-being or the despair of their people.
"And as part of a global community of caring, there is that tiny hope that we may somehow be able to persuade our leaders to improve the lives of those we see on our television screens or in our newspapers."
Raja Zarith Sofiah also presented statistics on world poverty, level of health services and related areas.
"I refer to these statistics because it is quite obvious that we need politicians who will address such issues as poverty, armed conflicts, refugees as well as social problems such as child prostitution, child workers and any other problems that are faced by so many people.
"It takes both politicians from rich countries as well as those in poorer ones o make such issues their priorities. In other words, we need more Mandelas and more Aung San Suu Kyis."
Raja Zarith said she would still like to believe that there is among the younger people around the world who have the capacity and the opportunity to be great leaders in the future.
"For them to inherit the legacy of winning hearts and minds., they must look at the lessons that past leaders can teach them."
(More than 100 language experts and university lecturers, from here and abroad, presented papers at the 3-day conference was organised by the School of Language Studies and Linguistics, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.)
PICTURE taken on the second day of the conference. It was after lunch at the Selangor Room: Raja Zarith Sofiah with Bill Ashcroft of University of Hong Kong, Dr Ruzy Suliza Hashim (the Chair, UKM's School of Language Studies and Linguistics), Vijay K. Bhatia of City University of Hong Kong and Aishah Ali.
* Raja Zarith Sofiah holds a Masters of Arts (MA) from Oxford University in England.