There should be multi-ethnic solidarity against ethno-religious supremacy, socio-economic inequality, and a polarised education system, writes Ronald Benjamin.
The season of Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, reveals the essence of solidarity.
According to Christian theology, God so love the world that that he sent his only son to earth so that men and women could find life in him. Christians believe this demonstrates that God is not an abstract reality but is willing to be part of human history, culture and suffering. God becoming flesh, they believe, underscores the value of solidarity that in turn compels men and women to be in solidarity with their communities.
Solidarity entails living a life where we share in the joys and suffering of our fellow human beings and work hand-in-hand to empower one another in the quest for progress, leading to the common good of society.
Solidarity in its true form has no sentiment for obsessive ethnic and religious identity. Instead, it is a bond of common humanity imbued with universal time-tested principles of great religious and philosophical traditions. It starts with reality from the ground rather than abstract principles.
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In Malaysia today, the term solidarity has become virtually non-existent or narrowed down to civil liberties or it takes a form of a battle cry of ethno-religious hysteria.
Malaysian society is divided along the lines of a gap in lifestyles between the gated rich and the poor, compounded by ethnic polarisation. We have an education system that is fragmented along the lines of ethnicity, religion and economic status. Then there is the relational and communication gap between capitalists and workers. In short, we have a glaring deficit of solidarity in the country.
The current mainstream political ideology of the Barisan Nasional-led government is centred on reinforcing cleavages and a culture of dependency among Malaysians. The Brim handouts, the constant state of underdevelopment in the East Coast states, and the dependency on handouts among the poor indigenous people in rural Sabah and Sarawak are examples of the cleavages and divisions that go against the principles of solidarity.
In the religious dimension, a rally to save Jerusalem was held recently with the battle cry along communal and sectarian lines. Rally participants basically saw themselves as heroes of religion under the guise of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinians. The rally organisers ad participants’ intention to ‘save Jerusalem’ was not solidarity in a true sense – because they failed to see that the Palestinians as a people comprise both Christians and Muslims who are Arabs and that the struggle is about land, not only about religion.
Emphasising solidarity between Christians, Muslims and Jews who oppose President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem would have created a bigger impact of solidarity in the world rather than whipping up failed ethno-religious hysteria, which has little impact on the prolonged oppression of the Palestinians.
It is vital that a solidarity movement is created in Malaysia. There must be a concerted effort to reach out to Malaysians in all spheres of life. There should be a multi-ethnic solidarity movement against ethno-religious supremacy, a solidarity movement against socio-economic inequality, and social solidarity against an education system that divides Malaysian along ethnic, religious and economic lines.
Such movements would of course face great resistance from politicians who believe that creating a sense of dependency, cleavage and religious autocracy is the best form of control over the people’s minds.
The Christmas message of solidarity has become urgent in a Malaysia where cleavages, dependency and polarisation have become the effective tools of irresponsible politicians.