How sincere is all the talk about recreating unity among Malaysians, which was undermined by state-sanctioned racism and bigotry?
After all, some people have no qualms about creating ill-will among people of different ethnicities, religions and cultures, as for them ‘protecting race and religion’ overrides other considerations
Way back in the 1970s, a disgruntled politician used a divisive term, ie pendatang (immigrants), to describe Malaysians he was not happy with, insinuating they had no rightful place in the country even though their status had been clearly spelt out in the Constitution. These were people who had been granted full citizenship and were fully fledged Malayans at the time of Merdeka, and later Malaysians when Malaysia was formed.
It was a subtle form of instigation that fired up some political and religious leaders to divide people along racial and religious lines.
That sentiment manifested itself again at the Malay Dignity Congress in 2019, when Dr Mahathir Mohamad used the phrase “orang asing” (foreigners or strangers) and allowed racists and bigots to build racial and religious walls between Malaysians
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The late Tunku Abdul Rahman had the foresight to see the consequences that could arise from the message in Mahathir’s book, The Malay Dilemma. Tunku banned the book.
Some years later, the author himself rose to become prime minister, and the book was freely available on the shelves, and in fact went into several reprints. A weapon had been given to racists and bigots.
The book legitimised the use of divisive terms, and it emboldened some people to use them freely and do what they like to hurt those of other ethnicities and religions.
An obvious example was the sudden emergence of “sensitivities” to anything “unIslamic” like conspicuous crosses outside churches or eating in the presence of Muslims during Ramadan.
There have been reported cases of principals and teachers using offensive terms or slurs on some of their charges. These could be the tip of the iceberg of discrimination being sown in the schools.
A survey by the Sekolah Semua youth movement recently exposed such discrimination in schools. Some politicians were ‘shocked’. Where were they when this was happening? Some cases had been reported in the news but these were invariably dismissed as isolated cases and shoved under the carpet.
‘One Malaysia’ is not a new, novel idea. It was one of the pillars on which the nation was founded.
But those claiming to be champions of race and religion who felt under ‘threat’ chipped away at that pillar. In reality, these people were playing with the emotions of simple people, putting unfounded fears in their minds to win their support in elections. In this, they were helped by the Election Commission, which moved the goal posts election after election.
Racists and bigots have battered our national unity so much over the decades. Unity is not much more than a mere slogan nowadays.
While some concerned citizens see an urgent need to repair it before it crashes, others are still allowed to go on chipping at it in the name of ‘defending race and religion’. Witness the attorney general’s refusal to take action against preachers Zamri Vinoth and Firdaus Wong against whom hundreds of police reports had been lodged.
If the nation is serious about repairing and maintaining the integrity of that pillar of national unity, then drastic action is required, nothing less. Sometimes one needs to be cruel to be kind.
If the powers that be really love the nation and are honest about ‘one Malaysia’, then they have to be tough towards those sowing discord and disharmony. Tough and firm measures will serve as an effective deterrent to others with similar inclinations.
Such measures would include removing the perceived immunity given to certain preachers who spread bigoted views. The “orang kita” factor, in terms of race and religion, has to be removed, and everyone has to be treated equally before the law in terms of actions and not just in words spoken.
Teachers have a special role in society, unlike any other profession. They can make or break a society or even a nation through what they impart to their charges.
First, teachers should remain apolitical. In this respect, it would be wrong to allow them to be affiliated with any political party. They are humans and will be tempted to show their bias towards their parties.
Second, those teachers who sow the seeds of disharmony using race and religion should be shown the door. The government does not owe them a living if they choose to act as agents of disharmony. In fact, they should be barred from all teaching duties, whether in schools, private institutions or even tuition classes.
Nothing else will act as a meaningful deterrent. Slaps on the wrist serve as veiled encouragement for others to be heroes as well. Sure, there will be an outcry from certain quarters if firm action is taken.
But the choice is between being serious about putting a stop to such acts, or giving veiled encouragement to others to follow suit and cause further damage.
‘One Malaysia’ cannot be created by sloganeering, by producing ‘codes of conduct’, by signing memorandums or just wishing and hoping.
Political leaders have to show the way through their actions. For a start, they should grace the religious and cultural celebrations of those communities other than their own. Just drop in informally with no prior announcement and escort.
Such gestures will open the hearts of people and go a long way towards creating unity. Make these gestures routine and ongoing and not for ‘campaigning’ or for show. Remember that people can distinguish between sincerity and hypocrisy.
No religion, let alone Islam, prevents anyone from joining in the celebrations and festivities of others. It is by doing so that love and unity among peoples of various ethnicities, religions and cultures is built and fostered.
Let’s see the national unity minister start the ball rolling, followed by others.