The saddest part is that most of us are unable to shake off the “us and them” mentality and realise the harm we inflict upon other fellow Malaysians, observes Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
Sometime in 1991, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed envisioned “Malaysians of all colours and creeds are free to practise and profess their customs, cultures and religious beliefs and yet feeling that they belong to one nation”. This dream was the essence of Vision 2020, or Wawasan 2020, as it is known in the national language.
Vision 2020 called for a united Malaysian society; one that indicated a progressive society where all of its citizens were more than able to embody compassion and civility, and ethnic labels would be a thing of the past. Malaysia in the year 2020 would boast an economy that was sound and healthy; there would be fair and equitable distribution of wealth, and development would be spread out evenly throughout the Federation.
Now with only five years left before this vision becomes a reality, many of us can see how far off we really are. With only five years left, the vision of a colourless society seems far beyond our reach. Five years of catching up to a vision that has become some sort of a utopian concept that has lead this nation into a bitter cycle of suspicion and passive aggressive hostility.
The saddest part of humankind is that most of us are unable to shake off the “us and them” mentality and the harm we inflict upon other fellow Malaysians – be it physically and verbally; this is due to our own insecurities, humiliation and pain. Such feelings stem from our inability to understand human diversity: we want them to be like “us” and if they aren’t, there is no way we can accept them into our fold.
Present day society has a huge battle fending off conservative ideas that uphold bigotry and extreme dislike for diversity. Disgruntled factions continually challenge secularism, pluralism and liberalism. They attempt to destroy values that helped past civilisations peak in sophistication and maturity; while sowing the seeds of discontent they bring us down to their level of illogical absurdity.
When humans begin to justify certain actions and events on racial grounds, the mythology of racial supremacism creates a perilous notion of misplaced entitlement. Those who believe in such vile ideologies clearly represent the failure of Vision 2020. These bigots are the antithesis of a progressive outlook – the sliver of conflict in our society.
Many of us may be shocked to realise that such views are wholeheartedly endorsed by far-right wing ideologies namely fascism and Nazism. Think Mussolini and Hiter, both of whom preached and supported racial discrimination, religious bigotry and restricted economic mobility upon various groups. The level of corruption that exists in our Federation has proven yet another glaring failure of a vision that should have eliminated such practices. Meritocracy has given away to nepotism and cronyism, severely compromising quality, knowledge and excellence.
The creation of the quota system, where a certain race is given preference, has systematically killed off healthy competition and strength of mind. Evidently, as years passed, certain groups too were being sidelined by those who were able to pull strings. In other words, those who were well connected were guaranteed a shot at life while the rest of us had to figure out what to do, how to do it – or why couldn’t we do it?
How can we envision a developed nation when our idea of development isn’t distributed evenly throughout the Federation? How can we improve the lives of every Malaysian despite our shortcomings and limited resources?
We need to stop assuming that the idea of culture is fixed because it isn’t. Ethnicity, race and even culture should be given a broader definition such as how one sees life and how a person makes sense of it all. The concept of pre-determined conditions created by manmade belief systems must change for it is flawed and damaging.
But call me an optimist.
I believe that in the end, someday, our great nation will see the racial harmony many of us yearn for. I truly believe that our society is capable of peace, tolerance, understanding and respect. I absolutely believe that change can happen as soon as we are able to tear down the walls of religiosity that separate us culturally.
Let’s put it this way: God doesn’t practise apartheid and neither should we.