Hate is a factor that is toxic in any society, especially in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society such as ours, because it can lead to a disastrous end if it’s not addressed effectively.
It is in this context that concerned Malaysians, particularly Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi, raised a red flag in implicitly acknowledging that racial and religious sentiments have been exploited by certain quarters for their narrow agenda over the years.
Raising this concern at the launch of his new monograph, Multiculturalism and Nation Building, Faruqi recently called on political and religious leaders to help stop the spread of hate in our midst.
He is also rightly disturbed that the volatile combo of race and religion has become a sort of cottage industry of unscrupulous sections of society, particularly among politicians, for decades – which is why religious leaders, particularly those who do not wear political robes at the same time, may be in a better position than many political leaders to stem the tide of bigotry and hatred between ethnic communities.
This is especially important in such societies as ours, where ethnic-based political parties exist and actively operate, ever ready to supposedly champion and protect the narrow interests of the respective communities they represent, often at the expense of the larger good.
In other words, the raison d’etre of these parties is to sustain the politics of race and religion to the extent that those outside of their own communities are generally looked upon with suspicion, if not hatred as well. At the very least, such a political outlook distances them from the ‘other’. It is disturbing that certain leaders of such political parties even thrive on the insecurities of their members, which are at times consciously manufactured and, in turn, bring about unnecessary social anxiety and even hatred.
Such a worrying situation requires conscientious religious leaders to play a more prominent role in promoting mutual understanding, respect for each other and national harmony. There are surely texts in the holy books of the respective religious traditions that could inspire and prompt the religious leaders to do what is needed.
In the case of Islam, for instance, the faithful may find inspiration and guidance from the Surah Al-Hujurat (49:13) of the Holy Quran:
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.
The diversity of humankind that is planned by the Almighty is meant to be celebrated by us all, while differences that exist among humans should not be used as a wedge to divide them to the point of causing enmity. In short, the humanity in us should prevail as we strive to do good deeds.
If there’s a lesson to be learnt from the ravaging pandemic, it is that a sense of humanity prods many good-hearted Malaysians from diverse backgrounds to lend a helping hand to people who are desperate for assistance to survive. The white flag initiative with the hashtag #KitaJagaKita is testimony to human kindness that breaks the walls of ethnicity, religion, political affiliations, gender and social status – ie looking after each other.
In the interest of the nation, it would be beneficial to build on the goodwill, compassion and kindness that come along with the human urge to help, particularly during the pandemic, so the walls would become less of an overwhelming factor.
Young people, among others such as civil society groups, have an important role to play to steer our country in this direction, as shown by their overt participation in the white flag initiative and other such community-based projects.
Furthermore, fuelled by their ideals of, say, social justice, freedom and democracy, they would be able to make a difference to a society that is plagued by more than just the pandemic and flagging economy.
While there is an important value attached to the efforts of people on the ground to help build a society that forges inter-ethnic cooperation, respects differences and celebrates diversity, it is also crucial that institutional racism must be addressed as well, as it can contribute to injustice, hatred and bigotry.
Racial discrimination in employment and education also give rise to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and hate.
Hence, we see the appropriateness of Faruqi’s proposal for the formulation of laws such as the National Harmony Act.
The positive energies that prevail particularly during the pandemic should be further used and enhanced to help build a caring, progressive and united nation. – The Malaysian Insight