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Reach out across ethnic divide

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In this way, we can re-affirm our common humanity and develop a common Malaysian agenda, writes Jeyakumar Devaraj

We all have to pause and take note that if we really want to build a happy future for our nation and our children, we need to find a formula to counter the ethnic politicking that has been poisoning our nation and the thinking of ordinary Malaysians for the past 60 years. 

The inter-ethnic situation has deteriorated to the extent that even fairly innocuous issues such as the teaching of three pages of Jawi writing can create controversies that worsen inter-ethnic tensions. 

Some non-Malays view the khat proposal as yet another step to further “Islamicise” society, hence their reaction. Many Malays feel that the non-Malay groups are being overly sensitive and question the non-Malays’ commitment to building a common Malaysian culture in which the Malay language and culture play an important role. 

These disagreements are only going to get more acrimonious in a week’s time when Dong Jiao Zong holds its congress. Commentators and spokespersons on both sides will rachet up their positions to show the home audiences that they are the best and the most dependable defenders of their ethnic groups rights. In the process, they will probably utter things that make the other side even more sore.

 Well, the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM)  would like to suggest an antidote to all this toxic politicking – that is, for ordinary citizens to “walk a mile in the shoes of the other”. 

This means that non-Malays should take some effort to understand the economic problems faced by the Malay community: Why has rural poverty persisted despite five decades of subsidies? Why is bumiputera participation in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector still so weak? How can we overcome the squalid conditions of low-cost flats that house so many of our urban poor? And, together with Malay civil society groups, lobby for the solutions of these problems.

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Similarly, Malays who want to build inter-ethnic bridges should try to understand the issues that upset the non-Malays: poor non-Malays having limited access to government programmes for the poor, unilateral conversion of minors, poor access to government jobs, statelessness among those who despite being born in Malaysia are in a limbo because their parents didn’t have documents or were careless with them. And work with non-Malay civil groups to address these issues.
We need to reach across the ethnic divide so that we can re-affirm our common humanity. That is our only hope and it has the potential of developing a common Malaysian agenda. We need to recognise that many, on both sides of the ethnic divide, have been “wounded” by ethnic politicking and policies and by unfair economic structures. The only way to heal that hurt is by reaching out in humility to understand the other and to play a role in the solution of the problems faced by them.
Unfortunately, most of the existing political parties cannot spearhead this initiative because they are still rooted in their respective ethnic silos, and their leaders compete among themselves to demonstrate that they are the best “defenders” of their community. 

We need a broad-based multi-ethnic civil society movement to deliver this “antidote” (of reaching across the ethnic divide). This is the only way forward for our nation. And we really need to come together to tackle the serious problems facing us –  climate change is one and mass youth underemployment due to the expansion of artificial intelligence and the gig economy is another, just to mention a couple. 
So do  make it one of your resolutions for 2020 to reach out across the ethnic divide – to acquaintances from other ethnic groups and to the disadvantaged among them – so that the healing process can begin. The good news is that most ordinary Malaysians are quite tolerant and wish to see a more harmonious Malaysia.

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Happy New Year 2020! Let’s together build a more tolerant and harmonious nation.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, a long-time Aliran member and contributor, served as Member of Parliament for Sungai Siput from 2008 to 2018. A respiratory physician who was awarded a gold medal for community service, he is also a secretariat member of the Coalition Against Health Care Privatisation and chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia.
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