As we celebrated “national day” on 31 August, let’s take a step back to ponder over the Malaysia the architects of our country had in mind and the kind of country many of us presumably still crave for.
We need to reimagine the country after witnessing what had happened to it since the day our founding leaders shouted “Merdeka!” 66 years ago at the Merdeka Stadium.
To be clear, Merdeka or independence for Malaya was attained on 31 August 1957, while Sabah achieved self-rule on 31 August 1963 and Sarawak gained its independence on 22 July 1963.
The three separate entities, plus Singapore, formed Malaysia on 16 September 1963. The island state left the federation in 1965.
Given how unscrupulous politicians have played the divisive politics of race and religion over the years, there is every reason to further nurture the crucial sense of belonging to this federation among Malaysians of diverse backgrounds.
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For starters, there must be an emphatic reminder to all Malaysians that this country is indeed multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural – the very diversity that must be appreciated and celebrated because it is our national asset, no matter what the bigots with dark designs would want you to believe.
It is only with the recognition of this rich diversity can the nation move forward, harnessing all the diverse talents in our midst to achieve the common goal of making Malaysia a harmonious, just, progressive and democratic place to live in.
There are obviously several ways of pursuing this noble objective, one of which is to ensure that sufficient and fitting development funds reach all regions of the country, particularly the east coast of the peninsula, as well as Sabah and Sarawak, where pockets of poverty and a lack of basic utilities and infrastructure still exist.
The ongoing campaign to wipe out corruption has to be sustained so that the nation’s coffers are sufficiently filled and better used to generally improve the living standards of the people, and not to line the pockets of politicians and other devious people.
On poverty eradication, the Madani (Civil Malaysia) administration is expected to extend financial assistance and other resources to the Malay and bumiputra poor as well as to the needy among the minority communities.
In other words, justice must be applied universally so that an ethnic Malay, Chinese, Indian, Orang Asli, Iban, Kadazan or Dayak child would grow up to understand and appreciate that no one deserves to be left behind in education, job opportunities and material comfort, as these have a positive impact on human dignity.
Through an improved education system, the young should also grow up with acute awareness so that if disunity prevails in our society, they would be able to detect if it is the handiwork of cunning politicians.
As the children reach adulthood, hopefully, they will not be easily duped if manufactured enemies are foisted upon them by divisive politicians.
Religion, which is an important aspect of the people’s lives, must serve as a vital bridge for mutual understanding and respect within and among religious communities; it should no longer be used as a destructive instrument of hate, fear and power.
Incidentally, religious piety is not to be measured by the number of slanderous remarks you make, or how deft you pit one social group against another.
Similarly, race should not be used as a divisive tool with which the scheming politicians rule the nation for their own gains. It may be useful for the ethno-nationalists, who strive to be champions of their communities, to remember that race is only an accident of birth.
The progressive and democratic Malaysia our forefathers dreamed of necessitates social reforms that are in tandem with changing social realities.
For example, there are pressing reasons to repeal or refine draconian or undemocratic laws, such as the Sedition Act 1948, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
There is also a need to craft a freedom of information act to ensure Malaysians are better informed while the government is made to be transparent and held to account in the name of good governance.
In line with the notion of participatory democracy, the people of Malaysia should also reclaim ownership of this land by being active to collectively push for meaningful reforms through dialogue or discussions with their political representatives, or even through petitions or peaceful street protests.
There are situations where politicians cannot be relied on, especially those who have become largely disconnected from society.
Against this backdrop, ordinary people should play an active role in caring for each other (“kita jaga kita”) wherever possible. This could help facilitate social cohesion and give rise to a fraternity of caring people.
Our pursuit of development and modernisation should not be carried out at the expense of our precious natural environment and lush greenery. We must learn to live peacefully with our environment.
Having posters or billboards professing green-consciousness and sustainability would be a mockery if concrete jungles ruthlessly displace forests, rolling hills and sun-kissed coastlines. An ugly legacy would then await futures generations.
For the people of Malaysia, this land is their only home. They must see to it that it is filled with love, compassion, justice, peace and prosperity. There is no better bulwark against the forces of destruction than this. – The Malaysian Insight