The love for Malaysia will remain strong for as long as its legitimate inhabitants are made to feel that they have vital stakes in the country, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
It is that time of the year when we celebrate – now for the 62nd time – our independence and togetherness as Malaysians in various joyful ways, particularly waving the Jalur Gemilang with pride at government offices, business premises, homes and elsewhere.
This is the occasion when people of diverse backgrounds are expected to display their loyalty to and love for Malaysia, their homeland. Of course, this is not to say that they can’t or shouldn’t express their patriotism in other ways in their daily lives.
As we rejoice, it is also at this historical juncture that we pin our hopes on the present government and on fellow Malaysians to help cleanse the country of its past abuses and malpractices that in many ways have frayed its political, social and cultural fabric.
Indeed, this hope for change, as we know it, was especially raised when a new government emerged last year.
At the risk of sounding like a killjoy in this merry moment, we, however, take note that our horizon has been blanketed in recent times by a haze of toxic politics that adversely affects our society, particularly that of Peninsular Malaysia.
What used to be our collective asset, especially in the early years after Merdeka, the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of our nation has been increasingly manipulated by certain quarters to polarise Malaysians for their vested interests.
Differences, particularly regarding race and religion, have been abused time and again to serve as the political capital of the cunning and the desperate. Instead, commonalities – such as shared the objectives of nation-building and ethnic harmony and the pursuit of justice, freedom and democracy – have been conveniently played down.
To be sure, differences should be respected, if not celebrated, in a diverse society like ours. And these differences warrant more civilised conversations and dialogues among concerned Malaysians.
If we are to derive the useful meaning of Merdeka, then we as Malaysians should be committed to working together in the effort to liberate ourselves from the yoke of oppression, exploitation and ignorance that our forefathers fought against under colonial rule. The pangs of the old days should not be repeated.
Just as our society needs to be cleared of corruption of various kinds – a heinous social disease no doubt – so must we also attempt to fight against the ethnic bigotry and religious extremism that would take us away from the very purpose of gaining independence.
It is here that religious leaders of various stripes can play a positive role in fostering mutual understanding and respect amongst adherents – and not fan the flames of distrust and hatred in society. In the hands of the politically shrewd, religion, obviously, can be a harmful weapon.
Additionally, fearmongering is fodder for the so-called champions of their respective ethnic communities.
This encourages their members to coil back into their respective ethnic cocoons and consequently nurture suspicion of if not hatred towards “the other”. Clearly, this is not what a united and independent country should be.
It is noteworthy that a video clip about, for instance, a Malay policeman helping an old Chinese man cross a busy road went viral in social media, which got many Malaysians excited in the wider context of distrust and fear. Helping each other out, irrespective of ethnicity or religion, should not be a novelty for Malaysians.
There is a lot of work to be done in terms of developing the economy, especially in the face of a looming global economic downturn, as well as addressing the perennial problem of poverty in our midst.
The tired mantra of race and religion should not divert our focus from moving forward to becoming a progressive, democratic, just and harmonious entity.
On the part of the government, it should strive to stay away from crafting policies that are perceived to be biased towards a particular ethnic group, thereby fuelling frustration and distrust among marginalised communities. The rule of law must also be upheld to protect the interests of all Malaysians.
An inclusive approach applied to the government’s development programmes would go a long way towards forging harmonious inter-ethnic relations and, at the same time, socioeconomic progress. In this way, the welfare of minorities can also be attended to.
The cumulative effect of such a strategy is that a vital sense of belonging can be deepened among Malaysians from diverse backgrounds.
To reiterate, the love for Malaysia will remain strong for as long as its legitimate inhabitants are made to feel that they have vital stakes in the country.