LET’S ENDEAVOUR TO BRING BACK MALAYSIA’S LOST UNITY
Let me start my piece today by declaring that I am an eternal optimist. Like in the Indian movies, I believe that the good will always triumph over evil. I have gone through the normal ups and downs in life but each time I notice some gloom; I know there is a silver lining out there somewhere.
Having come from the baby boomer generation, I grew up very differently from how the youth of today are interacting. This was before the divisive May 13 racial riots that was actually a turning point in our beautiful history. Most of the young ones are completely ignorant when you ask them if they have heard of that fateful day in 1969.
My friends and I were teenagers then, in a society comprising Malaysians from diverse ethnic and religious background. Our bond of friendship transcended race, religion and colour. Some of us ate from the same plates, sharing glasses too when we drank. We are still in touch today after so many decades, including some living abroad. We have been having zoom sessions, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, recalling the good old Malaysia that we enjoyed. We keep asking where we have gone wrong.
I remember being confined to home during the riots for a week or so after the government imposed curfew to contain the crisis. But this did not stop our neighbours from gathering in our homes for some board games. The elders were discussing some serious issues then but that never bothered us. Neither did they stop us from mingling with our neighbours from other races.
And after we went back to school, life was normal. Malays, Indians and Chinese were together in all school activities as we went on to higher secondary forms before leaving school. That was then the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced. This was the first time I felt a sense of deprivation as a Malaysian, when I saw certain friends moving on with golden opportunities despite some of us having done better than them in public examinations.
We were told to accept it because it was positive discrimination to bridge the huge economic and academic divide between the various races, a legacy of the British colonialists who divided and ruled. All non-Bumiputras accepted the NEP with no qualms when it was implemented in 1971, our minds fresh from the May 13 riots. I would term this as collateral damage.
We felt it was needed to bridge the gap at that time. However, we could not help feel some sense of deprivation as our parents had to struggle to provide a decent education at a time when there were only a handful of private colleges. We are all human, after all. Most Malaysians depended on the government for opportunities in all fields at that time. No one questioned it openly.
As some of the deserving Malaysians were beginning to feel the pinch and were being left behind in the tough academic and economic race, there was inevitably a feeling of frustration that they were being deprived in a land they were born in and called it their home. But some persevered and managed to overcome the odds and succeeded due to their own efforts.
Fast forward five decades, and we find that the discussion of race, religion, nationalism and unity has not only heightened, but is also being openly debated in the social media. After 50 years, there are arguments on whether the Rukun Negara, which was launched with unity in mind, has succeeded in uniting Malaysians. Obviously, it has not and I am not sure if the tenets relaunched recently in a “new package” will have the desired effect.
Then our next generation – comprising our children – was also subjected to this positive discrimination, in the name of realigning the socio-economic imbalance which still saw the Bumiputras lagging behind, according to the figures provided by the government. When there were rumblings on the ground, certain politicians had no qualms in branding them as immigrants and told them they could leave for their motherland if there were unhappy.
Motherland? Excuse me but Malaysia is the motherland for all born here as citizens. Most of them were born here. Many do not know nor have another home, as this is their only home. The home that they love and work in and pay taxes too. Now they have to worry if their grandchildren and great grandchildren too would be subjected to this form of positive discrimination. Legitimate fears, if you ask me. Remember they are just human.
I’d say we need more than slogans and words to keep Malaysians united with sincerity. We need the government leaders to not only realise that every life matters and everyone is a Malaysian first but also to stop their hypocrisy of playing to the gallery once and for all. Stop making one group of Malaysians feel as though they are second class citizens by virtue of being non-Bumiputras or non-Muslims.
You can shout and declare all you want in your media mouthpieces about being the leader of all Malaysians irrespective of their race and religion but everything will dissipate into thin air when the Prime Minister announces in Parliament that a special body will be set up to uplift the socio-economic of the Bumiputras only.
Seriously, does one expect the non-Bumiputras who are in need of uplifting not to feel dejected if there are no micro plans to get them into mainstream? I am afraid not as we are talking of a policy that has been in place for six decades. They need to be included and with all sincerity to make them feel Malaysian.
We do not need the likes of Bersatu Youth chief Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal who chose to make an insensitive and hard-line statement that vernacular schools should be phased out. This was soon after being elected unopposed to this post. His stand that these schools have purportedly failed to produce students who are nationalistic is absolute “rubbish.”
There are tens of thousands of these students, including Malays, who have contributed positively and still are in more ways than one. Yes, I agree with some that their spoken Bahasa Malaysia leaves much to be desired although many score distinctions in the SPM examination. This can surely be worked on and improved.
Like many youth leaders of all political parties in the past, he chose this provocative and populist platform to woo the Malays. He chose the easiest path by touching on the racial sentiments as his own party used the excuse of uniting Malays and Muslims to execute the infamous “Sheraton Move” to dislodge the more multi-racial Pakatan Harapan coalition.
The foolish action of a group of Sarawak DAPSY members who pasted stickers in Chinese characters on several road signs in the city on the grounds that they needed to be translated for the needs of tourists from China was another insensitive action in a country whose official national language is Bahasa Malaysia.
Besides violating the Federal Constitution and the National Language Act 1963, they took the law into their own hands, which was tantamount to defacing public property. It was such an unnecessary act of defiance and indeed provocative, taking the racial tension a notch higher. Dapsy should spend its time fighting bigger and more sensible battles instead of resorting to such wasteful and dangerous actions.
Then came PAS lawmaker from Pasir Puteh Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh who claimed that the Bible has been distorted during the debate on higher penalties for drink driving in Parliament recently. This sparked an outrage from most Malaysians, including rational Muslim leaders, who demanded for an apology.
But he publicly defended his statement and said he would not apologise, Obviously, he failed to uphold the Islamic tenet of initiating discourse in a spirit of solidarity instead of antagonism when dealing with inter-faith matters as mentioned in Islamic scriptures.
To be honest, it’s the likes of Ahmad Fayhsal, Muhammad Zawawi and the Sarawak Dapsy who occasionally blurt out such insensitive remarks or perform provocative actions that bring our level of unity several notches lower. I believe our political parties have a lot to do with the current inter-faith and inter-religious hiccups that seem to be happening more often these days. Sometimes I wonder if they are in a religious or racial trance!
If we cannot get yourself to love another Malaysian from another race or religion from your heart, at least show some respect to each other and also their way of life. We must learn how to accept each other as Malaysians who share this nation as their homeland, their motherland.
Being the eternal optimist, I believe all Malaysians will one day, and I hope it is soon, realise that together we can propel this nation to greater heights, burying our differences and perceived hatred for good.
For a start, why don’t we plant this seed of Malaysian love in our immediate neighbour or friend from another faith or race and start building a truly Malaysian race. Reach out to each other from the heart in this auspicious month of Merdeka.
On the government’s part it must endeavour to introduce some egalitarian policies to start the ball rolling.
K. Parkaran is a freelance journalist and media advisor currently. He was the Deputy Editor in The Star and a Senior Producer with Aljazeera International before.E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org