When did being Malaysian get so difficult?
When I was in primary school, I used to play Red Alert and racing cars in school exercise books with my long lost best friend, Chew Wen Yang, whom I have not met for almost 11 years now. We never had a problem with our racial or religious differences, and even if we got into an argument, we never shouted to each other “you balik China” or “you balik Indonesia”. There is no secret to this; it is a plain and simple logic: we never looked at each other from a racial or religious perspective. Not to say that I didn’t notice any differences between the both of us at all. I was aware that we were different in terms of religion — he was a Buddhist and I was a Muslim; his name sounded ‘Chinese’ while mine sounded ‘Malay’. But those differences never bothered or prevented us from being best friends because we knew that despite our differences, at the end of the day, both of us breathed the same air –it defies all logic to suggest that we cannot be friends just because we are from different ethnicities.
Recently there have been many issues, whether on print or on the social media, which have widened the racial and religious gaps between Malaysians which, if viewed with reason rather than emotion, would not have arisen at all. Perpetrated by racial and religious chauvinists, the victims are none other than us Malaysians. This is probably because we are yet to have a national identity; we are still struggling to find one. As such, I think Malaysians need to have some common goals and shared values. It is true that in democracy, we should embrace our diversity of views. However, I think there are some fundamental principles or values which all Malaysians should grasp notwithstanding our differences. There may be some Malaysians who are already aware of these, but there could be some others out there who are not, hence the relevance of this humble piece. In addition to the principles of the Rukun Negara, based on my personal experiences, these are my humble propositions:
1. Rise above race, ethnicity and religion
It is ironic and frustrating that even though Malaysians are already deeply divided in terms of race and religion, there are some quarters who still call for Malay unity. Calling for Malay unity may have been appropriate prior to Merdeka, but it should not remain in perpetuity – it was merely an interim measure since it was convenient during those days to call for a Malay solidarity to fight for independence. There have been several comments/postings on social media saying that there is nothing wrong to advocate for Malay unity because the Malays must be united first before uniting with other communities. I am not the authority to prove whether such an ‘ideology’ is right or wrong in this age of information, but I think individuals who advocate for it are just giving excuses to not to get out of their comfort zones and integrate with different communities.
I am not saying that we need to get rid of our culture; we can preserve our traditions and at the same time, still be inclusive rather than exclusive. What I am saying is that we need to widen our worldview and not look at every single issue from the racial and/or religious point of view because such attitude tends to divide rather than unite us.
2. Respect each other’s freedom and liberty
Recently, there have been many instances of infringements of personal freedoms and liberties. To name a few, the Allah issue, the continuous harassment towards the Shiite minority, prejudice against the LGBT community, the surau case, and the ridiculing of a Muslim dog trainer. The creation of our nation is hinged on principles of freedom and liberty – the supreme law of this country, the Federal Constitution, recognises and protects some basic and fundamental rights of individuals. These rights are inherent and not a single person, not even the state, can take them away.
In the words of a friend of mine:
“Hate all you want, judge all you want, but it’s not your job to punish.”
3. No one is going anywhere
Like most Malaysians, I was born, raised and probably will die in Malaysia too. I believe the vast majority of Malaysians have developed a strong sense of belonging in our beloved homeland, hence our loyalty to the nation is indisputable. Is it not ironic that even though Malaysia has been on the map for almost 50 years, we still have some arrogant, ignorant politicians and ordinary citizens who ask dissidents to leave their homeland? Citizenship is a right, not a privilege. It is clearly laid out in Article 9(1) of the Federal Constitution which guarantees the right to citizenship for all Malaysians. It reads: “no citizen shall be banished or excluded from the Federation.” No one is going anywhere; loyal citizens of Malaysia are here to stay.
I think the summary is this: Social cohesion is pivotal in nation building. It could be that Malaysians have been tolerating for too long, that it has reached the point where some quarters have had enough of it and thereby want to throw it into the dustbin. It is time for Malaysians to accept and respect each other; and in order for that to happen, Malaysians must understand each other. Only then we can have a stronger social cohesion. Embrace our differences and be proud of it. After all, if not for our diversity, there will be no nasi lemak, char kuey teow, roti canai, kek lapis Sarawak and many other mouth-watering Malaysian foods. We should emphasise more on nation-building rather than quarrelling about matters which will not help our nation prosper.
I believe the above propositions, though not meant to be exhaustive, are among the ideals and values Malaysians should hold so dearly. They should be the common goals every Malaysian ought to strive for, for the sake of the betterment of our beloved tanah air, Malaysia. Happy 56th Merdeka Day and Happy Malaysia Day.
Featured image by Mohd Nor Azmil Abdul Rahman
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