Troubling times

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ramaThe silent majority must wake up and take a stand against opportunistic politicians who are using race and religion to stir the cauldron, says P Ramakrishnan.

These are troubling times and we have every reason to be troubled. Race and religion seem to be running riot and upsetting the equilibrium of our lives and portending a dangerous future for the nation.

Race and religion can cause discomfort and disquiet. They can be a very potent force that can threaten and shatter our fragile unity, undo our common efforts to live in peace and harmony.

We have witnessed these many months how unscrupulous people have used the issues of race and religion for their selfish ends without any consideration for the welfare of the country.

It is indeed sad that half a century of nationhood has not produced a common citizenry. We are still compartmentalised into our ethnic identities in so many ways. Whether it is your birth certificate, identity card, application forms, registering for an examination, getting married – whatever you do locally – you are forced to identify yourself along ethnic lines.

It is only when you apply for visas to leave the country that you can identify yourself as a Malaysian. But once you return home, you lose that identity.

We should not be subjected to this moral shame. It is demeaning and undignified that I should leave the country as a Malaysian and return home as an Indian.

Stirring the cauldron

Why is it so difficult to forge a common nationhood? Shouldn’t that be the natural consequence of independence? Wasn’t that the dream of our forefathers that eventually we would evolve into a nation with a common destiny, remaining true to King and Country?

But that was not to be so. Selfish communal politicians made sure that it is in their interest to keep the various communities apart. They never stopped stirring the cauldron of hate; they made sure that intolerance and prejudice would be there at all times, smouldering and simmering.

It was only recently that we witnessed how extreme the situation has become. It was shocking that so much venom was spewed with such impunity in the Umno General Assembly, which was termed as ‘the most racially charged Umno event in years, shocking many people who watched the proceedings on television.’.

No leader intervened to stop the speakers from expressing so much antagonism, anger and hatred. Nobody in the Assembly chided them for their unbridled tirade. But, on the other hand, there was much cheering and approval for what was said.

Clearly some of the things that were said were without doubt seditious. They had a tendency to inflame emotions and provoke passions.

An Umno veteran, Mohamed Rahmat, who should know better because of his vast experience – previously a cabinet minister of many years, Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia, a long-standing former BN and Umno secretary-general – nevertheless warned, “Please don’t test the Malays; they know ‘amok’. We don’t want to reach that level.”

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The delegate from Malacca, Hansoor Sidang Hussein, declared, “Umno is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood in defence of race and religion. Don’t play with fire. If they mess with our rights, we will mess with theirs.”

An Umno Youth exco member did not mince his words in expressing his views, “When tension rises, the blood of Malay warriors will run in our veins.”

A Penang Umno delegate, Musa Sheik Fadzir, added, “Don’t test the patience of the Malays and don’t play with fire.”

A Perlis delegate must have stolen the show when he put it very provocatively, “You have unsheathed the keris, waved it, kissed it, when are you going to use it?”

It was so bad and shocking that the PM later lamented that the level of open debate on issues relating to race and religion was worrying. But it appeared that he was helpless to put a stop to this very damaging rhetoric that had a field day!

Insensitive and irresponsible

Even component party members found the remarks intolerable.

In responding to the hate-filled sentiments at the Assembly, MCA Youth chief Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said, “…it is regrettable that Umno Youth Assembly was shrouded in an atmosphere of fiery and emotional sentiments, remarks that were more poisonous and unreasonable than those of the opposition.”

A clearly upset Dr Lim Keng Yaik remarked, “You can raise issues, but you should not attack or hurt the feelings of other communities while highlighting the problems of one particular community…You think it’s very clever, but it hurts people’s feelings…Don’t do anything that will provoke.”

Said the MCA president for his part, “If we followed some of the debates over the past few days, we might think there is cause for concern.”

But it should not be viewed as if only the non-Muslims were upset and angry with what transpired at the Umno Assembly. A vast majority of well-meaning Malaysians, both Malays and non-Malays, were aghast that the Assembly could have descended to such an atrocious level. They were disappointed that a dominant ruling party could be so insensitive and irresponsible in dehumanising and demonising all citizens outside their party.

Religious ultras and opportunistic politicians

While the racial approach is being played contemptuously, the religious approach is gaining a frightening momentum. It is fanned by the ultra-conservatives and opportunistic politicians who are hell-bent on changing the way of life that we have been accustomed to. They have gone into top gear to bring about changes that will ultimately affect all those who disagree with them by denying the very rights that are guaranteed under the constitution.

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The Umno Youth leader, Hishammuddin, declared to thunderous applause, “This is a warning from the Youth movement. Do not raise any issues in relation to Article 11..”

What does this mean? Does it mean that citizens cannot claim those rights promised under this Article? Does it imply that citizens have lost the guaranteed rights under Article 11? Does it mean those rights will not be honoured in the future?

Knowing that it is Umno that dictates policies and sets the directions of the country, citizens have cause to worry. Party decisions become national policies with no regard for the majority opinion at the national level.

Take the question of the proposed Inter-faith Council, which has come under extreme pressure and criticism.

The Umno deputy president declared, “Umno strongly opposes the formation of the so-called Inter-Faith Council which can threaten the harmony of this country.”

The Umno Youth leader added impetus to Najib’s statement by stating, “At this Assembly we urge the government to reject the Inter-faith Commission.”

And the Umno president made it a government policy by stating, “We have no plans to revive the matter. It is as good as not having it.”

It is difficult to comprehend the reasoning for this uncompromising stand. They proclaim that Islam is under assault but produce no evidence. They claim that it is an insult to Islam to have an Inter-faith Coincil but do not clarify how it is so. A Penang delegate seemed bewildered when he exclaimed, ‘Imagine Islam being put on the same level as other religions.”

We wonder how is it possible to have inter-religious dialogues in mature democracies in the civilised world without any of these impediments becoming a problem to inter-ethnic relations. How is it there can be so much tolerance and mutual respect elsewhere that seems to be lacking here?

No problem before

Twenty six years ago we held a seminar with participants from different religious groups and persuasions. There was no problem. We even came out with a book, ‘One God, Many Paths’, which contained a record of the seminar proceedings reflecting the viewpoints of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Science.

Why, 16 years ago we had another seminar which resulted in a book, ‘The Human Being: Perspectives from Different Spiritual Traditions’. That respected, Islamic spiritual leader from the largest Muslim  social organisation in  Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, presented a paper, ‘Aids and Impediments to the realisation of humanity according to Islam’. There was no problem.

Since then, things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. It has become so intolerable that what used to be a natural thing as wishing and greeting one another during festive occasions and visiting open houses and holding joint celebrations have been ‘declared’ un-Islamic.

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Religious incitement is on the increase. Unfounded claims were made by a mufti that between 100,000 and 250,00 Muslims had renounced Islam. That same mufti was responsible for what would have caused a nasty religious clash by spreading rumours that a church in Ipoh was going to conduct a baptism ceremony for Muslims. But strangely, no action has been taken against him, even though he was guilty as hell.


Time to wake up

If we take a careful look at the way things are evolving, it reveals a minority vocal group in influential positions who are dictating terms and deciding policies. And as long as the majority who disagree with them stay sullen and silent, things will not get better – it will only become worse.

That is why it is necessary for the majority of Malaysians to realise that unless we get together and take a common stand against the forces that pose a clear danger to our ethnic relations and harmony, we stand to lose all that we cherish.

Well-meaning people must get involved in this effort all over the country and send forth a clear message that if the present political leaders do not change, then we must change them for the good of the nation. We must not hesitate but act seriously and bravely.

Let us draw strength and hope from this saying: “It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

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Aliran president P. Ramakrishnan delivered this address during the  30th Annual General  Meeting of  Aliran on 26  November 2006.

 

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