This is the basic foundation that needs to be put in place as Malaysia celebrates independence and prepares itself for turbulent times ahead, says Ronald Benjamin.
We have just celebrated Merdeka. The theme of the 2019 National Day and Malaysia Day celebrations is Sayangi Malaysiaku: Malaysia Bersih to stress the importance of unity and patriotism for the wellbeing of the people and shared prosperity.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said it was hoped that the theme would ignite and instil the values of integrity and strong character among Malaysians. While such a theme is a consequence of a new Malaysia that has got rid of kleptocracy, the old deep ethno-religious cleavage remains within Malaysian society, which has not healed itself or prepared itself for a new beginning to face a challenging and turbulent global world.
One of the fundamental flaws in the Malaysian political narrative is the desire to separate one ethnic group from other ethnic groups in the name of identity. Mainstream political parties and education establishments seem to reflect such a narrative. There is a black-and-white discourse separating Muslims and non-Muslims.
In this narrative, exaggerating differences takes precedence rather than what unites, because it helps politicians to get elected and keeps religious elites secure in power. What is good in the other is not highlighted; rather what is negative takes an emotional trajectory.
The khat issue, the plan for the unilateral religious conversions of minors in Selangor and the treacherous betrayal of Malaysian identity by allowing a foreign extremist preacher to undermine Malaysia’s harmony, solidarity and sovereignty are perfect examples of situations brought about by ethno-religious politics.
In this context, tribal distrust seems to take precedence in the national discourse on politics. The media, which tends to highlight sensational news to get its readers, are also not helping to create a new narrative in Malaysia that projects goodwill built among the common people in exemplary day-to day living without political undertones.
For example, in my place of residence at Taman Lim in Ipoh, I have witnessed an exemplary service of social solidarity: a Malay-Muslim man transports an elderly Christian man to church as the latter is not able to walk long distances. I have also seen how Christians and Hindus reach out to poor Malays by buying them rations and food. Personally, my Muslim and Hindu colleagues have helped me a lot at my workplace.
I believe there are many stories of social solidarity around the country that are seldom highlighted. It is these stories of solidarity that will bring Malaysians together.
The focus on social solidarity will in fact help to build a strong Malaysian attitude and character as envisaged in the Merdeka theme. It is the attitude and value of social solidarity that needs to be nurtured before a call for patriotism.
Solidarity would also pave the way in building the culture of dialogue among communities, currently lacking due to ethno-religious superiority consciousness among the mainstream political and religious elites.
As we celebrate Merdeka, let us place importance on social solidarity by highlighting the realism and values that make Malaysia a great nation. Social solidarity should triumph over tribal politics. This is the basic foundation that needs to be put in place as Malaysia celebrates independence and prepares itself for turbulent and challenging times ahead. Social solidarity should enlighten our independence.