Tossing multiculturalism

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Tossing the colourful yee sang may be viewed as not simply an ostentatious ritual act of aspirational bonding but also a reminder that the table of prosperity is not reserved only for a select few, observes Yeoh Seng Guan.

Photo credit: catinsydney.blogspot.com

In Malaysia, the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Rabbit has been ushered in with a colourful bang. Or perhaps, more accurately, a series of differently pitched bangs vying for media attention.

Today’s mainstream papers (5 February 2011) have photos of various political leaders from ethnically and religiously oriented parties in different degrees of cultural rapprochement.

Almost all are wearing various shades of auspicious red clothing (for the Chinese), beaming and shaking hands with the nameless public in state-sponsored ‘open houses’, or gathered in a tight circle and deftly tossing the yee sang dish with chopsticks.

Alongside wishes for greater personal and national prosperity, there are the usual call for better appreciation of cultural diversity in order to build national unity and patriotism (which means love for one’s country and fellow citizens by the way) in Malaysia.

These aspirational messages have the aura of sobriety when read alongside the many political and economic crises affecting countries elsewhere in the world. Occupying our chief attention at the moment is the mass protests calling for the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Being in power since 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar El Sadat, Mubarak presides over a system that has implemented neoliberal policies that have created high unemployment among the youth and created a small business class deeply dependent on government contracts – among the principal causes of the political unrest and violence. The effects have become most glaring in the cities, particularly in Cairo, fuelling widespread disenchantment and frustration with the state leaders and system.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has wisely noted that the “Egypt crisis is a lesson for all”. In a democratic system, “we must give priority to the people”. His advice for resolving the tense situation is to listen to the demands and desires of the Egyptian people.

These are salutary lessons for political leaders from both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. If they continue to be mindful that they are in positions of power because they have been temporarily placed in those positions, then they remain relevant. They have to learn to think, say and act to ensure that Malaysia remains a place for everyone to truly call home despite our inevitable assortment of family differences, quirks and quarrels.

In that way, tossing the colourful yee sang – itself made up of diverse ingredients and tastes – becomes not simply an ostentatious ritual act of aspirational bonding but also a reminder that the table of prosperity and conviviality is not reserved only for a select few.

Yeoh Seng Guan is an Aliran exco member.

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