The political landscape has regressed with many politicians blatantly using race and religion to divide society, Ch’ng Chin Yeow writes.
Though he was the founder and first president of Umno, Onn Jaafar disagreed with the party’s race-based policies in its early days.
He eventually left Umno to set up a multiracial party for all Malayans, the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP), on 26 August 1951.
Onn Jaafar’s vision of an inclusive Malaya was extraordinary, given the communal tensions then between the Malays and the other races over the granting of citizenship to the Chinese and the Indians.
Onn was the grandfather of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s cousin Hishammuddin Hussein, the present Foreign Minister.
Many of the current political parties and politicians who use racial and religious politics should look no further for a role model than Onn, if they really want to serve the nation.
In 2015, Najib rallied his ‘red shirt’ supporters into the streets to uphold ‘Malay dignity’. According to Pas deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man: “It’s part of a tactic to get the people to be engaged in a racial discourse which is never ending” (The Malaysian Insider, 19 September 2015, “Najib’s defence of ‘red shirt’ rally to divert attention from real issues, says Pas”).
Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s attendance at the Malay Dignity Congress in October 2019 when he was the PM under the Pakatan Harapan administration was another racially charged occasion.
A multicultural society is potentially a melting pot conducive to the free flow of ideas, innovation and contributions from people of various backgrounds.
During the Islamic Golden Age between the 8th Century and the 14th Century, when Europe was still in its Dark Ages, the Middle East was the centre of learning and trade. Cultural, economic, medical and scientific innovations flourished (Khanacademy.org).
Scholars from many countries including Muslims, Christians and Jews all collaborated and worked peacefully there. Without the reverse transfer of science, maths, astrology and technology from the Middle East – discovered and rediscovered during the Islamic Golden Age – to Europe, the continent would not have had its Renaissance in the 14th Century.
The Mughal Empire under Akbar the Great during the 16th Century in India drew many scholars from around the world. Akbar abolished the sectarian tax on non-Muslims and appointed them to high civil and military posts and thus laid the foundation of the multicultural political blueprint of the empire.
Akbar understood the importance of a stable empire depended on the co-operation and the goodwill of his subjects. He implemented an inclusive approach towards non-Muslims, ushering in an era of religious tolerance. (huffpost.com, 4 October 2013, “Finding tolerance in Akbar, the philosopher-king”).
The motto of Indonesia, “Bhinneka tunggal ika” (Unity in diversity), was adopted from the ideology of the Javanese Majapahit Empire under its greatest king, King Hayam Wuruk in the 14th Century.
The Majapahit Empire was then the centre for learning and trade in this region. People came from as far as China, India and the Middle East during its golden age. Multiculturalism was again the proven recipe for success and the formula to becoming a great nation.
The enlightened vision of inclusivity and multiculturalism of the Abbasid Caliphate, Akbar the Great of the Mughal Empire and King Hayam Wuruk of the Majapahit Empire show the success of such political policies and how their respective kingdoms flourished because of such policies.
Najib and Hishammuddin’s forebear and ancestor Onn Jaafar’s desire for a just and inclusive Malaysian society has remained a pipe dream after 70 years.
The Malaysian political landscape has regressed with many politicians blatantly using race and religion to divide Malaysian society. The term pendatang is still openly used to vilify the non-Malays and to gain political publicity and traction.
Despite the politics of race and religion – using the perceived threat to the Malays from the other races as a justification – many Malays remain poor and have not benefited from the policies implemented by these politicians.
The people who have benefited fabulously from these policies are the political elites, including some of the very politicians who have used racial and religious politics to divide society and who are now facing corruption trials. Others who have benefited disproportionately from these political policies based on race and religion are well-connected Malaysians irrespective of their ethnicity.
However, the majority of Malaysians, especially those struggling to make ends meet – including many Malays, whom these politicians are supposed to represent and champion – feel betrayed.
Ch’ng Chin Yeow has an interest in many issues and subjects, including history, mineralogy and human behaviour. Based in Penang, he truly likes to be a busybody