In diverse Malaysia, think of the consequences before you act!

In our quest for inclusivity, we need to have greater foresight about the outcome of our decisions and actions

DR WONG SOAK KOON/ALIRAN

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By Asma Abdullah

The spirit of muhibah (goodwill) has long been revered as a guiding principle of unity and harmony in our Malaysian society.

But recent challenges have highlighted fractures in intercultural relationships and understanding. These fractures have called into question the resilience of the cherished ideal of muhibah.

In recent times, Malaysia’s diverse society has faced growing tensions and divisions.

Expressions of dissent, criticisms of government policies, and instances of ethnic and religious intolerance have shown how important it is to tackle these challenges.

Erosion of muhibah: Root causes

The erosion of the spirit of muhibbah in Malaysia can be traced to deep-rooted issues such as the ethnicisation of social realities, conflicting narratives and historical grievances.

Each ethnic group holds its own perspective of Malaysian identity and development. This often leads to competing narratives and perceptions.

These differing viewpoints contribute to a sense of exclusion and marginalisation among certain communities. This then fuels resentment and discord.

The failure to address these underlying issues has allowed cultural tensions to rise, undermining the fabric of Malaysian society.

‘Adverse consequential thinking’

Amid these challenges, we could use adverse consequential thinking (ACT) as a critical tool to navigate the complexities of multiculturalism. This tool can also help us avoid the minefield of multicultural sensitivities we are not aware of.

ACT involves thinking of the potential negative outcomes of actions before we make decisions. This will enable individuals, politicians and organisations to avoid worsening cultural tensions and conflicts inadvertently.

By fostering empathy, understanding and foresight, ACT facilitates the effective management of sensitive religious, ethnic and cultural issues.

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ACT in decision-making and policymaking

In policymaking, public discourse and community leadership, the application of ACT can guide decisions towards promoting inclusivity and harmony.

Leaders must recognise the far-reaching implications of their actions. They must prioritise initiatives that uphold the principles of non-discrimination, equality and mutual respect.

By fostering a culture of dialogue and collaboration, Malaysia can navigate its multicultural landscape with greater resilience and cohesion.

Promoting cultural understanding

Education, dialogue and awareness-building initiatives play pivotal roles in promoting cultural understanding.

Emphasising intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes enables individuals to transcend biases and stereotypes, fostering a deeper appreciation of the richness of Malaysia’s diverse heritage.

By fostering empathy and solidarity, communities can bridge divides and forge genuine connections based on their shared humanity.

Building an inclusive society

An inclusive approach to development is essential in creating a society where everyone feels valued and empowered.

Policymakers must prioritise initiatives that dismantle barriers to participation. They must also ensure fair access to resources and opportunities.

By fostering a sense of belonging and ownership among the people, Malaysia will be able to harness its potential as a harmonious and prosperous nation.

Reviving muhibah: A call to action

Reviving the spirit of muhibah requires a collective commitment to fostering respect and solidarity across diverse communities.

Embracing ACT as a guiding principle will enable us to overcome cultural divides and forge a shared vision of unity and coexistence.

We need to celebrate diversity as a source of strength rather than division. In doing so, the nation will be able to reclaim its position as a beacon of multicultural harmony.

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In the quest to build a muhibah Malaysia, ACT can serve as a critical tool to foster empathy, understanding and resilience. It can help us navigate ourselves out of the minefields in society that we are not aware of.

By prioritising inclusivity, dialogue and mutual respect, we will be able to transcend cultural divides. We can then forge a future grounded in unity and harmony

Let’s embrace the true spirit of muhibah as a guiding light, illuminating the path towards a brighter, more inclusive future for everyone. Let us move from ‘tolerance’ to understanding, respect and acceptance of diversity.

Asma Abdullah is an interculturalist based in Kuala Lumpur.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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