By J Jeyasingam
A major event has been unfolding in Malaysia for many years now, an exodus of sorts if you will.
Many young Malaysians of all ethnicities have moved to other countries in search of better opportunities and out of fear – fear of fundamental changes in the laws and policies of the nation, particularly regarding race and religion; and fear of a waning economy that has not kept pace with our regional peers in moving up the value chain.
Other concerns plague us: the lack of upskilling of the local workforce; the pervasive nature of corruption; the failure to boost economic vibrancy; and an inadequate welfare net for the people.
Our economic performance and social security net have not reached the levels that our resource-rich nation ought to have reached compared to our regional peers, which were once behind us.
The general election sprung a major surprise: the Islamic party Pas emerged with the most seats. How should we interpret this unexpectedly big gain and on what trajectory is Malaysia being taken?
The world has changed in the last 30 years. Globalisation and the internet have brought us all closer together. Putting up borders of race and religion is becoming more apparently a ‘mind construct’ rather than an absolute.
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The historical reasons for early migration, the formation of borders and the framing of constitutions are certainly important for building a nation and instilling patriotism and national pride. However, for any progressive nation to move forward, it must forge unity and a national identity and not divisions.
Malaysia, a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country, has its unique set of challenges. Racial and religious rhetoric, especially in the heat of election campaigning, heightens tension. This, if left unchecked, breeds contempt or worse, stirs unrest.
So then, do we want a modern society based on civil laws as entrenched in our secular-based Constitution, with a parallel system of Sharia laws for Muslims running in tandem as we have now? Or do we want Sharia laws to eventually replace civil laws?
Our neighbour Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, has always had a secular constitution where religion and state are kept separate and distinct. This has worked so well in promoting peace and harmony while the people enjoy the benefits of a booming economy.
Malaysia had a similar experience for decades, but of late we face a possible profound change, as the latest election results show.
If indeed in the future the majority want to replace civil laws, then an amendment to the Constitution will be necessary to adopt institutionalised religious laws. The immediate and long-term impact of such a move on our multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious society will be far-reaching – it will forever change the nature and character of Malaysia. The impact on the economy and foreign investments will be akin to a major tectonic shift, and we may never recover from the ‘earthquake’ that will surely follow.
People of Chinese, Indian and other ethnicities have lived here for generations and even centuries. The history of how and why they reached Malaya’s shores in the pre-independence era is well documented.
There is also anecdotal evidence about how non-Muslim and ethnic minority influences left their mark here centuries ago. Nevertheless, the pendatang (immigrant) debates still make their rounds occasionally.
The fact is, many generations have lived and died here. We are all the people of Malaysia and firmly entrenched here. There is no going back to China or India or wherever it is our ancestors may have come from. Many have toiled hard and even shed blood to build our beloved nation to what it is today.
The very fabric of our nation is weaved out of the collective efforts of all its people, irrespective of race, religion and creed. Viewed individually, we may seem like a rag-tag collection of disparate materials. But united, we are like a patchwork quilt of exquisite and unrivalled beauty.
Let us not throw away all that we are and allow ourselves to unravel just because of irresponsible politicians and divisive politics. Malaysia is held in high esteem as a moderate Muslim-majority nation with diversity as its core – a role model for others.
We are now at a crossroads and it is crucial we choose the correct path. Our uniqueness has many advantages and benefits: creativity, innovation and productivity are just a few examples.
Patience, a celebration of our diversity and understanding have been our hallmarks for generations. We must jealously guard these traits and not let narrow-minded people destroy them.
Let us leverage on our collective strengths and take Malaysia to new heights and be the envy of other nations around the world. If we fail, we will have thrown away this paradise built on the backs of generations past, and our beloved nation will be much poorer for it.
“Innocence, once lost, can never be regained. Darkness, once gazed upon, can never be lost.” – John Milton
J Jeyasingam is a stockbroker by profession – but these days mostly just taking stock of where we are going as a people in this beloved nation of ours. With a wife and a son to remind him that no person is an island, he believes we must all stand shoulder to shoulder as a nation and rise to every challenge