Change can happen when different groups meet and converge on more level planes and slowly get to know one another and build trust, says Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
Soon after Najib Razak took over the reins as prime minister from Abdullah Badawi in 2009, for a fleeting moment in time, Malaysians felt somewhat hopeful that social transformations could finally happen in our country. With a new leader, came new promises and renewed hope.
When Najib launched the 1Malaysia campaign, the objectives were quite straightforward; the RM38m (or at least the amount that was officially recorded) campaign sought to call for all government agencies and civil servants to embrace diversity and Malaysia’s multicultural society. Najib’s administration through the 1Malaysia campaign sought to heal the wounds of racial mistrust and turmoil by promoting “ethnic harmony, national unity, and efficient governance”.
Needless to say, the campaign has since met with heavy criticism from Malaysians as ethnic relations in Malaysia have worsened in the last five years, and the recent “red shirts” rally verified this. Of course, it doesn’t help that those from the ruling elite have since showed their true colours and forked tongues.
Thousands of red shirt-clad Malaysians walked the streets while chanting racial slurs and hurling verbal threats to other fellow Malaysians:. Those who believed in genuine national unity (not the one backed by BTN), the non-Malay Malaysians (those who were against the ruling elite) and the opposition (especially DAP) were accused of being the real enemies of the state.
Various videos on social media have been uploaded since, racial hatred forever etched in the ambers of the internet, reminding us that the dark grey cloud of racial conflict still looms eerily above us. Although, the present administration had spend a significant amount of funds to help paint a wonderful picture of progressive modernity and moderation, the truth couldn’t be further, darker and more sinister.
Close to the surface lies political strife embattled by decades of institutionalised racism that takes us back to the days when early immigrants were granted citizenship. The idea of inclusion and recognition of their contribution in helping the federation in its infancy seemed lost amongst those who were too selfish and too insecure to share their slice of the pie.
In present day terms, we have witnessed an increased acceptance of biased ideas from those who continue to question the legitimacy of “pendatang rights” and to regurgitate stale threats of a resurgence of May 13.
Much of the “dirty” work has been continually done by ultra-right wing organisations that attempt to shatter the dream of unity our forefathers envisioned for this Federation. Needless to say, these hate mongers have helped pave the road to unruly repression, disenfranchisement and racial polarization.
For Malaysians in the 21st century, the messages that these hate mongers convey is clear: non-conservative Malays and non-Malays, in general, do not belong in Malaysian political society and have no business wielding power over the Umnoputeras.
But all is not lost.
Malaysians still have the opportunity to bridge the widening racial and religious divide and begin to reconstruct the country’s soiled political landscape. Although history tells us how difficult this task may be and that the struggle for reforms are oft fraught with peril, history also teaches us that change can happen: when different groups meet and converge on more level planes and slowly get to know one another, all the distrust and suspicions fade away.
Malaysians can do something to prevent this rot and we can begin by reaching out in neighbourhoods, schools, religious institutions and workplaces. We need to begin articulating a vision of a multicultural, multi-religious and more equitable Malaysia.
Going to the ground is important as this will enable us to build a solid foundation that promotes respect, tolerance and understanding. Once we succeed in doing so, with our words and then with our deeds, we can strike a strong blow against the political racism that haunts our country – and this is just the right kind of silver lining our country needs right now.