Channel energy towards nation-building, not ethno-religious bogeymen

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Photograph: Asyraf Rasid/The Sun Daily

Great energy, which should have been used for the transition towards a developed nation, has been waste in protesting a manufactured bogeyman called “Icerd”, writes Ronald Benjamin.

The rally to reject the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (ICERD) proceeded peacefully, which is something extraordinary relative to other countries where protests can sometimes lead to violence.

It is commendable but also requires deep reflection. The fundamental question that all Malaysians should ask is not about the right to freedom of assembly or speech in the New Malaysia, or whether Pakatan Harapan (PH) is bowing to extremists in the context of opposition to the ICERD. Instead, we should ask about the nature and objective of the rally itself, the kind of actors who propelled this rally, and the implications for the future development of the country.

When one analyses mass protest movements around the world, there is usually a pluralistic objective. There are anti-corruption rallies, workers’ rallies against the effects of neo-liberalism and rallies against gender discrimination.

In such gatherings, there is always a fight against powerful political and business forces. This creates a spirit of solidarity among participants that transcends the limits of tribal politics, even though certain types of protests are questionable, such as those against social foundations.

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The fact is, there is a battle against powerful forces, whether such perceptions are accurate or not. The anti-ICERD demonstration had nothing to do with the principle of solidarity in fighting against a dominant force; rather, it was a platform to reinforce entrenched privileges and to revive certain corrupt Umno leaders, and Pas, which has nothing much to contribute in terms of developing the nation but rather uses the religious emotions of the masses for political survival.

The anti-ICERD rally was nothing more than a cry for ethno-religious power and privileges. In reality, such power and privileges are strongly entrenched in the constitution, political representation, government-linked companies, the institution of the royalty and government bureaucracy.

Malaysia, after the formation of the PH government, is at a crossroads between the transition towards a developed nation or regression to privileges where there is little work. The collective energy of the Malaysian people needs to be harnessed to build a strong foundation of moral and work ethics, grounded in solidarity among all ethnic groups who should be regarded as fellow brothers and sisters.

With such solidarity, rooted in a common sisterhood and brotherhood of equality, we could move forward in building a strong foundation of scientific and digital knowledge without being envious of one another.

In this context, enthusiasm and energy is used to create products and services that are useful to society. China is creating strong infrastructure around the world; a small, developing nation like Cuba which has undergone unjust economic sanctions is making great strides in medical research – the list goes on. Meanwhile, Malaysia is still debating ethnic and religious superiority.

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We also need to relook our social-economic foundations, which are still geared towards the wellbeing of a few in the corporate world. It is obvious that the PH government has not come up with a clear socio-economic vision for the emancipation of the bottom 40% of Malaysians, made up of workers, farmers and fisher folks – the prime political constituency of the anti-ICERD forces. The emancipation of the bottom 40% has to be grounded in sustainable development characteristics, where environmental protection for the future generation is a moral imperative. Such a vision would be an uphill battle in a society that continues to feel insecure after 60 years of independence.

In a nutshell, great energy, which should have been used for the transition towards a developed nation, has been waste in protesting a manufactured bogeyman called “Icerd”. Such energy could have been used constructively, to build knowledge and skills to help the nation in its transition.

The question is, how is Malaysia going to take the lead in becoming creators of knowledge and technology when we are still drowning in tribal insecurity? Something for Malaysians to ponder over in the aftermath of the anti-ICERD rally.

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