We have been here before. There were numerous programmes initiated by successive governments – through the national unity ministry or department – over the years with the purported aim of forging national cohesion and harmony.
National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique recently announced the current government would launch a national unity action plan at the end of the year. It would aim at fostering community unity and goodwill in our diverse society, which would be in line with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s supposedly inclusive notion of a “Malaysian family”.
She said it would be an overall blueprint that included the Perpaduan Kindergarten Early Childhood Education Plan 2021-2030, the Rukun Tetangga Community Leadership Empowerment Plan 2021-2030 and the Keluarga Malaysia (Malaysian Family) Unity Plan.
In addition, the ministry is creating Rukun Negara Club modules in schools and a Rukun Negara secretariat at the university level.
These are a lot of programmes planned by the government. While these plans may indicate the government’s keenness in foster harmonious relations among the ethnic communities in the country, how different are they from those of previous governments?
It would be useful for the government to determine the weaknesses and failures of the previous plans so that similar mistakes could be avoided. Why did they fail and what did they achieve, if at all?
Indeed, a better plan should be crafted based on the lessons learnt from the past. What achievable goals does the government have in mind for the short term? What other objectives can it attain in the long term?
A plan with national unity in mind should obviously be grounded in social reality so that there is no disconnect between the plan and the situation on the ground.
How does the government, for instance, intend to tackle instances of racial bigotry and religious extremism in recent times, which can scuttle the goal of attaining national harmony?
There are politicians who fabulously indulge in the politics of race and religion to serve their narrow interests. How does the government plan to tackle this problem? How would schoolchildren or even university students be taught to deal with this kind of toxic politics?
The effort to foster goodwill and harmonious relations cannot be divorced from developments that are inimical to such positive objectives.
Does the government intend to review, for instance, certain ethnically discriminatory policies that do not sit well with the idea of citizenship and an inclusive Malaysian family?
Shouldn’t institutional racism be dealt with if the government is serious about pursuing national unity?
The current epidemic has seen the number of lower-income households swell with the entry of people from other social classes while the poor have grown much poorer after losing their jobs, incomes – and their human dignity.
Surely the new situation on the ground would warrant policies that are non-discriminatory to ensure that the needy would receive much-sought government assistance, irrespective of their ethnic origin.
Incidentally, the Ministry of National Unity should play a prominent role in tackling issues or incidents related to ethnic relations, bigotry and religious extremism.
For example, the recent case of a Muslim preacher who was accused of hate speech in denigrating religions other than Islam would require the intervention of the ministry to put a stop to this crass impropriety.
Whatever plan that is envisaged and crafted by the government, it has to tackle the obstacles to unity as well. Otherwise, the unity pursued will merely remain as a nice topic for conversation. – The Malaysian Insight