Ronald Benjamin hoped that politicians and activists from different divides should dialogue to build trust and internalise peace in their approach to politics.
For his 2018 Peace Day message, Pope Francis chose a theme called “good politics is at the service of peace”.
The world will not have peace without people having mutual trust and respecting each other’s words.
In this mission, it consists of safeguarding laws, encouraging dialogue among stakeholders of society both between generations and among cultures. When people’s rights are respected, they will feel their own duty to respect the rights of others.
Reflecting on this message in the context of Malaysia and on the behaviour of certain politicians and activists within the ruling coalition and the opposition, it clearly reveals there is a deficit of authentic politicians who are seeking peace in the real sense of the word.
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Peace is not something merely about political stability; it is about the continuation of efforts in building trust among communities. It requires an inner conviction of justice that is not ethnic or partisan but rather takes the rights of all into consideration.
Since the Pakatan Harapan government came to power, it finds that keeping the peace within its own coalition is an uphill battle as there are statements of disagreement on various issues. The political statements of some of its leaders indicate a self-righteous behaviour which takes precedence over the integrity of the coalition.
In fact, these politicians should avoid petty politicking and encourage dialogue with their own coalition partners to resolve the underlying socio-economic issues facing the nation. These pro-government politicians should help the current government to come up with good policies for the people instead of playing the power game of individual and party politics for survival.
In the opposition, the ethno-religious politicians and activists with a tainted past are looking for relevance by embarking on ethno-religious demonstrations that have all the characteristics of tribalism. This goes against peace, which promotes the common good in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
It is also sad that certain politicians in the ruling coalition are trying to accommodate the narrow extremist views of opportunistic politicians instead of proactively engaging them on what constitutes a new Malaysia.
And then there are human rights groups that are concerned about certain issues like the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Discrimination without understanding the complexity of an ethno-centric Malaysian society. They should take more responsibility for dialogue and education in a society that has a strong feudal history and finds itself afraid of international conventions.
Such a dialogue should take the nation’s history into account without compromising what constitutes justice and equality. A dialogue with empathy will neutralise fear and create a context for understanding and integration in a society that is evolving.
There is another dimension that needs to be taken into account which goes unnoticed, and that is the presence of foreign elements who like to see a polarised Malaysia so that they can take sides for hegemonic purposes when there is civil strife. We can see this happening in countries like Syria and Iraq where chasms between the government and the opposition have invited the presence of foreign powers that have a geopolitical agenda.
The unity among all Malaysians is fundamental in keeping the nation’s sovereignty. Extremist politicians and activists should keep in mind that by sowing the seeds of disunity, they are actually putting the sovereignty of the nation on the line. The sovereignty of the nation is not about Malay power; it is about Malaysia’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious peace and solidarity that transcends tribalism.
In the deeper context of this polemic, there is an element of trust deficit in the nation that requires dialogue and understanding instead of giving in to extremist exploitation. Building the trust level among all ethnic groups is fundamental for a new Malaysia as the nation meets the challenges of globalisation and technological innovation head on.
It is hoped that politicians and activists from the government camp or the opposition internalise peace in their approach to politics. This requires dialogue that builds trust.