Many years ago, on official occasions of national significance, particularly the anniversary of Malaysia’s formation on 16 September 1963, certain mainstream newspaper would publish a postcard-like picture of smiling Malaysians in traditional costumes.
The people in the portraits supposedly represented the diversity of the country.
Such framed expressions of togetherness and harmony are obviously superficial, especially if they are viewed in the present context.
Given the way the Malaysian federation has evolved over the last six decades, it would seem crucial that peoples from various communities go the extra mile to get to know each other better to appreciate their diversity.
While flaunting pictures of happy people in Malaysia may serve as a useful reminder for some people of our multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural society, it is important that we go beyond that if unity and prosperity are to be pursued to its logical conclusion.
This is especially so when there had been an assertion recently that this beloved country of ours should be exclusively reserved for the ethnic Malays, while others are supposed to be relegated to being “immigrants”.
Similarly, such bold insistence rudely ignores the existence of another important portion of Malaysia – Sabah and Sarawak, where diverse communities also reside.
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It is disturbing and mind-boggling that Malaysia had been brazenly imagined in the worst possible manner by no less than a seasoned politician after 60 years of its formation.
Have we regressed that much?
That is why it is timely for certain Borneo politicians and others to come to the fore to remind people in the peninsula, particularly bigoted politicians, that others also have the right to exist in the federation and claim ownership of this land.
They also rightly denounced racial bigotry and religious extremism that the peninsula is known for, which explains why they cherish their lifestyle, moderation and diverse cultures.
In the interest of inter-ethnic understanding and national cohesion, information about the lives and cultures of the Borneo people should be made known widely in the peninsula through, say, the media and educational institutions and, if possible, through physical interaction.
Peninsular Malaysians may be able to learn a thing or two from their Borneo brothers and sisters about living harmoniously without the hassle of toxic politics of race and religion that is clearly disruptive.
In the spirit of promoting better understanding of the Borneo people, the suggestion by a Sarawak deputy minister to include the Malaysia Agreement 1963 in school history textbooks should be given serious consideration.
The Deputy Minister for law, the Malaysia Agreement and state-federal relations in the Premier’s Department, Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, reportedly said that children in Malaysia should know what the agreement is all about, how the Federation of Malaysia came into being, and Sarawak and Sabah’s special rights under the agreement.
This is apart from the importance of the federal government fulfilling its obligations under the Malaysia Agreement that would bring about a stronger sense of belonging among the Borneo people.
To reiterate, a reinforced sense of loving the country can also be achieved among the ordinary people if they are made to feel they have a stake in the country.
Thus, lopsided development – with certain regions in the federation getting prosperous while in other regions there are still pockets of abject poverty – does not bode well for the affected people.
The allocation of development funds should not be discriminatory so that people living in the states ruled by parties not politically aligned to the federal government would not be penalised.
Indeed, development funds from the national coffers should be distributed fairly for the benefit of everyone, irrespective of their political stripes.
By the same token, institutional discrimination is also socially divisive especially if it is based on ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. This issue, which emerges in sectors such as education, employment and business, must be addressed with justice in mind.
People could also be united around noble initiatives as such as a war against corruption, as this scourge is one of the major factors that have slowed down the progress and prosperity of the nation.
After all, people in Malaysia who are supposedly God-fearing should have the moral fibre to oppose and resist greed and corruption.
That is why in the fight against graft, it is critical for the people to know that the law of the land is equally applied to all, irrespective of their station in life. No double standards.
The people owe it to this land they call home to strive for peaceful coexistence, justice, mutual respect, liberty and a better future. – The Malaysian Insight