Unity is in our soul: Not another slogan…

Show us by your actions that you are serious about unity

Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

This is perhaps the sixth slogan in over several decades that has been flogged before Malaysians. Why am I sceptical?

To paraphrase what Albert Einstein said: if we keep on doing the same thing and get worse results – namely greater ethnic polarisation – then this can only be described as insanity.

The first slogan presented as the national ideology became the basis on which the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched. This caught the attention of many. Children and adults are taught the Rukun Negara, and this is supposed to provide the fundamentals for all our national development and unity initiatives.

Today, we are wise enough to realise how this positive discrimination policy (NEP), aimed at achieving social justice and national unity, has been hijacked by rent-seekers and racists. The goals outlined in 1970 were never transparently evaluated, and the NEP has been extended to now over 50 years, with national unity and social justice remaining a mirage on the horizon.

We live today in a Malaysian society that is ethnically polarised in education, the civil service, the executive and the judiciary, to mention a few areas. The exception is tourism, where we boast “Malaysia, truly Asia”. Those who exploited this policy for personal advantage never agreed to any monitoring, review or improvement. This then became a sensitive issue.

However, with the advent of Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the early 1980s, we had “Clean, efficient and trustworthy government”, a slogan that later became an embarrassment with the exposure of many scandals and the rise in corruption and money politics. He was lucky there was no online media to challenge and expose his failures, which were many over his two decades at the helm.

Later he was to launch another slogan “Vision 2020”, a grandiose plan which again foundered. This time he blamed his successors, Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, for their failures in proceeding with the plan. These ideas, penned by think tank specialists, are later mouthed by politicians who do not, by their actions, add credibility to these profound ideas.

Then we had Abdullah and his slogan of “Islam hadhari”, which was much criticised by Mahathir. Abdullah spoke about moderate Islam and the need to project Islam as a tolerant and caring religion for all Malaysians. There is no need to fear discrimination or persecution on account of religion in Malaysia, it was emphasised. Islam hadhari, he stressed, would provide the basis for “good governance” in Malaysia.

Today, we cannot even hold interfaith prayers or meetings and expressions that promote better understanding. It is sad when moderate Muslims do not stand up and counter the derogative remarks made by the “ketuanan Melayu” radicals against non-Muslims.

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It appears the agenda for the Muslims in Malaysia is determined by some mufti who fail to understand that diversity is key to this nation. Our national emblem highlights unity in diversity.

Moderate Muslims are not able to stand up to the extreme racist ideas expressed by right-wing Muslims to the extent that a book written by G25, a group of Muslim intellectuals, was banned. So much for dialogue and understanding.

Not to be undone, we then had Najib and his 1Malaysia adventure. He outlined his roadmap with his government transformation programme, along with its national key results areas and ministerial key performance indicators as the basis for evaluating and monitoring its implementation.

There was so much hope and possibility. This roadmap ended with his 1MDB fiasco and he, more than any other prime minister, brought such discredit and disgrace to the nation internationally. Silently complicit were members of his cabinet and the civil service. The ideas were excellent, but the leadership lacked character and were subsumed by their greed.

So please tell me why I should not be sceptical and cynical about this National Unity Blueprint 2012-2030. This is again possibly drafted by bureaucrats or consultants and then thrust on the people by politicians from an exclusive race-based party that, despite its name, needs a huge dose of unity thinking.

Our present backdoor government suffers from a serious trust deficit. Do they not even understand this reality? How representative is this government? Now to complicate issues, they have put in place an emergency that has yet to be tested both by the judiciary and the legislature. Is this then just another feel-good initiative launched with great show to prove that they are doing something?

Unity is more than just an idea. It symbolises a spirit that was much in existence in this country and is still prevalent in Sabah and Sarawak. However, in Peninsular Malaysia, with its overemphasis on race and religion, we find things have become polarised.

The spirit of unity is about how we see the other, and this other could even be from one’s own family, race, religion or even language. Conflict is part of life, and how we manage and deal with it reflects our perspective of unity. Unity is further dented when the divides within society are exploited for personal or political gain.

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Unity has a lot to do with our capacity to forgive, our willingness to reconcile, our capacity to deal with our anger, fears, hurt and injury. This is not about kiss and make up: when the issues are societal, there must be attempts to ensure that the divides within our society are addressed and bridged. Without such actions, it is only about placing plaster over wounds. Just a cover-up to make everyone feel good.

Ibn ’Arabi, the great 12th Century Muslim mystic and philosopher said, “There was a time I would reject those who were not of my faith. But now, my heart has grown capable of taking on all forms. It is a pasture for gazelles; an abbey for monks; a table for the Torah and Kaaba for the pilgrim. My religion is love. Whichever the route love’s caravan shall take, that shall be the path of my faith.” A perspective that is so critical for unity in Malaysia.

Yes, unity is in all our souls, but where are the role models? Unity seems neither a reality nor a vision. If we all were to say we are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Dayak, Kadazan or from any of the other minority communities and accept this as our first identity, then this is accepting a reality. However, if we just remain there, then we deny the possibility of transcending to experience unity.

To be a Malaysian, we have all to transcend our ethnic identities. By transcending we do not deny our fundamental identities but enrich ourselves by being Malaysian – the added plus that makes us one – and this enriches our unity. When you transcend a ritual and capture the spirit behind it, then you become spiritual.

Pray let me know firstly, Mr Prime Minister, how many in your cabinet can even recite the Rukun Negara, let alone understand its contents and meaning. What does it mean to uphold the Constitution and emphasise the rule of law?

The very existence of your government, however legal it may be, transgresses a tenet in the Rukun Negara – namely good behaviour and morality – in the manner in which it came into being. So, please tell me, how am I to trust your plan and blueprint?

Has this been arrived at following consultations with a broad section of Malaysia’s diverse society – or is this a prescription that we have to just accept? Unity is about our soul, about our common aspirations and longings, our sacrifices and commitment towards the building of a Malaysia where we all feel a sense of oneness and belonging.

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No amount of strategies and action plans can replace this feeling of oneness. This can only be borne out of a common endeavour to which we all contribute. The cause for unity must drive us, motivate us and be the raison d’etre that pulls us together. Yes, unity, even though it is presently in our soul, has to be experienced and the diversity of Malaysia gives us this possibility.

One of the greatest challenges many like me face is the trust deficit. To overcome this, please demonstrate by your actions, and exercise your political will to make a difference. Through these actions, your sincerity will be defined.

Three areas could make a great difference. Give us an honest and transparent update on:

  • Pastor Raymond Koh, who, human rights activists say, was abducted by state agents
  • Joshua Hilmy and Ruth, as well as Amri Che Mat
  • Indira Gandhi and her missing daughter

How can people just go missing in Malaysia, where we talk about and emphasise the Rukun Negara? Do you not feel the pain that these families are undergoing? What has come to the idea of the rule of law? Are we living in certain parts of South America, where this is a common occurrence? Why ignore the call by Suhakam?

Words are inadequate and no amount of preaching and philosophy will bridge this trust deficit. Show us by your actions that you are serious about unity and that your heart bleeds for these missing persons.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can, and similarly racism can only drive racism out by transcending it. This will give us new insights that contribute to unity in this diverse nation of ours.

The time for politicking over Unity is over if we have the long-term interests of Malaysia in mind. Unity is the concern of everyone, including non-governmental groups and chief executives, and networking with other concerned groups will also provide a bottom-up approach. The diagnosis must be right so that we can adopt appropriate initiatives.

Let us also study what is happening in the United Arab Emirates and in Singapore, which boasts one of the most diverse societies globally, and the steps they are taking to build and inspire a cohesive society.

The actions you take, Mr Prime Minister, will be your lasting legacy, one that you can be proud of and remembered for as a leader for all Malaysians. Can these actionable ideas be updated and tangible results shared? – The Malaysian Insight

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