Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Working towards national unity

AUG 22 — I am writing this article from Rio de Janeiro, being here to support our Malaysian badminton team.
While I am happy to note that we become united in our support of the national team, it also reminds me that back home, there is a perception of increasing fractures in national unity among us.
It is clear that in the Games, including badminton, national identity becomes more important than ethnic, cultural or religious identities. A multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan based country presents itself to the world and behaves as a united nation representing all citizens of the respective countries. 
In the Olympics, we work hard and are united in the quest for gold. Is it not overdue that we work hard and are united in achieving the gold for being united as citizens of Malaysia?
The perception that our national unity is fracturing is not completely without basis. 
There are still too many things around us that are calculated to accentuate our differences rather than remind us of our similarities. The insane politics of racism and religious bigotry is still very much alive in this advanced computer and Internet age.
Take, for example, the latest new political kid on the blog, a political party that is going to be premised on Malays only membership. The frightening thing is that this race based party is formed by former members of the Malaysian government. Is this not an admission by themselves that they have failed to instil the spirit and awareness of being Malaysian when they were in power?
I can understand their argument that it is politically expedient to do so and their competition is with Umno and PAS. This, therefore, highlights the very point I have been making for two decades now — political expediency often is the culprit that divides the nation.
Malaysians must move away from condoning political expediency that hurts the nation in the long run.
The perceived fractures of national disunity not only emanate from ethnic differences but also intra and inter-religious differences. There are wrong approaches and unnecessary efforts that seem to divide Malaysians based on religious preferences.
This itself is intrinsically contradictory because religion which is supposed to be spiritual is becoming a factor of division rather than a catalyst for unity, love and compassion between fellow Malaysians. The rakyat and the National Unity Department in the Prime Minister’s Department should be more creative and pro-active in finding ways as to how religion can be a unifying factor and so on.
Likewise, there is also increasing sectarianism within the Malaysian Muslim community which, if we are not careful, may lead us to the kind of sectarian disputes that are taking place in the Middle East. Once again, serious thinking and planning by the National Unity Department, the minister of religious affairs and other stakeholders to address this potential danger should be made urgently.
I have a question to pose to those who have been entrusted to plan our national unity – what common ideals or dreams have you given the average Malaysian?  It appears to me that as a nation we have no common direction, each going in separate and often opposite ways.
There is increasing confusion arising from the quarrels of a secular or Islamic state without any proper, intellectual, civilised and substantive debate or discussion. In this age, we still behave like the primitive cavemen shouting down others instead of advancing our arguments in a coherent and polite fashion.
We seem to lack a culture of knowledge and polite discourse. What is even worse, there seems to be no concerted and committed efforts by those entrusted to bring about such an environment. Hence, the citizens think that many at the top are mere seat-warmers with no ideas or vision.
With respect, I am beginning to suspect that those entrusted with the job of bringing about national unity are still grappling for a foundation or basis of national unity. Should the basis be religious? Should it be Islam since Article 3 of the Federal Constitution says that Islam is the official religion of the federation. If Islam, then which “structure” and “how much”? If it is not religious based, then what?
For national unity to come about, there has to be a national identity, national values, a national common vision or goal or dream. These need to be identified.
National unity cannot come about based on religion in a multi-religious society because while there are commonalities, there are also dogmatic differences that cannot be reconciled. However, religious sentiments may be used as one of the motivating sources for unity if we focus on the fact that religions do teach kindness and goodness to one another and that we are created by the same Supreme Being, albeit that we call Him by different names.
However, the extremists in the respective religious circles may not like this as it may offend their notion of exclusivity of their religions.
Even within the same religion, there is a problem of pleasing the sects and sub sects that exist. Hence, these are the problems and challenges that may arise if we use religion as a basis for national unity.
It, therefore, appears that the search for a basis and planning for national unity need to transcend religious boundaries.
So what is it that we can use as a basis for national unity? We need that direction and we need that urgently. We cannot wait for the next Olympics.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.