In the New Straits Times last Sunday, Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin and several columnists tried to calm ruffled feathers over the racist, violent and seditious speeches made at the recently concluded Umno general assembly.
According to Khairy, the debate this year was similar to the previous ones e.g. equally emotional, spiteful and racist. And that bit contained nothing new. A recycle of old rhetoric and the only thing different was that it was carried live on television. He said that this was to be expected because the raison d'etre for a communal party like Umno is its struggle for the Malay community.
In earnest, I fully concur with Khairy that the proceedings were a culture shock to most Malaysians. I say this for two reasons. First, we are shocked because the world we live in has changed, the society has changed, the competitive landscape has been reshaped by ongoing globalisation and these changes require different approaches. But Umno is still reluctant to change and expects others to adapt, tolerate, accept and celebrate its way because it is a communal party.
Most countries in the world today have moved on and left their communal political framework behind. It is even more pertinent for a multiracial and multi-cultural country like Malaysia to abandon such parochial political model. As a dominant political party, leaders of Umno should take cognisance that it is not possible to wish away our diversity overnight. The history of Malaysia has and will always be a colourful one, decorated by the various shades of our cultural and religious diversity. To stride forward, we must learn to live together with one another and shed the dominant mentality.
It is wise for Umno leaders to read carefully the thoughts of an imminent Malay royalty, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, on inter-ethnic relations. On leadership, he said leaders can either appeal to our lowest, basest instincts or they can inspire us to achieve greater things. What he meant by appealing to the community's lowest and basest instincts is by fanning up religious and ethnic polemics. He advised against parochialism in a globalising world and warned that it will do more harm than good to our society.
This leads to my second fear of an Umno trying to justify its existence through fiery racist speeches. Its way of justifying its existence will most probably invite an opposite outcome. Instead of being a crucial block in nation building, it is slowly but surely turning itself into a 'road block' in nation building.
Contrary to Khairy's belief, the BN's major component parties do not represent the general sentiment of the people regarding the state of ethnic relations in the country. If the other BN component parties do not mind being a punching bag of Umno, the non-Malay communities do not find the criticisms and the blame game of its leaders amusing and tolerable. Definitely not the Indian community who just found out that their share of the economic pie has shrank to a mere 1.3 percent or the small Chinese businessmen who had invested their entire life savings into their businesses and are struggling to survive.
These Malaysians did not contribute to the failure of the Malay community in achieving their desired equity ownership target despite being been given all the opportunities. It is necessary for Umno to find why the intra-community income disparity of the bumiputera community is worse compared to the rest.
Hence, Khairy's 'communitarian' and communal view is not going to contribute positively to our understanding of the problems and issues faced by the nation. It is more productive for him to reflect on the failure of his community and to try to persuade Umno to adopt new approaches to address the weaknesses in the Malay community. Perhaps this is more effective than repeating the same silly racist rhetoric year after year and end up with nothing much being achieved.
Moving ahead, sensible leaders of our beloved nation must not be overly fixated with the old deal but move on to embrace a New Deal which represents the spirit and aspirations of a truly fair and united Malaysia. The New Deal must not fail to recognise the efforts and sacrifices made by all communities in the making of a modern Malaysia.
Instead of being jealously fanatical about the social contract and interpret it in a divisive manner, it is more constructive for all Malaysians to explore measures, ways, ideas and collaborative efforts which are inclusive and progressive. We must not deviate from our mission to become a successful developed country by the year 2020. To do so, we should stop fiddling before the opportunities dry up.
In the words of Raja Dr Nazrin, 'The existence of a dominant race, religion or ideology does not guarantee unity. More important are mutual understanding and genuine respect for each other. The recognition that we are all God's creation and that each deserves to be treated with dignity'.
This is precisely what we asked from all political leaders especially those from Umno - to treat each Malaysian regardless of race and religion with dignity and respect.