LETTER | This is the month of Keluarga Malaysia, a slogan introduced by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob “to strengthen family ties and embrace the spirit of inclusion in the wider Malaysian Family” at the launch of Bulan Keluarga Malaysia 2021 at Taman Botanical Perdana on Nov 7.
At the king's official birthday celebration at Istana Negara on Nov 13, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah reiterated the crucial spirit of Keluarga Malaysia and called for the country to be competitive and to achieve greater heights with an “inclusive and fair Malaysian Family”.
This is also the month when the Perikatan Nasional government of today comes closest to its 100th day in office. A good time, we believe, to review the state of our union as a nation and the currency of that oft-repeated slogan we use to describe ourselves. We once were but are we still “Malaysia Truly Asia”?
We begin with the turmoil and disarray caused by the advent of the pandemic and the coincidental Sheraton Move in 2020. Admittedly, although race relations have been sliding over the last few decades, it is true to state that the slide became more apparent in 2018 and took a dangerous turn for the worse following the Sheraton Move.
Despite the pandemic being a time of great stress, difficulty, and disruption in living and livelihoods, we still witnessed perpetrators of division sowing intolerance, disrespect, and hate with unmitigated arrogance and exclusiveness, all of which has caused further deepening of divides and great injury to our already fragile state.
However, rising above the bigots, zealots, and hate-mongers, the period also saw the emergence of goodness with evidence of many people from various races, religions, cultures, and backgrounds spontaneously providing material, financial and emotional support for the downtrodden, weak and vulnerable.
This spirit of giving, of ‘rakyat jaga rakyat’ and the rise of goodness over darkness was truly uplifting and inspiring, a true reminder of the spirit of togetherness in the schools, festivals, and open houses of yesteryears.
This spirit gives us hope but, what did we see through all this? Most notable takeaway, an eerie silence from the leadership to quell the disquiet and confront arrogance, petty intolerance, and disrespect. It showed a government lacking courage and commitment to repudiate hate and punish those who disrupt peace and harmony with division and discord.
So, we were encouraged when National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique launched a national unity action plan with the aim of cultivating community unity and goodwill consistent with the vision of Keluarga Malaysia.
A principal thrust in the plan involves the creation of Rukun Negara Clubs in schools and Rukun Negara secretariats in universities. We applaud this initiative as we believe that unity and inclusiveness are best nurtured through education from the start of schooling days.
Rukun Negara our bedrock
Education is where it all begins and where humanity, inclusiveness, unity, and respect among all the diverse members of our Malaysian family are nurtured.
In this, the Rukun Negara is our bedrock, our guiding philosophy for the strengthening of harmony and the building of a united Malaysia.
Despite proclaiming the tenets of this philosophy as our national guide, we have yet to accept the Rukun Negara as our moral compass in word and in deed when this should be our first priority.
Effective inculcation of the Rukun Negara requires us to live the spirit of the Rukun Negara and this spirit, like that associated with Keluarga Malaysia, has to be lived top down beginning with exemplary leadership.
We have witnessed sufficient examples of poor leadership courage and behaviour to conclude that this spirit is sorely lacking and, for which, we, as a nation, will continue to suffer.
Our future will depend on our young and education plays a most critical role. The question we ask is, how are the vision of Keluarga Malaysia and the expectations of the Rukun Negara to be achieved when our schools are deeply polarised in both student enrolment and teacher employment?
‘Whats’ are important but the ‘hows’ are critical for, in the end, to accomplish our aims, we will need to ensure that participation is representative of all communities as far as is possible.
Making national schools the preferred choice for all communities is the way forward but, do we have the political will and guts to do what is right, to make the critical adjustments that we desperately need to make, and to do what is right without fear or favour?
Without first resolving the ‘hows’ in access to education, in equitable opportunities in education, in school compositions, in curriculum and cultural history, the unity action plan will fail for lack of substance and participation. Again, it will only be slogans, all talk but no walk!
There are, of course, programmes planned by the government to enhance unity and solidarity among our people of various ethnicities, cultures, and belief systems.
While some have survived, many more have floundered. While these plans may indicate the government’s keenness to foster good and harmonious relations among all Malaysians, an analysis of these will unfold a litany of weaknesses with equitable participation, inevitably, the common determinant of success or failure.
Participation, however, depends on perceptions of benefits and equity, and when fairness, justice, and equitability are questioned, as in the racially-configured Budget 2022, then cohesion is weakened and fissures in solidarity emerge.
While many smaller issues have taken a toll on the state of ethnic relations, none compares in substance to this budget, in challenging the government’s sincerity for equity, justice, and national unity.
This racially-charged budget has not only seriously undermined ongoing endeavours in building solidarity, it has also deprived our brothers and sisters in Sabah and Sarawak of a fairer share. Budget 2022 has struck a most painful blow to Keluarga Malaysia.
If we are to continue to survive as a vibrant, cohesive, inclusive, and rigorous nation of substance, we will need to unshackle the chains of old habits, throw out old baggage and ghettos of the past and move forward with courage and political will to reverse the downward spiral the country seems to be taking.
For a start, we call for:
- The rejuvenation of the National Unity Consultative Council where stakeholders will be given the opportunity to combine their talents and experiences in the construction of plans and programmes designed to strengthen solidarity and unity, embrace our diversity and build strong ethno-religious relations.
- A serious professional and objective review of our education system to make national schools the preferred choice for all students without hampering the growth of vernacular schools, all with the development of our young, foremost in mind.
- The early and just resolution of the MA63 Agreement.
- The institution of effective enforcement to act quickly and firmly against those with an agenda to cause hate and disrespect and widen divisions in society.
We were once a harmonious society, proud of our standing among nations of the world, proud of our diversity and sense of community spirit, proud of our economic growth and sense of nationhood.
We seem to have changed from a rich, progressive, harmonious multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society to a narrow and insular one, influenced by exclusive and extreme thinking.
Vision 2020, Malaysia Inc, 1Malaysia, and Shared Prosperity 2030 aimed at change but remain just slogans and passing fads to remind us of governments that have come and gone.
We pray that Keluarga Malaysia will be different, breathe new energies and bring new hope and not end up, like the rest, in the dustbins of tomorrow.
RICHARD ROBLESS is president of Persatuan Promosi Harmoni Malaysia
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.