Let’s keep Malaysia beautiful, not see it burn

My wife met a Christian woman recently and learned that she works as a maid a few days a week at the house of a Muslim family. The lady of the house would usually cook lunch for her too.

As this is Ramadan, the domestic helper didn’t expect the house owner to cook lunch for her. To her surprise, the house owner cooked lunch for her every time she went there to work.

I felt good upon hearing this. For, as my friend Jamil always tells me, Ramadan is not just about fasting – it is also about continuing to work as normal and thinking of others. This house owner certainly exemplifies this.

I was also pleased to read that Christian, Buddhist and Hindu religious leaders were invited to a breaking of fast function at the Federal Territory mosque on May 23. The gathering was co-organised by the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (JAWI) and Global Unity Network, a group headed by Muslim activist Shah Kirit Kakulal Govindji.

This is to be welcomed.

In the past, when non-Muslims took notice of JAWI, it had something to do with a battle over conversion or problems arising from conversion to Islam by an individual who was not a Muslim at birth. I hope Muslim bodies will ramp up engagement with organisations representing other faiths as it will be good for the nation.

For one thing, because these leaders come to know each other, they may be better able to handle any interfaith problem that arises. If, for instance, some idiot posts or forwards inflammatory words on social media, they can quickly contact each other and bring some stability to the situation.

Just a few days ago, Reuters reported that Indonesian police had arrested a man who created a viral hoax using a photo of three Indonesian policemen at post-election protests with a caption describing them as “secret Chinese soldiers” based on their “slanted eyes”.

Authorities feared it would further fuel ethnic unrest, especially since some others were spreading rumours that the Chinese were involved in the post-election riots.

Indonesian police, according to Reuters, presented the suspect, with a face mask, to the media along with the three men in the photo. The trio told the media that they were “real” Indonesian mobile brigade policemen, adding: “We are not Chinese officers.”

It was good that the Indonesian police acted swiftly, as eight people had died and more than 700 injured in the unrest which erupted after presidential election results showed that incumbent Joko Widodo had beaten challenger Prabowo Subianto.

This could have happened after May 9 in Malaysia. And, as I previously wrote, only the maturity of our leaders and voters, the professionalism of the police and others, the attitude of losers Umno, the attitude of winners Pakatan Harapan (PH), and the behind-the-scenes talks – with royalty playing a key role – prevented a situation similar to that in Indonesia.

Malaysians can take a collective bow. We have set a high standard, something others will strive to emulate.

But there is still a danger that some incident or some idiotic remark could set off a chain of events culminating in unrest. For there are some groups and individuals roaming around trying to exploit situations to further their agenda.

There are some who are, to put it mildly, unhappy with PH and want to discredit it. I have no problem with any group disagreeing with PH or wanting to replace it in Putrajaya, but I don’t want the nation to burn in the process.

There are groups which claim that the Chinese-dominated DAP is running the government, knowing full well that this is not possible given the dominance of the Malays in the Cabinet and the PH presidential council.

And just a few days ago, on May 24, the police department was forced to issue a denial that it had dropped the words “Allah” and “Prophet Muhammad” from its logo. Police corporate communications head Asmawati Ahmad explained that it had two sets of guidelines on the use of the logo and that this came into effect in 2014 – long before PH made it to Putrajaya or PH’s nominee Hamid Bador became inspector-general of police.

“The PDRM logo, with the words ‘Allah’ and ‘Prophet Muhammad’, can only be used on flags, signboards or materials placed in high positions or places. The logo that does not have the words ‘Allah’ and the ‘Prophet Muhammad’ is used in printing matters (leaflets, notices or statements) so that in case the leaflet is sat on, trampled, etc, it does not disrespect or dishonour the Almighty and the prophet,” she said. This decision was made when Khalid Abu Bakar was IGP.

One could be excused for thinking that whoever posted it had some mischief in mind.

What this calls for is vigilance, cool heads and acknowledging our humanity. The police force, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and senior civil servants have to be vigilant and act swiftly on words or actions that can cause disunity and lead to unrest.

I’m sure you know better than me that we all have to be vigilant in checking to see if the information we receive is true before forwarding it or getting emotionally worked up. If I knew of anyone trying to start trouble, I’d advise that person to desist. I’m sure you’d do the same too.

The government should definitely make it a priority to carry out a campaign to educate the people on fact checking. And it should start now.

As I said, those who do not like PH should be free to work against it, but with cool heads so that they don’t spread or act on misinformation or disinformation that can create a situation where everyone loses.

Importantly, I would keep calm, which, I know, is easier said than done. If some conflagration does happen, I would let the police and the authorities handle it.

I am a firm believer in the fact that I am a human being first. I was born a human. That is biology. That is nature. My race is an identifier and should be secondary; my religion is a cultural accretion and should be secondary.

I will never forget the words of our first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman: “This is a beautiful country. We should appreciate it and keep it that way”. He has said this publicly and during a chat with me. He believed that if the people of diverse races in the nation are united, we can face whatever comes and triumph.

Yes, despite its warts, this is a beautiful country. Let’s keep it that way.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.