It is Malaysia Day tomorrow yet we are more polarised than ever, as a nation.
In 1963, a new nation was born with earnestness and tremendous goodwill. But even as we proudly declare that we are a warm and hospitable people, our nation is fraught with terrible prejudices. The chasms are apparent as our political landscape remains racially charged.
At the very fabric of Malaysian society, deep-seated biases and a trust deficiency exists among the communities. Opportunistically, politicians who work within this race-based system manipulate their own communities to continue propagating this awfully outdated structure.
Just yesterday, it was reported that our religious affairs minister, Idris Ahmad, questioned if the DAP chairman, Lim Guan Eng, was “dliberately fanning the flames of racism and widening the religious divide by inciting non-Muslims to shun the beliefs practised by Muslims”.
This was after Lim alleged that Idris didn’t bring any value to his job “apart from threatening national unity and disrupting religious harmony”.
Lim was commenting on the minister’s insistence that an alleged victim of sexual assault who went public with her claim, should have just reported it to the police.
Everyone knows that the general election is looming. Both Idris and Lim are seasoned politicians from opposite ends of the political spectrum. So now, like many politicians, they have gone into overdrive to get their supporter-base riled up.
But the narrative for their war of words is steeped in racial inuendo and divisive sentiments. Idris’ political boss has already started the ball rolling by claiming, much to the chagrin of most non-Malays that at the root of corruption in Malaysia are the non-Malays and non-Bumiputeras.
And, this is just the start. As we get closer to the national polling day, the vitriol will get to a crescendo.
But being a multi-ethnic nation, it is vital for our very survival to forge an overarching unity. The sad reality though is that the various races seem to be more divided now.
The latest “Keluarga Malaysia” philosophy is fabulous. It purports to bring our Malaysian family together. But are all Malaysians equal, or are some Malaysians more “equal” than others?
When the foundation of political leadership in our country is derived from a complex race-based system, we cannot really expect our politicians to shift away from this entrenched philosophy.
They will continually scheme as they have an irresistible incentive to play up racial differences, rather than to work at narrowing the gap. Consequently, many of our leaders don’t focus on strengthening the ties that bind and unite us. Instead, they use our innate prejudices to enhance interracial differences, in order to win power.
But why do we Malaysians have these inherent prejudices in us?
At the core, it is about fear. We are all uncomfortable with ambiguity, and want to make quick and firm decisions about things. But when we do this, we are also prone to making sweeping prejudicial statements about others.
For example, when you meet someone, you immediately see that person as being male or female, young or old, yellow or brown, without seeing any deeper. This form of simple social categorisation reduces the complexity in understanding them.
I am a Malaysian of Indian heritage.
So, when you meet me for the first time, it is quite easy to use your pre-existing ideas about what you assume an “Indian” man’s behaviour would be. You quickly form an opinion about me, based on my ethnicity, and you will immediately think of me as part of this group that behaves in a particular manner.
In general, this is the narrative that we operate on, in Malaysia. People assume that as a category, Malays, Chinese, Indians, Sabahans, Sarawakians or foreigners behave in certain, specific ways.
We will, at least in our mind, say that this group of people are lazy, or that group is money-minded, or yet another group are all argumentative drunkards. The “cataloging” is simple.
But it is from here that all our false racial stereotypes come from.
Rather than helping us think differently, our politicians, through various policies and institutionalised preferential treatment actually actively proliferate these prejudices. We all know this, yet we cannot expect them to change, because race is the very platform from which they gain their power to lead.
So, we have to change, instead.
If we want to better our society, and ensure the longevity of the idea of Malaysia, it is incumbent upon us, as a people, to reduce our own propensity to typecast others.
We must accept that we co-exist with people who come from different backgrounds, cultural expectations and religious indoctrination. And, we must learn to consciously focus solely on that which we have in common with them.
Only when we see commonality will we start viewing each other as fellow Malaysians, and not simply as Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazans, Dusuns, Muruts, Kelabits and so on.
Malaysians need to feel compelled to stand up against injustices based on prejudice. We cannot rely on politicians to do this on their own accord. The citizenry must demand it from them.
When we can truly identify our own prejudices, and stop our inherent indoctrinated racism from rearing its ugly head, then we can really celebrate a glorious Malaysia Day.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.