By G. Sivapragasam
As we celebrate Hari Raya this year I am hoping that the people who make up this nation will take time to reflect on the direction the nation is taking and if it is what will lead us to the destination we all desire.
I do not think that anyone will seriously dispute that the survival of a society, let alone its progress, is dependent on the unity of its people. And again few will dispute that recent issues are posing serious challenges to this. I am hoping that these divisions are promoted not so much by the general populace as by pockets of vocal minorities to serve their private agenda. However, if this trend is not arrested I fear that issues that really have little significance in the general scheme of things will inflate and acquire a momentum that becomes uncontrollable.
Lately, in the web sites, one notes that the champions of the various divides spew such hatred, abuse, scorn and contempt delivered in such a positively uncouth and ugly manner that it is alarming. We are treating each other as mortal enemies rather than fellow citizens.
There can be disagreements but expressions of it can be presented with decorum and with good manners. Bad manners are only a reflection of their own poor character. Nothing is going to be achieved by this type of behaviour. Your target is not going to be converted to your view or be persuaded to change. All it will achieve is further acrimony, bad feelings and commitment for the opposite.
Having said that, I feel optimistic that it is not as bad as is portrayed in the alternative or even in the mainstream media.
A couple of days before this Chinese New Year I observed an event in a popular Indian Muslim restaurant located in Sunway City, Ipoh that demonstrated what is actually happening at ground level. A Malay lady in her forties walked into the shop. An elderly Indian Muslim of around 60 at the cashier’s counter greeted the lady with the words “Kong Hei Fatt Choi”. If this was not surprising enough the Malay lady unhesitatingly stretched out her hand and said, “AngPowLoh Lei”. The Indian Muslim responded by rewarding her with a few sweets.
This exchange was a revelation of how the cultures of the different communities have become common. If this is not an example of the emergence of a common culture I don’t know what is.
I am tired by all this talk of the good old days when all the communities got along with each other and lived in harmony and how the situation is changing day by day with communities becoming more and more divided. This is fiction. In truth, in the so called good old days, the communities lived isolated from each other with the majority of the Malay community confined to traditional villages, the Indians in plantations and the Chinese in mining communes in the outskirts of urban settings managed by colonials. Interaction between the various communities did exist but was limited to a very small minority.
It is only after independence with mass migration from the rural to the urban areas that the various communities have been forced to live together. In a change of this magnitude there is bound to be conflict and misunderstanding. Time is needed for the arrival of a culture of tolerance, understanding and empathy. We need to look and promote the similarities that we share rather than focusing on the differences.
In truth, Malaysians, by and large, identify themselves as a single nationality when in foreign lands. The differences among them in these environments become insignificant and immaterial and few will dispute that the different communities that make up this nation have more in common with each other than with the people from countries of their origin.
Differences between the communities only acquire significance when they are in this country. This, however, is not incomprehensible. A very wise man analysed it as follows. Using the family unit as an example, he explained that as against the outside world the family identifies itself as a family. However, within the family itself every member is an individual, each very different from the others.
I believe the path to harmony is to promote individuality. We need to profile a Malaysian identity that we can all be proud of. Whilst we cannot rid ourselves of tribal mentality we can rise above it. It requires us to come up with a set of values that will define Malaysians as a community.
Let us use this celebration as a mark for a new beginning to treat each other with respect and dignity to build a stable and united society as all our fates are bound together.