By Joachim Ng
To reach Ipoh’s historic railway station, you have to travel along Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab as the station is situated along this iconic road. Not many of us remember the Kuala Kangsar-born Dato Panglima Bukit Gantang Datuk Seri Abdul Wahab, the first Menteri Besar of Perak from 1948 to 1957.
In his later years, Abdul Wahab lived by principles that are highly relevant today. One of these principles was his belief in the necessity for non-communal politics and non-communal political parties. However, like Dato Onn Jaafar in Johor, Abdul Wahab was unsuccessful in his quest to establish non-communal politics in the state of Perak and the federation of Malaya.
Malaysia’s populist trend has always been running in the opposite direction: communal identity is your birthmark and it must stay as the hallmark of our political system. But in the long run, it may prove to be the nation’s death certificate chop. A peep into reality will demonstrate this likelihood.
Why is communal homogeneity and monopoly a death march? Teams of paleontologists, archaeologists, historians, and geneticists have recently pieced together a story of human occupation of the earth: many ancient populations around the world have disappeared and many nation-states have collapsed though lack of diversity. This major cause of downfall should worry our politicians.
To stay adaptable in the face of rapid environmental and sociological changes, what does a nation require? Cultural, ideational, and experiential diversity. A monopolistic homogenous society breeds homologous thinking, or in simple words, the lower the diversity the poorer the thinking.
Many of us will point to Japan as a model of a successful ethnically homogeneous nation. However, Japan’s modernisation in the hundred years leading up to World War II was due to the massive importation of a rich diversity of Western ideas and expertise. This foreign importation was also responsible for Japan’s rapid postwar ascent. A notable example was Japan’s full-scale adoption of quality control circles from America to vastly improve Japanese product manufacturing processes.
Nature produces immense diversity for a reason: survival. There is no ecosystem without diversity. Before we lose our resolve to stay nationally diverse, every politician should be reminded about the true origin of COVID-19. Its traditional home is the wild. But in destroying the habitats of myriad species and slaughtering nature’s diversity, we have forced SARS-Cov-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 or Coronavirus Disease 2019 — to migrate to the cells of human beings as their new home.