This is my article which appeared in the Star last november. It is time for Malaysians to think of the kind of country they want to live in; a country which continuous to be polarised by racial politics or a country truly for all Malaysians?
Follow Asean's example
MALAYSIA's nation-building project could take a leaf from the direction taken by Asean by building one community, one vision and one identity.?
A clear national identity embraced by all communities is the prerequisite for national unity to become a reality.
Forging a national identity within the context of a multicultural society is not an enviable task.
It takes a careful balancing act of integrating unique sub-national cultures with a shared national culture. The former is not an antithesis of the latter.
National culture can refer to the nation's economic, social, legal, governance and political systems.
Meanwhile, sub-national culture is the way of life or social norms of a community.
Sub-national culture is diverse and not homogenous even within a particular community. Hence, conformity is often not by choice but due to peer pressure.
Nation building and the effort to build consensus on national unity cannot be decreed or regulated through policy intervention alone.
It must be carefully nurtured and the condition of equal political, economic and social rights must exist to ensure that national unity is founded on a broad acceptance of a national identity and sense of belonging.
Although the state cannot foster national unity through its sponsored programmes alone, it can help create the right policy environment to make the nurturing process more conducive.
On the socio-economic environment, the Government can adopt less divisive policies by focusing on class differences instead of clear ethnic divisions.
Hence, it is timely that the Government recognises that the identification of an ethnic group to an economic activity is no longer visible.
Efforts to eradicate poverty, empower the poor and redistribute wealth should focus on class differences, between the haves and have-nots, and not between bumiputras and non-bumiputras alone.
We need to move from a system that celebrates a few winners amid a large number of losers to a system which guarantees success for all through pragmatism, sheer hard work, innovation, persistency and high moral standards.
A true sense of belonging and loyalty to the nation can only be fostered through fair and responsible governance.
We need to create a socio-economic environment where all individuals are encouraged to perform their best.
Moving forward, we need to reassess our education system to find out if it is playing a positive role in nation building.
We should envision and implement a system where students are given access to the best educators, most updated curriculum and most recent and relevant knowledge capital which they can use to become useful and productive citizens.
The education system must not breed divisions or create dichotomies based on ethnicity, gender, religion or any other discriminatory aspects.
Instead, it should teach students about the richness of our diversity and the benefits of living and cooperating as one community.
Politicians must be aware that using a political solution to address an education problem may not be the best solution.
On the contrary, a school is where students are exposed to various elements of the nation and the society they live in.
These make up the information they use to form their own perspective or worldview.
If education issues are often resolved through politicians? racial lenses, the students? perspective of their society and nation will take the same narrow communal perspective embraced by the politicians.
Can national unity be achieved in a multicultural and multiethnic setting?
Yes, if politicians have enough political will to change their own communal biases and adopt a non-racial approach to set a good example for others in the society.