After nearly 51 years since independence, we are still talking about national unity. National unity is an often repeated mantra of the only government we came to know. But action speaks louder than words. Unfortunately, there is very little we can attribute our multiracial harmony to the politics of race and religion.
Multiracial coexistence is a lot older than our nationhood. This land was inhibited by different races longer than what was recorded in our history textbook. The fact that our multiracial society is still living in peace and harmony proved that we had accepted our shared destiny.
But why are politicians so eager to play up instead of celebrate our diversity? Only days ago at the Permatang Pauh by-election campaign, the UMNO Bukit Bendera Division Chairman Ahmad Ismail labelled the Chinese Malaysians as ungrateful “squatters” in this country.
His statement has courted harsh responses from his friends and foes. His friends in the coalition even launched a signature campaign against him and others have challenged him to a debate on why Chinese Malaysians are not squatters in this country. If the debate does happen, it will probably attract audience who are looking for free entertainment rather than a serious intellectual discourse. The melodrama continues until the next Ahmad Ismail emerges.
This scenario reflected a serious problem in our society. Talking about unity alone showed a lack of vocabulary in our socio-political language. Why can’t we talk about how to make Malaysia a great sporting nation in the 21st century? Surely, we would like to think that we can eventually win a gold medal at the next Olympics games.
What about being an international cultural hub since both our cities, Malacca and Georgetown, were recently accorded the World Living Heritage status by UNESCO? We must start to take our tourism slogan, “Malaysia Truly Asia”, seriously.
As the world becomes more competitive and advanced, we need to correct our socio-political language and bad habits if we want to catch up with the rest. Malaysians need to get over the issue of getting along with one another. We got along fine with each other. It is time now to think about our rightful place or position in this highly competitive world. How do we want other societies to perceive us? What is brand Malaysia? What are our unique selling propositions?
Politicians who refused to accept the realities of the 21st century should be ushered to their rightful place – a small corner in our museum. It is odd to want to be racially or socially exclusive at a time when the world is so interconnected. We stand to benefit so much more from inter-cultural exchanges than to stay inside our communal shell. Unfortunately, we have been forced to consume such divisive socio-political rhetoric for far too long until we have grown accustomed to it. Our political system needs a purge.
So the next time you meet another Ahmad Ismail, hit him with the biggest trout you can find so that you will wake him up from his slumber. Yes, communal and all kinds of divisive politics must go. There is really nothing to divide us. Not colour of the skin. There are as many fair Indians and Malays as there are fair Chinese. Not even religion. There are more Chinese Muslims and Indian Muslims than there are Malay Muslims.
For this coming Merdeka day, we should get over our fixation with national unity. Move out of this country if you feel you cannot get along with the various cultures here. Otherwise, stay and be proud of our diversity. Many Malaysians are culturally sensitive and multilingual because of this advantage we enjoyed in our own social environment. If many who are envious of our linguistic prowess and cultural breadth and depth, why must we be jealous of this special divine gift?
We should take this time to reflect on how we can strengthen our partnership to make Malaysia economically viable and successful. With a population size of less than 28 million, we are a small fish swimming in a big ocean. Globalisation wave will sweep us aside if we do not develop strong arms to ensure that we can keep up with the rest. At the moment, countries such as Vietnam are breathing down our neck and soon Cambodia will be tapping us on our shoulder. We have lost sight of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.
Already some of our businesses are feeling pessimistic about our domestic economic prospect. High inflationary pressure and lower consumer demand are holding up domestic investment. If we cannot even keep our own locals from leaving, how can we hope to attract others to invest in our country?
The lack of confidence in our economy should be the main concern of the government. Not the controversial DNA Bill. It will be highly admirable if the government can help tackle some economic issues and challenges as fast as the way they pushed through the bill in the parliament. The government should act responsibly to take political contestation out of public policy formulation instead of bringing it into the process.
Malaysians must look at the broader picture. We must not allow narrow minded and self centred politicians hindering us from reaching a consensus on what we expect this country to become in the near future. Malaysia has only one choice and that choice must be to make this country a better one than the previous year. Our march towards greater success should start with a first tiny step – kick out racism and corruption!
Khoo Kay Peng is a corporate consultant, an independent political analyst and the co-author of “Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia”.
Read this article in The Malaysian Insider.