In search of common ground

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Some of you, or maybe all of you, may have noticed that Malaysia Today delights in focusing on two main issues. These two issues, which can be regarded as the two most sensitive issues in Malaysia, and which could result in one getting arrested for sedition or detained under the Internal Security Act, are considered subjects of taboo.

Malaysia has over the ages suffered from racial or religious conflicts at one time or another. Of course, the much talked about one is the infamous May 13, the race riot of 13 May 1969 that erupted soon after the opposition practically toppled the then ruling Alliance Party. But May 13 was not the only one, and before and since then there have been other pockets of strive, either due to racial or religious differences. Sometimes, like in Memali, it has pitted Muslim against Muslim, and even then this was not the only one, but maybe the only one that saw the most number of deaths.

Why, therefore, does Malaysia Today run the risk of stoking racial or religious sentiments? Are we spoiling for a fight? Or are we trying to test the patience of the government to see how far we can go before they pounce on us, close us down, and probably arrest the editor of Malaysia Today in the process?

The answer is: neither of the above. The real reason Malaysia Today is harping on these two issues is so that Malaysians can bring to the surface their frustrations and discuss these two issues in a matured and civilised manner. Keeping these two issues in our hearts does not mean that all is well. It just means we carry the hurt inside us, and hurt left buried does not go away, it just gets worse.

Of course, judging from the comments made by various readers in our blog, it shows that Malaysians are still far from being able to discuss or debate matters in a matured and civilised manner. Many still resort to name-calling and insults to get their message through, thinking, maybe, that by insulting those he or she does not agree with means one has won the debate. On the other hand, there are those who have been very articulate in putting their views across and what they write shows that much research has gone into their replies.

Malaysia Today, as one blogger has pointed out, plays the role of devil’s advocate. There are matters close to the heart of the non-Malays or non-Muslims which they dare not raise for fear that they would incur the wrath of the powers-that-be and face the risk of retaliation or, worse, arrest. So, whatever the non-Malay or non-Muslim dare not talk about, Malaysia Today will. And we bring it up so that the non-Malay or non-Muslim can then say, “Exactly, that is what we have been thinking but dared not say all along!”

There are invariably some Malays or Muslims who will accuse Malaysia Today of providing ammunition to the non-Malays or non-Muslims in which to attack the Malays or Muslims with. Yes, I have read such comments. By why should they think so? Ammunition is something only our enemies use against us and if they can think that this so-called ammunition will be used to attack the Malays or Muslims then is this not a reflection of what they are thinking? If the Malays or Muslims think that the non-Malays or non-Muslims will attack them with the ‘ammunition’ that Malaysia Today provides them then they must perceive the non-Malays or non-Muslims as enemies, as only enemies would attack you.

Like it or not, Malaysia is a multicultural society and the Malays and non-Malays as well as Muslims and non-Muslims must learn to live with each other, tolerate each other, be more accommodating, and accept their differences in culture, religion included. The Chinese are not going back to China or the Indians going back to India because the Chinese are not from China or the Indians from India. They were all born in Malaysia and are as much, if not more, Malaysian compared to the Malays. So Malaysians have no choice in the matter. They either learn to live with each other or else…well, you what or else…

One very important point that must be recognised is that Malaysian politics is played along racial and religious lines. As long as politicians and political parties; in particular the ruling party; successfully plays the race and religion cards that is how long Malaysians would remain divided. And as long as Malaysians are divided that is how long the ruling party would remain in power and the opposition would have absolutely no chance of ever winning the elections.

Barisan Nasional is very cleverly made up of 14 coalition members that represent all the races and minority ethnicities from all the states in East and Peninsular Malaysia. The opposition has no coalition to shout about other than three parties that have a very shaky electoral pact; one perceived as a Chinese chauvinist party, another an Islamic radical party and the most recent edition that has a very hazy identity that no one can say for sure what it represents.

Under these circumstances what hope has the opposition, coupled with the financial might of the ruling party plus the blatant gerrymandering and highly suspect electoral roll that is rife with phantom voters? The only, and I repeat ONLY, hope for the opposition is for the different ethnicities to unite. But that is not happening and it appears like it would never happen in another 100 years.

Therefore the need to thrash out our differences, discuss what ails us, reveal our suspicions and distrust, and put to rest all that divides us. And this cannot be done unless we are prepared to openly and maturely discuss them in a civilised manner.

But we must first be open to criticism. Malays must accept what the non-Malays have to say about them. Muslims must be prepared to listen to what non-Muslims think about them. Islam is feared and Muslims must understand this and understand why this is so. The non-Malays and non-Muslims are not happy and the Malays and Muslims must appreciate this. And, most importantly, the Malays and Muslims must be prepared to do something about it in the interest of unity because only when we are united can we dislodge the well-entrenched Barisan Nasional from its perch.

And the same goes for the non-Malays and non-Muslims as well. They are not the only unhappy party here. The Malays and Muslims are also not happy. And the non-Malays and non-Muslims must understand this and know why. And the non-Malays and non-Muslims must reciprocate and also be prepared to do something about this as well.

We can, of course, reject this notion. We can, if we wish, choose to maintain status quo. We do not need to, if we do not want to, come together. There is no obligation for us to seek common ground. Well, this means Malaysia will then continue to be divided along racial and religious lines and the ruling Barisan Nasional will continue to exploit this and will remain in power perpetually. And the opposition might as well roll over and play dead and the Malaysian voters can continue getting the raw deal it has been getting these last three generations.

The choice is ultimately ours. But once we make that choice we should no longer complain but accept our fate for we have made our bed so we should just quietly lie in it.