Respect and humility hold the keys

When we talk about race relations, we often tend to forget about the people of Sarawak and Sabah who are also bumiputras. 

K.K. Tan, The Sun

THE major factors identified in the previous article, “Playing the race card” (April 30), were instrumental in worsening race relations in Malaysia in recent years to an alarming level. The negative signs appear to be more than the positive ones while some signals from certain leaders and recent events appear to be mixed.

The main race-based parties are still grappling with how to re-invent themselves and stay relevant to an increasingly well-informed electorate which appears to be more comfortable adopting a multiracial outlook.

Unresolved religious issues threaten to aggravate the situation. The authorities concerned should be sensitive to all religious faiths and not adopt a biased, dogmatic and bureaucratic attitude in resolving such disputes.

The mainstream and Internet media have been more open and less inhibited in putting forward arguments from various viewpoints on any racial issue. This public debate will test the growing maturity of Malaysians, given that there will be chauvinistic elements seeking to sow discord and animosity by pitting one ethnic group against another. 

The last general election and subsequent by-elections have shown that the electorate in general is less likely to be influenced than before by those, including politicians, playing the race card. But the danger is still there, especially when the country is facing economic difficulties, which can provide fertile ground for race issues to be exploited.

Recent statements by some of our rulers and our prime minister on the race situation are very encouraging as they serve as a reminder and warning not to stoke the fires of racial conflict further. We ignore them at our peril.

The impartial position of the rulers on this issue is important because they are the sovereigns and protectors of rights for ALL Malaysians regardless of their racial, religious or ethnic backgrounds.

On March 5, our former king, the Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Syed Jamalullail, said that “statements by various parties on the supremacy and privileges of a certain race, religious rights and the sovereignty of the rulers require an approach that is free of emotion, elucidation based on facts and an openness that rests on reality. I would like to emphasise that all citizens, irrespective of race, are masters of this country…” He added: “…the rulers are the protectors of all citizens, irrespective of political ideology, race and faith.”

On March 9, Yang diPertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin reinforced the need for equality for all by saying that “Islam makes it obligatory to protect and ensure equal rights for all strata of society regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslims.”

Then on April 20, the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah, said that “I always pray that the bond between the races can be strengthened as this is the only way to preserve a peaceful Pahang and Malaysia.”

As recently as  April 24, the ruler of Negri Sembilan, Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawar talked about the role of politicians on racial unity by saying that it would not benefit anyone if politicians played the race card to gain support; they should instead educate the people on the importance of preserving racial harmony. He urged politicians to put aside their differences and work collectively towards strengthening racial ties. He added that the economic problems required us to come together and face these challenges irrespective of race, religion or belief.

Our new prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, perhaps sensing that racial polarisation has gone too far, came out quickly with the “1Malaysia” concept to stress the “oneness” of our racial diversity and the multiracial approach needed. The government seems to recognise the urgency needed to address the deteriorating race situation. The National Unity and Integration Department has also moved back to the Prime Minister’s Office giving it more clout and importance.

Najib’s statement that no Malaysian should consider himself a second-class citizen nor feel sidelined or left behind in the nation’s progress has been timely. He added: “Let it be known that all citizens of this country have their rights and responsibilities as outlined in the Federal Constitution. Citizenship is not only about one’s rights but also about responsibility towards the nation. No parties should be overly zealous in demanding their rights and forget their responsibilities as citizens of Malaysia.” This message must surely be directed at those who have been responsible for causing many citizens to feel hurt, insulted and alienated.

When we talk about race relations, we often tend to forget about the people of Sarawak and Sabah who are also bumiputras. We in the peninsula have much to learn from our fellow East Malaysian citizens, who’ve managed to get along extremely well despite the numerous and diverse ethnicities. Respect and humility appear to be the hallmarks with which they treat each other; not for them the chauvinistic championing of one particular race or the adherence to a dogmatic and narrow-minded mind-set when it comes to religious beliefs.

The writer is the CEO of a think-tank and strategic consultancy firm based in Kuala Lumpur. He can be contacted at [email protected]