Unity through division

By Yow Hong Chieh (The Nut Graph)

WE need more division in Malaysian society. We need it to foster oneness.

It may be pessimistic to think that the goal of inter-ethnic harmony will never be achieved otherwise but the fact is, large-scale relations in our society are still organised exclusively along communal lines.


Discount badge, 10% for government servants, 7% for bumiputerasOne need only look to the proposed "unity" talks between Umno and PAS, and the latter party's about-turn on bumiputera quotas, despite the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)'s stated aim of dismantling the New Economic Policy in its current form. Ethnicity remains the operative framework which governs politics at the federal level, even between parties with different ideologies.

It is undue emphasis on this single component of our identities that stifles the growth of a truly Malaysian consciousness. Ultimately, we cannot escape from this narrow and all-too-familiar racial lens when interacting as a group, even though we might profess otherwise as individuals. Undoing racial groupthink, especially one as well-entrenched as ours, is difficult. It is certainly very unlikely, if not impossible, for this to come about through platitudes and feel-good campaigns like 1Malaysia.

This type of top-down call to progress assumes that we are capable of sweeping change, that we can replace wholesale our existing paradigm with a new one. Unfortunately, the reality is that societal change this big almost always occurs in incremental fashion. To dismantle an established order takes time and persistence, what more when the hypocrisy of those promoting it is obvious for all to see.

Of course, when the impetus for change is great and constant, such a task appears achievable. Nowhere is this more evident than in the run-up to the 2008 general election. PR deftly capitalised on the groundswell of resentment at the Barisan Nasional (BN)'s misrule and helped translate that into votes which went towards denying the BN government the supermajority it was accustomed to. It was a glimpse of a Malaysia not riven by race, and there was real hope for change.

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Rais Yatim giving a speech, 2008
Rais Yatim (© Wan Leonard / Flickr.com)

Fast forward 15 months, and the opposition coalition appears to have lost steam. One could argue that it would have unraveled much sooner had the Perak crisis not forestalled the current state of affairs by once again providing PR with a common cause to rally around. Lacking that same pre-election urgency and a raison d'être other than their mutual contempt for BN, the three disparate component parties have drifted apart. PAS has returned to its default setting — ethno-chauvinism — even going as far as to propose that the non-Muslim PAS Supporters Club be divided along ethnic lines.

It becomes clear then that it is not possible to get people to change their mindset simply by telling them to think differently.

Read more at: http://www.thenutgraph.com/unity-through-division