In bid to repair race relations, a map

By Debra Chong, The Malaysian Insider

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 25 — A soon-to-be-completed electronic mapping (e-mapping) system will make it easier to spot, monitor and manage the recent rapid rise in race conflict hotspots nationwide.

According to National Unity and Integration Department (NUID) director-general Datuk Azman Amin Hassan, his outfit has already identified four such areas so far, most of which are concentrated in Selangor. They are Kampung Medan in Petaling Jaya; Kampung Sungai Terentak in Hulu Selangor, near Rawang; Bukit Botak, Selayang Baru; and Kampung Pokok Asam in Jelutong, Penang.

Race relations in multicultural Malaysia have been steadily declining in recent years and reached an all-time low in January last year when some 10 houses of worship were attacked following a controversial court ruling allowing Catholics the right to also use the word “Allah” beyond the Muslim context

Race and religion are tightly linked in this country of 28 million people, where some 60 per cent are Malay and Muslim.

The attacks, together with increased reports of racially-tinged remarks by high-ranking civil servants, have dented the global country’s image as a tolerant nation.

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government has been scrambling to reverse the damage that its political rivals say have caused investors to shy away.

Once completed, the 12-layer e-mapping system developed by the NUID with the expert help of University Utara Malaysia (UUM) will show the geographical, social and political lay of the land at a glance in an easy-to-read colour code.

“I call it the traffic light system,” Azman told The Malaysian Insider in an exclusive interview this week.

Conflict-free zones will show up green, he said.

Less dangerous tension spots to be marked in yellow will warn the authorities to get ready; and dangerous racial hotspots will show up red on the digital map, he said.

“We want to be proactive,” said the 57-year-old who had mooted the idea five years ago, and roped in help from the Inspector-General of Police who had agreed to send one of his men from Bukit Aman to help set it up.

Azman said the map’s purpose was to enable enforcement authorities, including trained mediators, to move into the conflict areas and diffuse the situation quickly and efficiently.

An initial group of 300 people comprising NUID officers and Rukun Tetangga volunteers were trained last year.

Another 300 people, which will include community leaders, will undergo mediation training this year.

“How to feel the pulse of the nation? This is how we do it,” he said, his voice swelling with satisfaction at the accomplishment.

“My dream is to have a team [of mediators] in each state,” said the civil servant who will be retiring in May.

A “hotspot” is an area where domestic or community disputes have spiralled out of control and turned racial, Azman explained.

It is marked red if more than five fights have broken out in a month, he added.

No area has yet been designated red. The four hotspots identified earlier were also not classified as such.