Malaysia needs reconciliation

This is Malaysia today. From being a poster child for a thriving multiracial nation with all communities embracing each other’s diversity, through decades of systematic political intrusion and indoctrination, we have arrived at a country that has lost its soul.

Shankar R. Santhiram, Free Malaysia Today
Decades of systematic political intrusion and indoctrination have made us a country that has lost its soul.

There is a monumental battle going on in Malaysia at the moment.

On the one hand, we have Malay-Malaysian moderates, scholars, and social activists. They campaign for a sensible and judicious version of Islamic understanding in our country. They also seek thoughtfulness for our multiculturalism, and ask that we all embrace unity in diversity.

These moderate Malays remind us of the founding principles of Malaysia, the secularism that was assured, the status of East Malaysia as equal partners, and the promise of ethnic inclusiveness for our nation.

On the other hand, we seem to have hardcore politicians, preachers, and fundamentalists who will not back down on their drive to ensure that the notion of Malaysia being an undeniable Islamic state is clearly understood by the Malaysian non-Muslims.

Their sabre-rattling, and jingoistic declarations are like a battle cry for their cause. Obviously, some of these people have a different agenda for Malaysia. Clearly, they do not value the ethnic mosaic in our country.

They support the narrative that Chinese and Indian migrants are lucky to have been offered citizenship in the first place. Do they not recognise that many of us are third and fourth generation Malaysians now? They argue vehemently that no additional demands for equality and further inclusiveness should be entertained.

Over the past few weeks, the religious issues affecting businesses like KK Mart and Vern’s Shoes have pointedly shown us this divide. The underwhelming response by the government, prime minister, and political leaders in the administration have further compounded this schism.

It finally took an intervention by His Majesty, our King, to sober things up.

Many Malaysians sense a surge in right-wing politics. Parochial and narrow-minded attitudes are getting more airtime. Social media is flooded with people pushing for ethnic pride, which on its own, is never a bad thing. But doing it while denigrating other ethnicities and religious beliefs is a terribly dangerous practice.

At the last general election in 2022 we saw the now infamous “green wave” sweeping many parliamentary seats in rural areas and in the hinterland.

Even as moderate Malays and Malaysians actively keep up with their noble messages of peace, harmony, and unity in diversity, the overwhelming majority of the Malay community, especially in the rural heartlands, don’t seem to buy into this message.

Many non-Malay Malaysians shudder thinking about the potential nightmare scenario at the next general elections. The multiethnic Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition did not have the capacity to form the government on their own in 2022. Since they could not form the government on their own, and did not want to be a strong and formidable opposition, they simply went “to bed with the enemy.”

While it seemed like a good idea at that time, over the past 18 months in power, they have been paralysed, and junked their entire reform agenda. This has alienated many of their traditional voters. There is no doubt that the next general elections are going to be infinitely tougher for PH.

So how do we quell this utterly frightening religious divide in our country?

Part of the problem is that every community in Malaysia wants to be “heard” but none seem to want to listen. So much of our disputes are a mixture of facts and emotional innuendo. It often feels like each community rejects the other’s religious worldview. This, coupled with feelings of deep disrespect and distrust due to the other’s past comments and actions have led to this situation.

This is Malaysia today. From being a poster child for a thriving multiracial nation with all communities embracing each other’s diversity, through decades of systematic political intrusion and indoctrination, we have arrived at a country that has lost its soul.

Now, the ministry of national unity must live up to its name. We, Malaysians, require both a mental shift and a change of attitude. This ministry must actually institute effective strategies which will help our people get there. If not, what’s their purpose?

Presently, we have severely polarising attitudes that involve religion and race.

Interventionist programmes at a national level need to be organised to have a dramatic shift in people’s versions of truth. The current storyline must be changed to allow everyone to move towards a more amicable pathway.

At the core, there seems to be a complete lack of understanding, and acceptance, which is essentially borne out of unfamiliarity. The government needs to be vigilant and clamp down on all parties – friendly or not – who decide to rewrite history, stir religious and racial discord, preach hatred, and those who seek inclusivity without responsibility. The government must be seen to go after all agitators from all races, persuasions, and political motivations.

Unless Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his government actively pave the way for reconciliation and bring the various communities in the country together, he may well go down in history as the leader who presided over the ultimate demise of a moderate nation.