Archive for February, 2014

HEAL OUR RACE RELATIONS

Posted: February 27, 2014 in Uncategorized
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PERHAPS a new way of appreciating the importance of improving race relations is to learn from the lessons on conserving our environment.

The year 1987 was a watershed in the history of global environmental consciousness. It was the year that the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development published a significant report called “Our Common Future”.

Also named the “Bruntland Report”, after the commission’s chairperson Gro Harlem Bruntland, who was also then the prime minister of Norway, the report served as the basis of the UN Earth Summit five years later in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

This conference was the biggest gathering till then of the leaders from all nations of the world to discuss and formulate policies on the environmental issues and to counter the tendency of mankind to destroy itself due to greed, selfishness and irresponsibility and stupidity in resource management.

The crux of the “Our Common Future” report was the concept of “sustainable development”, which was defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The focus is on protecting Mother Nature (goodwill as in race relations) of whatever that has been left, otherwise our future generations would not be able to deal with the negative state of destruction left behind by us.

If you apply the concept of “sustainable development” to conserving or improving good ethnic relations and preventing further self-destruction, you would find common principles and similarities.

Two of the greatest man-made threats confronting humanity are environmental degradation and ethnic or cultural conflicts. One may be more “hardware-driven” and the other more “software-driven” but addressing both are vital for our common survival.

Like improving the state of environment, improving the state of our ethnic relations is also based on certain basic principles and values such as fairness, equality, collective responsibility, honesty, mutual respect and acceptance of each other’s culture and being able to see the beauty of cultural diversity as a positive gift from God and not a curse.

The guiding concept and principles of improving ethnic relations are simple enough and need to be stated many times. But the specific incidences of racial or religious conflict are often more complicated or made out to be so with deliberate provocation, instigation and interference from certain quarters who hope to gain from the continuation and prolongation of such conflicts.

Remember these four words – greed (for money), selfishness, irresponsibility and stupidity. In any man-made environmental crisis or disaster, these four words would often be apt to describe the people responsible for the disaster.

As for ethnic strife, the four words or their variants would fit the people responsible for causing or instigating it, except that the term “greed for power” would be more apt here.

It is also no coincidence that the people who care and do something to conserve the environment are often the same people who care and do something to improve ethnic relations such as the members of our National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC).

The NUCC should be given total support to come out, without fear or favour, with a blueprint for unity based on the principles stated earlier.

The NUCC has a huge and unenviable responsibility on its shoulder and it needs to act fast. The state of unity in the federation is precarious and fragile with talks of secession getting louder in Sabah and Sarawak. Besides the tense situation in Peninsular Malaysia, many Sabahans and Sarawakians are getting increasingly fed up with the racial politics.

As for the real environment, we must think first of our children, our children’s children and so on. Our present generations are merely “renting” planet earth and we must not destroy the place we are merely renting in order that we can hand it over in a reasonably good state to our future generations.

How are we going to explain to our future generations if we are to hand over the environment to them in a terrible and irreparable altered state which would harm them?

When it comes to race relations, we must also think of it in a similar way. We must not destroy whatever goodwill and harmony left in our society and hand over a negative state of ethnic relations to our future generations.

If we do so, we would be failing them and be held responsible for causing harm to them in any violent ethnic conflict in future. We should do whatever we can to start reversing the negative state of affairs to reclaim the middle “moderate” ground against a small but loud and well organised minority of extremists and fanatics who are fanning racial or religious hatred and bigotry.

Making a case for the common survival of our children, our children’s children and our future generations and not letting them down is more compelling than just some intellectual arguments.

This may even jolt the conscience of those who are breeding more “demons” of racial hatred and bigotry and environmental devastation and remind them not to destroy whatever that is left of the common future of their children.

Perhaps, the gist of the lyrics from the song Heal The World by Michael Jackson (who was reliably reported to have converted to Islam in 2006) sums up the message in simple words not to destroy ourselves and our world.

The song does not side with any religion or culture and is probably the greatest song ever written about saving humanity from self destruction. Here are some key lines:

Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

And The Dream We Were
Conceived In
Will Reveal A Joyful Face
And The World We
Once Believed In
Will Shine Again In Grace
Then Why Do We Keep
Strangling Life
Wound This Earth
Crucify Its Soul
Though It’s Plain To See
This World Is Heavenly
Be God’s Glow

We Could Fly So High
Let Our Spirits Never Die
In My Heart
I Feel You Are All
My Brothers
Create A World With
No Fear
Together We’ll Cry
Happy Tears
See The Nations Turn
Their Swords
Into Plowshares

I hope the NUCC would adopt the spirit of the song as a guide to its blueprint.

Perhaps the song (with subtitles in other languages) should be played in all schools on the first day of the month every three months to preach love, peace and multicultural understanding and to remind our children never to grow up to become the kind of irresponsible and selfish adults who are needlessly destroying the world.

The writer, the CEO of a think-tank and strategic consultancy firm based in Kuala Lumpur, was also the CEO of a resource-based GLC and an adviser to the government during the Earth Summit of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com

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SAMUEL Huntington’s theory of the Clash of Civilizations (book published in 1996) about the emerging and unsolvable conflicts between the various cultures and religions of the world seems “pervasive”. It got a major boost after Sept 11 when the theory gained greater credibility.

No thanks to Al-Qaeda, Islamophobia in the West developed an ugly face and a new meaning. Muslims in general, were painted as “extremists”, who were either terrorists or must be their supporters or sympathisers. The Muslim minority there became a convenient scapegoat for all social and security problems and subjected to all kinds of attacks and abuses. In this context, Hungtington could be an apologist for Islamophobia, since, according to his theory, it was inevitable that Christians would somehow clash with Muslims until the end (does not matter who is right or wrong).

Huntington’s main point is that the main conflicts of the future would not be economic, political or ideological but they would be more and more along cultural and religious lines, especially between the two powerful religions of Christianity and Islam.

What he forgot to properly analyse were the conflicts within Christianity (eg Northern Ireland) and within Islam (between Sunnis and Shiites and between moderate and radical Islam) or conflicts between culturally similar groups such as Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar and between Muslims and Hindus in India and Pakistan.

If one were to properly analyse most conflicts around the world, Hungtington’s theory would be questionable as the real causes would likely be geo-political, territorial, rivalry over valuable resources, greed, abuse of power and the abuse of religion for a political agenda.

The basic and essential needs of mankind – adequate food, clean water, housing, education, cultural expressions, democracy and good governance – transcend the needs of people of all religions which, also preach common virtues of kindness, honesty, humility, justice and respect for others.

So how can so many wars and conflicts, deaths and barbaric destruction, be undertaken in the name of religion? The fault lies in the evils of many men who conveniently interpret and distort religious tenets to suit their greed and selfish agenda.

In fact, when you compare the teachings of most monotheistic religions (especially the three religions with Middle Eastern origins using the same Old Testament), they have so much more in common compared to their differences.

Before I continue, I wish to state that I am neither a practising Christian or a Muslim but I support the right of all religions to practise in peace and to give due respect for others. I believe in social justice and equality and I am always on the side of the poor and oppressed, regardless of their ethnicities. Like a growing number of people in this country and around the world, I am basically a “colour-blind” citizen of humanity. I have taken a strong position in my numerous published articles against Islamophobia and in full support of Palestinians fighting the oppression imposed by the Zionist regime of Israel.

Can Huntington’s theory be used to explain the current so-called “religious conflict” in Malaysia? Like elsewhere, it’s both a “yes” (on the surface and apparent signs) and a “no” (on the real causes).

In Malaysia, racial or religious conflicts were basically non-existent in the years after the country’s Independence in 1957 but over the last few years or so, the problem of ethnic cleavages has become quite apparent. The beauty of our multi-cultural diversity, which is our unique strength (rather than a weakness) and which we have been proudly showing off to the world, also to promote tourism and investments, has been seriously called into question. Why and what went wrong?

No one can deny that events around the world have a great impact and influence on Malaysians but we may differ in the interpretations of the events and why they occur. The Internet Revolution and the rise of social media have spread news, views and ideas (good and bad) across the globe at the speed of lightning.

Many ignorant or not-so-well informed people would view these conflicts simplistically through their ethnic lenses.

Those who play the race or religious card are supporting, wittingly or unwittingly, Huntington’s dangerous and self-destructive theory that no racial or cultural harmony can ever be sustainable in any part of the world.

When it comes to ethnic relations in Malaysia, legislations at the state or federal level (or court cases) can only play a limited role and they would not be able to address the emotional undercurrents and the causes of ethnic conflicts.

In fact, they can sometimes make matters worse and harden the position of both sides. Therefore, the long-term solution to better ethnic relations does not lie in legislations or legalities, but those laws which are pro-active and pre-emptive in nature can be helpful to contain or control the situation from getting worse.

The vast majority of Muslims in Malaysia are peace-loving and fair-minded, who also support the moderate Islam promoted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. It has often been said that Islam is a religion of peace and justice, which by itself, is a powerful statement in support of Islam.

A small minority of Muslims here, however, may feel, rightly or wrongly, a sense of phobia, suspicion and perhaps even resentment against Christians in general due to the perceived persecution of their Muslim brothers and sisters in the Christian West, Balkans and Western-backed state of Israel.

But the 9% or so Christian minority of Malaysia, including the rural Bumiputra Christians of Sarawak and Sabah, have in general, played no role in supporting Islamophobia or done anything against Islam in any way either in this country or overseas.

This small minority of Muslims here may now be perceived, rightly or wrongly, by some Christians here as trying to do the same thing here that the Christian majority in the West or Zionist majority in Israel, are doing to the Muslim minority there. It may appear like a “tit for tat” thing or even revenge. If this is so, there should be more positive efforts made to inform and educate both sides in order to bridge any religious misunderstanding.

In fact, most Christians in Malaysia, especially those from Sarawak and Sabah, have far more in common culturally and socially with the Muslims here than the Christians in the West.

In short, there are far more common interests of Malaysians of all religions and ethnicities than any perceived differences. This is the basic premise of our nationhood to survive and prosper. It is also the main basis for our national unity against any external (real or potential) threats.

Our national unity would be threatened by if there is any further rise in ethnic conflicts. This in turn, would erode our country’s efficiency, productivity and competitiveness and its overall socio-economic development, which would affect all our people, regardless of their ethnic background.

Therefore, promoting any religious or ethnic strife, wittingly or unwittingly, from a national and holistic perspective, is nothing more than “cutting our nose to spite our face”. It is destructive to the interests of the country as a whole.

The writer, CEO of a think tank and strategic consultancy firm based in Kuala Lumpur, is strongly opposed to Islamophobia just as he is opposed to phobia of other religions. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com