Archive for April, 2014

IF there is a report card on the state of our ethnic relations, what would it be? Does the MH370 crisis have any impact on national unity?

Or we rather not know what is in the report card as the marks are going to be so low that it would hurt our conscience or embarrass us that we have not done enough or allowed the situation to develop to this unhealthy state.

It has been reported that the National Unity and Integration Department under the Prime Minister’s Office intends to hold a closed-door dialogue among all political parties to find common ground to address unity-related issues. Its director-general Datuk Azman Hassan acknowledged that the main challenge to unity involved religion.

While many people including the writer may welcome this move by the government, which has been seen by its critics as “doing too little and too late”, much needs to be done by all political parties, NGOs and bloggers to stem the ethnic tension.

To the critics, I would say “doing little is better than doing nothing at all” and “it’s better late than never”. I would also say that the critics should be constructive and come out with their own feasible “business plan” on how to improve our race relations.

To the government, I would say that it has a great responsibility to demonstrate strong and united political leadership and come out with a comprehensive plan on how to make national unity a reality. It has to prove its critics wrong for the sake of our national survival. It has to prove that the 1Malaysia concept is still alive and workable and is evolving to unite the people, rather than just an empty slogan, as alleged by its critics.

The greatest challenge confronting “Humanity in Malaysia” is how to peacefully prevent a small minority of extremists and spoilers to set the agenda for all of us, which may lead us into oblivion. We have allowed a small minority of noisy, negative, parochial and reactionary bigots to influence our mindset in an emerging moderate and civilised world order where such primitive behaviour and ideas have no place.

I remember through my own involvement in organising such dialogues a few years ago with the Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (Kita) and the department, that Kita was thinking of developing objective “barometers” to measure the state of ethnic relations at a given time. I thought it was a good idea, as anything that could help our people to see objectively where we are today is a step forward. Any report card that might jolt us from our complacency is also a step in the right direction.

I have not heard anything more about this proposal, perhaps it was near impossible to come out with such barometers acceptable to all on such a sensitive and emotional issue. I wish the progressive intellectuals in Kita every success in finding workable solutions to our complex race and religious issues which are being blown out of all proportion by certain quarters.

Has the MH370 crisis influenced ethnic relations? So much has been written about this crisis especially on the human agony of the loved ones of the passengers and crew, the mystery of the plane’s disappearance including the many theories and the continuing search and rescue operations. While this crisis has scored many world firsts, there is nothing to be proud about or to be ashamed of, unless we have something to hide or are mismanaging it. The Malaysian government and the people are under tremendous pressure to find the answers to some crucial questions.

Most national tragedies have a unifying effect on the people and it would also knock the senses of even the extremists that it does not matter what race or even nationality the victims may be. The sympathy goes out to all in the plane. Such is our human psychology that when we face a great tragedy, it tends to remind us that we are all humans with the same feelings of anguish, fear and anxiety and regardless of what colour our skin may be, beneath it, we are all the same biologically and mentally.

What we cannot deny is that the spotlight of the world is on our country and anything we say or do would be scrutinised and dissected. This has the effect of making us behave and try to say and do the right things.

The racial and religious bigots appear to be quiet about this crisis, save for a few anonymous and jingoist remarks in the internet. It would be “bad business” if any of these extremists were to open their mouth and say the wrong and stupid thing as it would be very glaring for all to see. In such a situation, it would be easy to discredit these extremists, so they know they better keep their mouths shut or they may face the wrath or fury of the people. These extremists cannot use such a crisis to their advantage. Because of this, ethnic relations tend to improve as we have a situation as though these extremists do not exist, at least for a while.

This is not to imply that we should welcome such tragedies. It is only to explain away that if and when such a disaster takes place, it tends to have a unifying effect on the people.

Perhaps the extremists who are the real enemies of national unity, feel frustrated and aggrieved by certain global developments such as the rise of Islamophobia in the West and the increasing aggression of Zionist Israel against the Palestinians especially in new land settlements and annexations. The extremists take on easy targets as scapegoats such as the minorities in our country including the Christian bumiputras of Sarawak and Sabah, all of whom have played no part in supporting Islamophobia and Zionist aggression.

So what is the state of national unity? Not great. But there seems to be a temporary lull or “ceasefire” from the instigators before they go on a bullying rampage again. Perhaps the rest of (moderate) majority Malaysians should use this period to review the past and peacefully fight back. Malaysians of all ethnicities should also be more organised, alert and not allow themselves to be used by a small minority of extremists as pawns in their power game to blame, ostracise and victimise minority citizens of this country who have sacrificed and contributed so much to the overall security and socio-economic development of the nation.

The writer, a CEO of a think-tank and strategic consultancy firm in Kuala Lumpur, believes that in any crisis, if managed properly, there is always an opportunity for something positive to come out of it. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com

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