SOME three weeks ago, I was invited by the British High Commission to be a panel member for a debate on Malaysia’s historical legacy.
The event was called “The Great Debate – Penang edition: Is Malaysia’s historical legacy a hindrance to the country’s future development?” and was jointly organised by the High Commission, the University of Nottingham in Malaysia and the Penang Institute.
On the panel with me was YB Zairil Khir Johari, Joe Sidek, Rebecca Duckett, Himanshu Bhatt, while the debate was moderated by Sharad Kuttan. It was a great panel and we enjoyed the conversation. It was less of a debate and more of an exchange of views on Malaysia’s historical legacy and how we can learn from the lessons of history to shape and mould a Malaysian future where every Malaysian is a Malaysian first.
I found myself being educated on Malaysia’s history by Rebecca Duckett, a former member of the Penang Heritage Trust, on the challenges the founder of Penang, Sir Francis Light faced when he established a multi-ethnic colony on the island close to 300 years ago. The fact that many of the challenges still persist today is a sobering reminder that the task is not yet complete that we have to continually manage our diversity and face the challenges that it presents.
Himanshu Bhatt, a veteran journalist from Penang, talked about the Bujang Valley civilisation and how we must be more accepting our of historical legacy. I agree with him on this point because history must be studied and accepted in its totality and the fact that we had such an advanced civilisation over 2,000 years ago is a matter of great pride and testimony to our historical legacy and the sophistication of Malaysian society.
History, according to Napoleon, is “the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon”. While to some this may be a tongue-in-cheek remark, to me it is a sobering reminder on the need for history to be fair and balanced and for all quarters to come together to ensure it happens. In this respect, Gerakan has stated on many occasions – and this was a central part of our declaration at the 42nd National Delegates Conference in 2013 – that the teaching and understanding of history must be fair, frank and devoid of any bias. Hence there is more work to be done to ensure this aspiration is realised.
The panel also agreed that independence was the best gift after over 446 years of colonisation and that it was up to all Malaysians to make the country work by contributing in thoughts, ideas and deeds to make Malaysia better. Malaysia can only be a better country if Malaysians become a better people. The first step is to confront our own inherent prejudices and learn to accept our differences and leverage on it to further our economic, social and political interests.
As expected, I did not agree with all that Zairil said in his extensive remarks but we formed common ground on the need for moderates and the silent majority of peace loving Malaysians to stand up and be counted. I strongly believe that constructive politics based on debates and discussions on issues and policies is the way forward. I was pleased that none of us took any “pot-shots” at one another and the discussion was centred on a healthy exchange of ideas on moving Malaysia forward
I am an optimist and I choose to see the glass as half-full. The work for a better and more perfect Malaysia is unremitting. And it is the duty of all Malaysians to get involved in this process. I am also heartened by The Star’s strong stance on moderation and inclusiveness via its Bold and Brave Views campaign. This shows that there are everyday heroes amongst us who are willing to speak up for what they believe in, for moderation and inclusiveness. As a plural society, that is the only way forward and with the rise of extremism and intolerance in Europe and the Middle East, we must heed the Prime Minister’s call for moderation and sobriety.
According to the Pew Research Centre’s survey that was released recently, eight in 10 Malaysians remain optimistic about the future of the country and this is good news for all us. We must never stop believing in the ideals of a just and equitable Malaysia.
That ideal keeps me going every day and I for one will not rest because that is the essence of Gerakan and my personal political struggle.