FOR a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation like Malaysia, peace, harmony, political stability and economic progress with social justice can only be achieved if there is racial harmony, tolerance, understanding and cooperation among the various communities.
The Government, civil service, administrators in schools and other educational institutions, members of the various communities and the Malaysian public each have an important role to play in promoting, advocating and enhancing racial harmony, tolerance, understanding and cooperation.
Education, starting from primary school all the way to college and university, is the basis and foundation for building a tolerant society guided by the principles enshrined in the Federal Constitution, a Social Contract suited for a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, and the Rukun Negara.
In addition, it is important to have continuing discussions and cooperative efforts by the Government, politicians, religious leaders, civil society organisations, communities and individuals to nurture and promote the culture of racial harmony, tolerance, understanding and cooperation.
The 1 Malaysia Concept and Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF) together with the Transformation policies and the creation of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) raised hopes for Malaysia to be the model for a democratic, tolerant, harmonious and progressive multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation.
Unfortunately, ethnic relations are not getting any better for various reasons, including divisions beginning from the school system, continuing divisive race-based politics with heightened tensions nearer the general elections, speeches and actions questioning the fundamental provisions of the Federal Constitution, and extremist hate speeches and actions by certain groups who do so with impunity despite the Sedition Act, Penal Code and other powers of the law.
The recent incident at Low Yat Plaza, which was a simple and clear-cut case of theft of a mobile phone that led to an ugly fracas that could easily have flared into a much bigger and serious racial conflict, is a wake-up call for Malaysia.
We in the G25 would like to compliment the police for taking decisive action and to quickly clarify and calm down the situation.
All of us in Malaysia must play our part to address and reverse the deteriorating state of inter-ethnic relations.
Above all, the Government and political leaders have to take a clear and unequivocal stand that Malaysia must remain a moderate and tolerant nation and all the powers of the law must be brought to bear on those who promote hatred and intolerance on the basis of race and religion.
Following the scare over the Low Yat Plaza incident, there have been statements by political and other prominent figures, including former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, calling for racial harmony. In particular, we in the G25 would like to support the call by Datuk Seri Nazir Razak for the Government to enact a law banning racism and anti-hate speech. This is indeed necessary and urgent.
At the same time, the timing and circumstances are right for the Government to seriously consider and adopt the recommendations made in the recent report by the NUCC after 20 months of deliberations, including its nine-point key outcomes and the proposal to enact a National Harmony Law and to establish a Reconciliation Commission.
In the context of the follow-up on the report of the NUCC, the G25 makes the following recommendations. There is a need to incorporate the recommendations made in the NUCC report into the curriculum in schools, colleges and universities.
A serious review on the controversial Biro Tata Negara (BTN) must be conducted with the purpose of either revamping it in line with the recommendations of the NUCC report or else to close it down altogether. In its place, the G25 recommends that the Government should introduce compulsory community action service in the secondary school curriculum with mandatory number of hours required for each student to pass the SPM.
The time is opportune for the Government to revive and expand the vision school initiative, and encourage interracial interaction by striving to have a better mix of students as well as teachers of all races in national schools. At the same time, symbols as well as contents in school books that contain notions of racial or religious supremacy should not be allowed.
The Low Yat fracas and the more recent Berjaya Times Square incident should also be seen as symptoms of a more serious underlying social and economic problem, including a widening income gap between the affluent middle class and the urban poor amid the rising cost of living. The unemployment rate among the young (including graduates) has been rising with the majority of the unemployed coming from the Malay community. The lethal combination of desperation, ignorance and frustration has led to the culture of mat rempit, restlessness and violence, and susceptibility to manipulation by undesirable elements using social media. The Government, political leaders and civil society organisations must cooperate and work together to address these dangerous underlying problems. In addressing these underlying problems, the G25 calls on the leadership to:
> Revive the observance of the Rukun Negara principles in schools, the workplace and anywhere relevant in order to influence the overall conduct and behaviour of all Malaysians. The fifth principle of the Rukun Negara, “Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan” (Courtesy and Morality) is particularly relevant to fostering racial harmony. In this context, there is a need to promote intercultural understanding and literacy of ethnic-based values of all Malaysians as reflected in their everyday life, languages, religions and rituals. Banning the use of words insulting to the different races (for examplependatang, pariah) would be a good start to encourage Malaysians to observe “Kesopanan” and respect for our multicultural sensitivities at all times.
> To make attitudes which spell of racism unacceptable in schools, the civil service and other government institutions. These attitudes, as seen at service counters of government departments, of overzealous bureaucrats under the guise of application of Islam, must be corrected with new norms which promote respect for values of the different races. It is critical that government administration of public services is not undertaken with undertones of condoning racism and according preferences to certain races based on personal values of public sector officials. There should be sanctions against such behaviour.
> To sanction and impose penalties on teachers and school administrators who practise racist acts in their schools or during student activities. At the same time, to encourage schools to instil a culture of racial harmony, awards or other forms of recognition, including higher budgetary allocations, should be given to schools which introduce innovative programmes that actually result in a favourable environment of cultural and religious understanding and tolerance in the school environment and among its students.
Teachers and school administrators have a significant influence on student attitudes on racism, student capacity to develop cultural literacy and overall good behaviour (kesopanan). As such, it is important that teachers are given personal accountability of their behaviour on this aspect of student development. School Heads have an important leadership role in developing a culture of racial harmony and religious tolerance by improving the intercultural understanding and ethnic-based literacy in their schools. An appropriate incentive system can help foster an environment favourable to promoting racial harmony among students at a young age.
The G25 calls on the people of Malaysia and the Government to stand together in promoting and pro-actively advocating racial harmony, tolerance, understanding and cooperation among all the races and to take a firm stand, and decisive and quick action against those extremist and divisive groups and individuals. Lack of firm, decisive and quick action by the authorities against the intolerant, extremist and hate groups is a major disappointment and a cause for concern for many Malaysians. The time to act is now. G25 Group of Concerned Muslim Citizens Kuala Lumpur