But when one examines the underlying factors, it was an incident waiting to happen. Contrary to some considered opinion, which attributes the incident to the plight of the urban poor, it reflects fundamental ingrained issues.
Basically, there is a lack of effort at integrating the ethnic groups in our plural society. Our Unity Department has a proclivity for ceremonial expressions of unity rather than addressing the core issues that would foster a harmonious existence among our ethnic groups.
As usual, we tend to treat the symptom rather than the cause. There is a lack of pre-emptive vigilance, not only to anticipate but also to address the causes that could provoke such unwarranted incidents.
Our problem is that we are too complacent and in denial. There is a dire need to create an atmosphere of trust and harmony, understanding, caring and sharing among our multiethnic people. There is also the need to emphasise communality rather than differences.
To foster these values, it is imperative that we set up avenues for the ethnic groups to engage and interact not just during official celebrations but also in their daily lives. However, this is not possible considering our educational and political systems, as well as occupational racial dispositions.
The existing educational system of parallel national and vernacular streams segregates the young from day one. Malays send their children to national schools while the Chinese and Indians choose the vernacular streams. Such a system prevents young minds from mingling and interacting with one another.
Harmony Day is dedicated to celebrating Australia’s cultural diversity.
It is at this age of innocence not shackled by prejudices and schism that could easily foster an engaging multiracial community.
When the children grow up within their cultural milieu, they would invariably form a biased attitude towards their own kind.
But they are not to be blamed because the system calcifies their world view into a myopic perspective.
We, therefore, need an educational system with a medium of instruction that appeals to all, but without sacrificing the sanctity of the national language.
Further, political parties need to be sensitive when promoting their agenda so that they do not impinge on the rights of other communities.
Political parties should cease their adversarial stance and work with one another for the good of the nation and the people.
This divisiveness is also reflected in the occupational dispositions. Malays work in government ministries and agencies, the Chinese gravitate towards corporate sectors, while the Indians are spread thin all over, but with a sizeable number who are successful professionals.
Such a situation does not present opportunities for racial integration and engagement. Despite this compartmentalisation, the ground-level efforts by individuals, social and recreational groups, as well as certain non-governmental organisations developed camaraderie through their activities that transcend racial schism.
For example, the first charitable organisation to send food and supplies to tsunami-stricken Pulau Betong in Penang in 2005 was the Tzu Chi Buddhist Organisation.
Likewise, the same organisation rendered help in the recent Kelantan floods. These individuals and organisations are stellar examples of harmonious coexistence, caring and understanding.
The authorities can learn from them. We must treat each other as human beings, God’s creatures having hopes and aspirations, and the right to exist in God’s acres. We need to exorcise our inhibitions, prejudices and bigotry, and replace them with respect, understanding, caring and sharing so that the nation will prosper and provide a haven for all our children. Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin,Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang NST Letters 22 July 2015
Need to build on strength to reach greater heights
THERE have been recent proposals to make racism illegal in the interest of unity in our country.
We have to contemplate use of the law to prohibit exploiting what defines and makes us unique! Malaysia and its people have repeatedly been referred to, by Malaysians and foreigners, as “multiracial, multicultural and multireligious, living in peace and harmony”.
On the occasion of our independence 58 years ago, our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, declared: “... from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility... At this solemn moment therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves... to work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty — a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world. High confidence has been reposed in us; let us unitedly face the challenge of the years. And so with remembrance for the past, and with confidence in the future, under the providence of God, we shall succeed”.
Powerful words indeed, which have propelled us along, with the dedication of our people to these high and noble ideals, to where we are today.
Despite encountering some bumps en route, we have, and must endeavour to avoid using identity, in any form, as a “default” to tolerate inequality and discrimination or how we relate to each other.
Home, school, playground, workplace and the community were where we had in the past so amiably lived, played, studied and worked together.
Our differences were never a barrier; rather they strengthened our bonds of togetherness.
Any misdemeanour or irresponsible utterance that can provoke breaking our unity cannot be tolerated and must be dealt with swiftly in accordance with established norms.
Let us not allow such incidents to so destroy all that we have achieved over the years; these must be built on to greater heights, together as one nation and people. Rueben Dudley,Petaling Jaya, Selangor NST Letters 22 July 2015