Viewpoints

Published: Sunday June 28, 2009 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday July 30, 2013 MYT 5:24:25 PM

Healing Malaysia

Can’t we all just get along? Not until we get to know each other better.

AFTER the euphoria of our 50th Merdeka (Independence), it didn’t take long for us to squabble again, and the displeasure of many over the status quo was evident in the 12th general elections. March 8, 2008 was a watershed in our political history as the ruling coalition, which has governed since independence, lost their erstwhile unshaken two-thirds majority in parliament, as well as the control of four states. The repercussions still hound as the politicians continue their charades.

We are a multi-racial, multi-religious society with differing views and aspirations even within each racial and religious community. Exposure to Western ideas and ideals, the advent of the Internet and satellite TV, and access to alternative media have also changed the mindset of the people, especially the younger generation.

Many social/political scientists, lay citizens, and foreigners have given their opinions, and many articles and commentaries have been written. Many forums, seminars, and dialogues have been organised, and millions of emails, blog-posts and Twitterings exchanged to discuss the issues, and hopefully find solutions to our imbroglio.

I am not a social scientist or a politician, but I am very much involved in peace and unity work through my interfaith activities. Although I prefer that religion and race be considered separately, it is not that simple here. As the Malays, who constitute over 60% (and growing) of the population, are uniquely defined in our Constitution as being Muslims, there is much overlap between interfaith and interracial affairs in Malaysia.

Recently, I attended four events related to achieving interracial and inter-religious harmony in our pluralist nation.

The first was a lecture by Dr Vinoth Ramachandra of Sri Lanka. He has a PhD in nuclear engineering but spends more time speaking about religion and world peace as an Anglican lay-theologian, writer, teacher, and human rights advocate than on his academic specialisation. His lecture entitled “Respecting Persons in a Pluristic Society” was organised by the Centre for Civilisational Dialogue of University Malaya. It was well-received by the small audience and gave us some valuable lessons.

The second was a dialogue between two Muslims and a Christian, organised by the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF) and Friends in Conversation (FIC) and held at a church. The Muslims were Waleed Aly, an Australian of Iraqi origin, who is described as a lawyer, academic, community leader, and rock musician; and Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, a local cardiothoracic surgeon and founding member of MPF. The Christian was Tricia Yeoh, research officer to the Chief Minister of Selangor, and active member of the Lutheran Church.

The dialogue on “People Like Us: How Arrogance Divides People” was hosted and moderated by Rev Sivin Kit, pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bangsar, KL. Over 100 people, mostly youths, equally divided between Muslims and Christians, plus some of other faiths, were there. We had a frank, lively discussion on issues affecting minority-majority rights and problems. Visit http://www.ucanews.com/2009/06/19/christians-muslims-discuss-minority-issues/ for details.

The other two were the public forum and roundtable discussion featuring Prof Aneez Esmail, the Ugandan Muslim refugee whose fight against racism in Britain helped change the law. In his talk “Race Relations: The British Experience”, he repeatedly said that we should not be passive victims of any form of injustice and that a needs-based quota to help the poor would work better than a race-based one (see thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/6/24/focus/4170788&sec=focus).

There have been many similar events over the years, reflecting the general concern we have on the need to improve our relationships and have true peace and harmony among us, so that we can progress as a nation united.

But why has true harmony been so elusive? Everyone over 40 laments that when we were young, there was so much interaction between people of different races and religions, whereas the interactions we see now are only superficial, often limited to festive “open-house” and official functions. There is minimal real and deep interaction between the races outside of work, sports, and entertainment. The changes in society over the last four decades can be traced to the events that led to the May 13th incident of 1969, and the policies that followed.

I mention this not to harp upon something best forgotten for us to move forward, but because it is my observation that the reason why we cannot solve our problems is because we don’t really trust one another. May 13 destroyed the trust our forefathers had, and until we rebuild that trust, we are wont to go round in circles in our discussions, dialogues, and negotiations.

I have participated in many forums and seminars addressing these issues and found that different groups have different views about what is just and fair for them.

The Malays, being the majority, will continue to determine much of our nation’s policies and direction. But they are not homogenous in their views. The English-speaking tend to be more accommodating and liberal in their views compared to the Malay-speaking. Thus, when you attend forums and seminars conducted in English, or read only the English media, you will get a skewed view of Malay opinion, because they represent only the minority.

For example, many educated and well-to-do Malays have said that the Malays can compete on a level ground, but the majority of the Malay-speaking Malays feel that the community will be severely disadvantaged, and still need the “affirmative” policies to help them. In religion, the ideas promoted by Sisters-in-Islam may have the support of many English-speaking Malays/Muslims, but are rejected by most Malay-speaking Malays/Muslims. In religion, we find Allah has been brought to court. It is sad and ironic that we fight over the name of God who commanded us to love and respect, and not to fight and despise, one another. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

I am not taking sides, only pointing out you need to know the majority view for a clear picture of what that section of society wants. The same applies to the Chinese, Indians, and other ethnic groups. I wonder whether we really know the aspirations of the majority of their people. I don’t know what’s written in the Chinese and Indian media.

I will not delve into the other issues as enough has been written elsewhere. My point is that it is difficult to win if we cannot work as a team, and we cannot work as a team if we cannot agree on our specific roles.

Do we as Malaysians have a common dream? Can we come together, understand one another, compromise where necessary, and work to achieve it? I believe we can. But we must first really know what each community wants, and then we can have discussions on how to live happily ever after. We must also be prepared to give and take. Durian Party anyone?

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Tags / Keywords: Health, Lifestyle

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