Cultivating national unity is an uphill battle for any country, the slope becomes steeper for countries which are much more diverse like Malaysia. When I was in primary and secondary school, we recited the Rukun Negara every Monday morning, we painted the school walls with Jalur Gemilang next to ten smiley people representing different ethnic groups in Malaysia. Most common of all, we always had to write essays on national unity, harmony in a multiracial society and the spirit of patriotism. Back then, none of these tasks seemed unusual, challenging or hypocritical.
As I grew older, I find the idea of national unity difficult to fathom and even harder to advocate. I wonder if it is because I was having more exposure towards the social fabric and political reality or if I was in fact growing up in the most tumultuous years of the Malaysian political landscape. From the eyes of my 10-year-old self, I saw that Malaysians are fundamentally capable of living and progressing in terms of in harmony and unity.
Later I realise that it is the nature of governance and politics, in particular the institutionalisation of our differences such as raced-based politics, affirmative action and adversarial judicial system that pushed us further apart.
Unity in Malaysia requires all Malaysians to have an in-depth and objective understanding of how Malaysia was founded and what it takes to build a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural country on the basis of justice and fairness, both of which are the fundamental virtues of our Federal Constitution. It requires Malaysians to be mindful that in order to march forward as a successful united country, we need to first acknowledge that we are Malaysians and this national identity and narrative should prevail over any differences that we may have.
Unfortunately, this essential rectitude of nationalism did not find its way into the minds and hearts of fellow Malaysians as they were trampled by hateful rhetorics that are often manipulated to the advantages to those in power. This has caused Malaysia to suffer from a multitude of division in respect of race, religion, socio-economic status, education opportunities, geography and many more aspects than we can afford to. Politically, Malaysia can also be seen today as “unchartered waters with unprecedented fracture and fragmentation on both sides of the political divide”.Building a united Malaysia with its people proud of its Malaysian identity is still a work in progress. Many are sacrificing their blood, sweat and tears in their varying capacity, for what they see as a better Malaysia. If there is one thing everyone can do to contribute to national unity, I believe that it is the practice of moderation.
Moderation in isolation does not preach any particular value. It is merely a philosophical idea that every issue, action, decision or even every thought can be measured on a spectrum. In order to call an approach a moderate one, one must then consider and identify two ends of the spectrum. For instance, Islamic extremistism has been a popular term.
However, what qualifies as an extremist would differ according to individual interpretation. Some advocates of the Hudud Bill considered the opposing entities as extreme liberalist while they consider themselves as moderates. The book “Breaking The Silence: Voices of Moderation” written by G25 was obviously not regarded as a moderate literature by the Home Ministry as they banned the book for containing elements promoting liberalism contrary to Islamic teaching.As subjective as it may seem, the idea of moderation serves as an important reminder to widen our perspective, put ourselves in the shoes of people from different ends of the spectrum before we insist that our way of thinking or doing something is the moderate or ideal one.
If everyone could adopt and embrace moderation in every single issue, controversy and dispute that divides us, the path to national unity would be a less bumpy one.
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