The notion of unity is no stranger to states far and wide, let alone Malaysia – a country endowed with descendants from three of the earliest civilizations. With deliberate segregation of the populace under the façade of “specialization”- courtesy of our colonial masters, ethnic strains have long been engrained into Malaysia’s past. In light of that, efforts to bridge this ethnic divide since its independence reflects the wide-spread recognition of the need for national unity in Malaysia.
This essay will first define the term “national unity” and examine the its importance in the case of Malaysia, followed by ways in which moderation could foster unity.
National unity is defined as solidarity within citizens of a nation, with minimum sectorial practices and close adherence to law and order. National unity however, do not imply homogeneity. It advocates rather, a “community of communities” which respect diversity and share values, experiences and geographical relativity (Etzioni, 2002).
Firstly, national unity in the form of racial and religious tolerance is an incremental pre-requisite to societal peace.
Interracial intolerance is empirically associated with decreased scores on the Global Peace Index. Take for instance India – where individuals with “Mongolian features black Africans and Northeasterns” face discrimination with mainlanders who regard them as inferior (Sherpa, 2017).
Indeed, India - the second most intolerant nation, according to a research done by the World Value Survey, ranked 139th out of 163 countries in the Global Peace Index (GPI) (Fisher, 2013).
Since Malaysia accommodates citizens with diverse physical appearances, the case of India is a glaring illustration of the peril of racial discrimination and tension. Similarly, the notorious discrimination of Rohingyas in Buddhist-majority Myanmar reflects a negative association between religious tensions and peace, with Myanmar ranking 122th in the GPI – once again analogous to the diverse religious composition of Malaysia and the potential havoc that could arise in the event of disunity.
To reiterate, national unity is essential in maintaining a harmonious and functional society.
Consequently, national unity and subsequently societal stability contributes to nation-building. One aspect of nation-building revolves around economic developments which, in extremely simplified terms, may lead to elevated standards of living; and if channeled efficiently- decreased poverty rate and income disparity, benefiting the populace as a whole.
One prevalent contributor to a countries’ economic prowess would be the measure of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) (Naquib & Smucker, 2009). Social and political stability is often regarded as a pre-requisite for an inflow of FDI and plays a role among other factors such as labor wages and tax rates in affecting investors’ confidence. As a nation vehemently pursuing economic gains with a promising abundance of raw resources and strategic geographical standing, it would be a shame for Malaysia to lose out on a rapidly globalised economy on the basis of societal instability. As such, national unity is paramount in Malaysia’s pursuit of economic and societal development.
Having elaborated on the importance of a unity in Malaysia, this essay will now discuss the role of moderation in achieving such unity. For decades, racial tension and disharmony have pervaded Malaysia’s political and social development and continues to be a stark point in everyday discourse.
While Malaysia appears more integrated in contemporary times, there remain covert and unspoken strains between ethnic groups. For decades, institutional initiatives the likes of the 1971 New Economic Plan (NEP) and the present decade’s 1Malaysia campaign have sought to bridge this divide.
Arguably, institutional intervention can only do that much. At the end of the day, it boils down to individuals’ efforts in making multicultural ties work.
On the grassroots level, moderation plays an incremental role in achieving national unity.
Moderation in this sense, pertains to a conscious effort in avoiding dissonance and maintaining goodwill by compromising on traditions, beliefs and practices in everyday life.
Since Malaysia is far from being a secular state, religion dominates everyday discourse and hence remains a continual hiccup for the remedy of racial tensions. The term “racial tension” in Malaysia does not give a contextual picture of its predicament; instead most racial conflicts arise in the form of religious clashes, predominantly between Muslims and non-Muslims. In this sense, moderation with its inclination for tolerance and understanding, plays a role in bridging this religious divide and subsequently uniting the nation.
In a more practical manner, moderation could be achieved via organised interfaith activities such as forums, dialogues, workshops or even a walkabout. Instead of cowering behind the façade of sensitivity and taboo, youths should be encouraged to boldly participate in interfaith activities with the opportunity to engage with leaders of faith; clearing misconceptions while gaining further knowledge on other members of the nation.
With such an interactive exposure, participants would hopefully gain an insight on the commonalities of different religions, identify elements of extremism and perhaps even recognise the “weaponisation” of religion that often surfaces in the realm of politics. It is only until this level of maturity and moderation is achieved where youths can individualise and view others objectively.
In addition, moderation also plays a role in solidifying the Malaysian identity – a prerequisite for a cohesive nation. It is paramount for individuals to moderate between ancestral origins and national identity in order to find equilibrium in a diverse country like Malaysia, more so with the increasing interaction between cultures – courtesy of globalization.
Institutionally, there are a number of measures and policies which very nature reinforce the idea of a segregated nation and perhaps indicates a “race first, country second” preference. Instead of piddling about with cries of classism, Malaysians need not be fazed by these reinforced “labels” and identify rather, by their nationality.
In other words, elements of ancestral culture should be retained, but not at the expense of national identity. It is possible, as in the case of Western civilizations, for a nation to exist with a number of different cultures within a shared national label.
To conclude, national unity is crucial for the growth of Malaysia in terms of guaranteeing societal stability and spurring economic growth for the betterment of the people. Moderation plays an integral role in fostering this unity by equipping individuals with an educated and objective perspective on intercultural interaction, helping them to effectively and effortlessly navigate through the waters of diversity.
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