THE heart-breaking events involving the temple issue last week was a déjà vu for many of us, I am sure.
It was exactly 11 years ago that a similar scenario took place in Shah Alam when the state government demolished a 150-year-old temple after issuing several warnings.
I had written a commentary then calling for a long-term reform plan to be put in place by none other than the Cabinet as I felt then that any diatribe on temples was like a time bomb.
That demolition saw Hindu protesters forming a human chain in their bid to preserve their place of worship although the local authorities had the papers to bulldoze the temple.
As admitted by the then mentri besar Dr Khir Toyo, this was among the main reasons why Selangor fell to the opposition in the 12th General Election, which was held a few months after the demolition.
Although the state government tendered a public apology to the Hindu community and promised that this would not happen again, it lost the state.
However, the demolition of smaller unregistered temples continued, even under the new regime but on a smaller scale.
I vividly remember the then opposition Pakatan Rakyat leaders castigating the Barisan Nasional government for not stopping the demolitions. They claimed all it would have taken was a stroke of the pen by the MB to keep the structures.
Fast forward to Nov 26 this year, we are faced with a similar, yet not so similar, episode involving a Hindu temple.
Incidentally, it was also in Selangor. Except that whoever masterminded the nefarious act of sending in Malay thugs had decided to capitalise on ongoing racial tension arising from the protest by Malays against the proposed ratification of the International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Icerd).
The consequences were indeed disastrous for race relations in the country. It had also caused much anxiety, fear, distrust and heartbreak among Malaysians, most of whom enjoy a harmonious relationship outside the political sphere.
There was and still is so much racial hatred being spewed on social media, too much to bear at times. It will be a lie to say that we don’t get hurt reading the nasty comments.
The leaders can scream all they want that it was not a racial problem but the fact is – it was turned into one.
After two terms as the government, why didn’t Selangor, with its ample Hindu representatives, ensure a decent SOP was put in place to ensure the orderly settlement of temple issues knowing pretty well it will recur?
So, has anything changed in what we are crowing now as Malaysia Baru (New Malaysia) since May 9 this year? The unfortunate temple fracas seems to have raised several questions as to where the nation is headed.
Just like new employees are given a six-month probation period, Pakatan Harapan passed that mark about three weeks ago. I believe the voters, as its employers, will not confirm its appointment yet, going by its performance so far.
However, I believe a six to 12-month extension may be necessary under the circumstances because the present government inherited a lot of mess. This brings me to the next question: Will we see a real New Malaysia even after that?
Going by how most Malaysians are spitting racial venom on social media with their stereotyped name-calling, we can safely conclude that we can change governments but it is hard to change Malaysians when it comes to racial biases.
Friends from multiracial chat groups are also in others that are race-based. It is utterly disgusting to see what they say of each other in these groups. These comments also come from the educated class of doctors, dentists, lawyers and teachers among others.
You know why? Because deep down inside, we harbour a lot of ill-feelings against the other races.
Whether it is caused by race-based policies or religious bigots, it is still out there. And I believe incidents like the temple fracas may happen again if something serious is not done by the government.
While the Malay-Muslim majority is fighting a non-existing battle – claiming that the community will lose their special place enshrined in the Constitution – the others appear to be defending their basic rights under the written laws.
As far as I can remember, this has been going on since the early 1970s, which means for 40 years we have been harbouring this anger and prejudices and letting these loose each time a temple is demolished or about to be taken down.
Or the incident like the one at the Low Yat plaza where a group, claiming to defend the dignity of the Malays, ran amok, causing much tension and panic among Malaysians.
Nothing has changed. Malaysians simply do not want to move on although the world has hopped, stepped and jumped to greater heights.
Now, who are these masterminds waiting to ignite these fires knowing pretty well it could burn the nation?
Politicians? Yes, of course. They thrive on this fodder all their lives. Why, they might even stop breathing if they don’t do this. They won’t stop to fan the anger of their communities and the Dec 8 anti-Icerd gathering is obviously one such event.
Hindraf had its day 11 years ago but I believe it can never bring that kind of crowd into Kuala Lumpur anymore as the landscape has changed.
Besides politicians, we are also to blame. Most of us are all guilty of stoking racial fires in the name of defending our religion and race.
So, my fellow Malaysians, what we need to do is to exorcise that deep-seated animosity, hatred, prejudices and misplaced anger out of our souls.
You may be living or working with Malays, Indians and Chinese and appear to be totally oblivious of the racially-charged events or differences, but at the same time puke racist rants in your racial groups behind each other’s backs.
Holding racially charged gatherings in the name of defending any right is not the idea of reclaiming our dignity. You earn respectability by behaving like a true Malaysian – with decorum – not demanding respect while not doing much.
We should stop blaming the current government for all that is happening and start looking at ourselves.
Some of us must be brave enough to admit that we are suffering from a sort of racial schizophrenia.
We must stand up for our fellow Malaysians from other races if they are wronged or oppressed. Not just your race.
Dignity is also about standing up against the massive corruption and the prominent individuals from the old regime who so blatantly abused their powers and nearly brought our nation to its knees.
For the life of me, I simply cannot fathom why many Malaysians are defending these leaders despite their proven misdeeds.
Are they trying to say it does not matter as long as they belong to their own race? Shocking indeed if that is the criteria.
So, here you go. If Malaysians are not ready to let go of their racial prejudices and hatred against those of other races, nothing will change. And the idea of Malaysia Baru will remain a dream.
We owe it to the 93-year-old man who came back against his wishes to see the birth of a new nation.
Most Malaysians believed in his promises despite some of his past, unacceptable actions as they wanted a new direction, sick of 60 years of manipulation.
And in the meantime, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will do the nation a favour if the Cabinet comes up with a holistic reform plan for the temples. And it must be genuine and long-term, not a knee-jerk reaction.
God Bless Malaysia!
K. Parkaran was a deputy editor at The Star. He is now a producer at Al Jazeera TV. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.