WHEN I was abroad recently, one local song kept ringing in my ears constantly. It was none other than Oh Malaysia, Land Of Glory. I wondered why, as I had not listened to it in a long time.
Maybe it was because I missed home badly. That I actually do all the time when I am away because this is my one and only home, and not India like Prof Zainal Kling would like to think.
I was travelling in a part of the world that had been devastated by wars caused mainly by ethnic, sectarian and religious strife, an issue close to my heart. It happened only two decades ago, but the people have awoken and are working passionately to rebuild their countries.
I did talk to a few people about the politics in their respective countries. While they were very critical of the politicians like in most places, their outward show of pride for the nation touched me to the core. Some of them said they can differentiate their love for the country and politicians clearly.
For example, our guide Alexis in Tirana, Albania, is a Muslim but she did not even know if she was a Shite or Sunni. For a small country whose population is made up of 50% Muslims, that surprised me.
My next question obviously irked Alexis. I asked her if her Prime Minister was a Muslim or Christian, an angle which we Malaysians take most of time. I did not know this would really upset her but her answer made me realise how our Malaysian minds have shrunk because of the kind of the communal politics we are exposed to.
She said I should not be asking such a question as it did not matter to Albanians what religion or the denomination he was from. She thought it could be a Muslim, though. And added: “We don’t really care what religion he practised but most importantly, he should not abuse his powers and steal from the people.”
I am not really sure if she really meant it or if she was merely being a loyal citizen and projecting a front to tell the world her nation practised good values despite not having much physical development.
I did apologise to her for the insensitive line of questioning, saying I came from a country which had race and religion written all over.
That’s right, even a small road accident makes motorists ask what race the victims are from. Or if there was anyone from your race among the public exam top scorers.
Alexis’s reaction was indeed refreshing for someone from a country that seems to breathe race and religion day in, day out. But the good feeling did not last long. I logged into my Facebook account after staying away for seven days. And boy, was I back on familiar ground with a jolt!
The comments and blogs about the coroner’s verdict on the death of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim were a shocking show of pure hatred and vile racism never seen before.
I am one of those who has been harbouring hopes that the ousting of the old regime will see better days for racial integration and unity in Malaysia. But I am slowly but surely losing that hope.
And then came another newsfeed that not only devastated me but made me wonder if I am suddenly not a Malaysian. Zainal, the chief organiser of the Malay Dignity Congress in Shah Alam, reminded other communities of their so-called social contract with Malays, saying it was the basis of giving non-Malays citizenship which could be suspended if they break the agreement.
To hear this from the most educated class of Malays was heartbreaking. It made me wonder if our education system has indeed failed. Because they even chose to use the Quran to try and override the all-supreme Federal Constitution which enshrines our right to Jus soli, meaning “right of the soil”.
This is commonly referred to as birth right citizenship if you are born to Malaysian parents in or outside the country. In my understanding, the so-called “Social Contract” was unofficially applied for many of our ancestors who had been brought in by the British back then.
They are all now dead and gone. This contract is non-existent and has been superseded by Article 14 and 15 of our Federal Constitution which guarantees citizenship.
Most of us now are third, fourth and even fifth generation full-bred Malaysians who have contributed as much as others in terms of development, taxes and nation-building. Non-Malays have served in the Armed Forces, police and sacrificed much to build the Malaysia that we love and is our only home.
What is common and consistent is that race-based political parties, in particular Umno and PAS, go to town with this narrative when they are in danger of losing power, and now, after they have been thrown out.
I guess in a democracy, the right to hold a dignity rally like this should be allowed. But when it turns out be a platform to blatantly insult fellow Malaysians based on race and religion, it becomes undignified.
The major setback was that the gathering was given credence by the attendance of the Prime Minister and other national leaders from the ruling coalition. Ironically, they are there enjoying the power and positions with the support of all including Chinese, Indians and other non-Malays and non-Muslims.
For these leaders, it was obviously a case of choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. If they had chosen not to attend, Umno and PAS would have branded them anti-Malay leaders who are cooperating with non-Malays to destroy Malays.
By choosing to attend, they opted to try and keep the Malay votes with them, knowing pretty well that it is extremely crucial for their future survival. Sometimes I wonder if Dr Mahathir made this smart move to accept the invitation.
He may have known that the organisers could have secretly hoped that he and other Pakatan Harapan Malay leaders would decline. Which would have been great fodder for the Opposition to get the lost Malay votes. Then again, I may be wrong.
Dignity and respect are something you earn. You do not demand these two qualities, neither can you buy them or hold vile and racist rallies to demand for them in a threatening manner. Even your own parents cannot demand them from you, they have to lead by example to earn them.
To be able to live each day with honour, respect and dignity is the greatest achievement of all. Not demanding subservience from communities which are already at a disadvantage from birth.
Dignity is working for what you want, and not taking away from others all the time. Dignity is also achieved by giving sometimes. Dignity lies not in possessing honours, titles and riches but in the consciousness that we deserve them.
If you organise a gathering of this nature and spew nothing but hate and contempt for fellow Malaysians who are not from your race, it is nothing but vile racism. That is not dignified. Actually, you may have lost whatever little you had. It was a desperate act indeed.
As the song Oh Malaysia goes, this is a land of glory which was built by all and for all Malaysians. Perhaps Zainal was blinded by his political masters who may
have used him to rouse the race and religious rabble for their own ends.
What he may or may not understand is that he and the other speakers who spoke at the event would have poisoned the minds of young Malays who do not know the nation’s history. And he has traumatised young non-Malay minds who have no link whatsoever to anyone in China or India. Neither do they know anything about the social contract.
Let me be clear here. All of us whether Malays, Chinese or Indians are guilty of racism in one way or another, some in small doses and others in a big way. To say we are not is definitely a blatant lie.
We all need to cleanse our hearts and souls of racism completely and embrace the spirit of Bangsa Malaysia, one of the targets that Dr Mahathir set out in his Vision 2020, launched 20 years ago.
The current government has now launched the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, again with a lofty ambition.
On paper, the new plan aims to create wealth for the country that would benefit Malaysians from all walks of life, uniting Malaysians in the process.
This a real challenge for whoever is in power in the present climate. If events like the dignity congress continue to be held to demand that all top positions are only reserved for Malays and vernacular schools be abolished, I am afraid the vision will end up as a NEP 2.0.
Let’s all start by saying we are Malaysians first, instead of putting our races ahead of us.
K. Parkaran was a deputy editor at The Star and producer at Aljazeera TV. The views expressed here are solely his own.