Shining hope for Malaysian unity

The unexpectedly quick and strong action by the Cabinet in responding to a racist incident offers a glimpse of the path towards a New Malaysia.

LANTERNS and the colour red feature prominently during this time of the year globally. Throughout the ages, the Chinese have used lanterns not only as sources of light or simple paper decoration, but also to symbolise vitality and good luck.

Around the world, the round, red lantern remains one of the most easily recognised symbols of Chinese culture. Only those with the fire of deep racism in their hearts or those in a drunken stupor caused by religious bigotry would equate red lanterns with a religion or with attempting to propagate another religion to Muslims.

Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia (Putra) vice-president Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz’s display of sheer ignorance was shocking indeed as he is a senior lawyer with wide political experience dealing with pro-Malay cases including a challenge on the legality of vernacular schools (this is ongoing although he lost in his initial attempt).

Although he had no right to interfere in the running of a public school, he was pretty harsh and authoritative in his letter to the principal: “Your actions in allowing these excessive decorations for celebrating a Chinese religious festival in a public school is also against Article 12(3) of the Federal Constitution which states ‘no person shall be required to receive instruction in or to take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own’. Your actions are also a method of spreading the teachings of other religions among the Muslim students which is against Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution.” He then gave the principal three days to take down decorations he deemed “religious”. The principal took down the decor.

Although primarily used to prevent a burning candle or wick from being extinguished by wind, rain or other causes, another important function of lanterns is to reduce the risk of fire should a spark leap from the flame or the lantern be dropped.

This is exactly what happened in the SMK Bandar Puchong (1) incident last week. Khairul’s letter instructing the principal to take down the lanterns or face “further action” lit the fire of racism.

To the surprise of many – especially those who have been critical of the Pakatan Harapan government for being slow off the blocks when highly sensitive issues are exploited by bigots from political parties or NGOs – senior members of the Cabinet from all races and parties went into the school to relight the flame that had been doused by Putra. They acted like a lantern to prevent the sparks of racism from flying out.

It was heartening – and refreshing – to read that the Cabinet decided to take this matter seriously and acted on it promptly, too. Instead of issuing the usual statement, it decided to immediately send a senior multiracial team to show in no uncertain terms that racism of this nature will not be tolerated.

Incidentally, the Cabinet took this unexpected “leap of faith” in the beginning of the leap year 2020. This is also a significant year for Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was supposed to have seen the culmination of his Vision 2020 programme launched 30 years ago. Among the main objectives of that vision was for all Malaysians to be referred to as “bangsa Malaysia”.

Solidarity was an important part of the programme, as a united multi- ethnic Malaysia was deemed necessary to ensure the stability of the country’s political and economic climate. Hence the government determined that one of the major challenges to achieve in Vision 2020 was to create a united bangsa Malaysia, with citizens who are unwaveringly loyal to the nation.

Obviously this vision has been derailed by the many changes in policies under subsequent prime ministers, the rise of vile racism and religious intolerance, and the endemic corruption that has bogged down the nation over the last decade.

But this particular action in Puchong, Selangor, which obviously signalled that the government of today did not give in to pressures from within the coalition or from outside, augurs well for the direction of the nation that most Malay-sians had hoped for after the General Election in 2018.

Shall we interpret this as a good sign as we welcome the Year of the Rat with one rodent already caught in a trap? If similar action had taken with a few other chauvinistic incidents that have happened since Pakatan came to power in May 2018, we could have seen better and happier times instead of watching bigots heighten racial and religious tensions using NGOs and political parties.

Is this the beginning of the New Malaysia that was promised? Can we dare hope that this was not a flash in the pan aimed at wooing non-Muslim votes in the Kimanis by-election in Sabah? I choose to be an optimist here, and I hope this will also be the choice of all peace-loving Malaysians. I believe we are a significant number.

It may be an idea to dub this show of unity as the “Puchong Declaration” and showcase the event as a national victory over forces that want to see a nation divided along racial and religious lines. To those who cherish and value the true Malaysian spirit, the picture in that school was breathtaking indeed.

Khairul inadvertently showed his real vainglorious intention in resorting to this action when he declared that he had “won” because his letter’s result needed seven Cabinet ministers to undo and raise the lanterns that he had brought down. He added that his name was mentioned 15 times in the Cabinet meeting. A narcissistic and arrogant statement by all counts. The good news is that he is being investigated by the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

The Rat is the first of all zodiac animals in the Chinese lunar calendar. According to one story, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the position in which each animal arrived at his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride; then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox. The action of the Cabinet team can be interpreted in this manner, as it finally won the hearts of many while Khairul is busy giving statements to the authorities.

The lanterns of hope have been lighted. Let their light shine brightly on our beautiful nation so that we can see clearly the path that politicians and others are taking to build a New Malaysia. And we can rest assured that the lanterns will prevent any sparks from flying out to cause a major fire. Let this be the last of the Khairuls.

K. Parkaran was a deputy editor at The Star and producer at Aljazeera TV. The views expressed here are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sunday Star.

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