The vision of our Rukun Negara

ON September 16,1963, Malaysia was born. Then, as the next decade dawned, the Rukun Negara was conceived – and within it the idea of what this new nation should be was enshrined.

When I was in school, we would recite the Rukun Negara preamble every week during assembly before we sang the Negaraku. In it was the vision and philosophy worthy to be repeated, again and again, by generations of Malaysians. And I quote:

"WHEREAS OUR COUNTRY, MALAYSIA nurtures the ambitions of:

Achieving a more PERFECT UNITY amongst the whole of her society;


Creating a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a FAIR and EQUITABLE manner;

Guaranteeing a LIBERAL approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and

Building a PROGRESSIVE society that will make use of SCIENCE and modern TECHNOLOGY"

So, 55 years on, let’s take a quick review of what they mean, where we are today and how we can head towards that lofty vision set in those words.

Are we more united? If we go by the measure of the rhetoric of politicians and their sycophants, religious extremists and their fan-base (whether in so-called places of authority or just your garden variety lay-types and so called celebrity preachers) then one would think that this country is on the brink of a civil war. But are we, though? Let us take that amorphous question last and deal with the more specific ones first.

So, what exactly is a democratic way of life that we, our politicians and leaders are supposed to preserve?

We are definitely practising democracy – at least every five years or so at the ballot box – but as a way of life, I don't think so. Going to cast your ballot and electing the government is not democracy – it’s called voting, a way to choose the government, not a way of life. It is only a part of democracy.

Democracy as a way of life means the voice of the people should be allowed to be heard no matter how harsh or insulting or even uncomfortable, and it must be allowed in a fair manner. We do not do that.

I am for complete freedom of speech. But I know our society is not ready for that because for 60 years, we have been told by politicians that certain things and topics are sensitive. Do you know who gets sensitive? Children and emotionally immature adults. They cannot have a civil discourse without resorting to name-calling or threats of violence.

A mature democratic society allows freedom of speech and then ensures threats and violence do not ensue by having an effective law enforcement mechanism that is always in place to prevent any such occurrence. Such authority carries its duties in a fair and just manner.

We cannot even do either one. Why? Because we do not even attempt to allow such freedom and we do not enforce the law in a fair manner. Everything is skewed to please a perceived majority where supposed insult is claimed upon. It does not seem to work the other way around.

If we are honest, no one can be a judge to what an insult is, for example. A criticism to one is an insult to another. This is why mature societies allow public discourse to take place and the democracy of ideas wins the day. We need to start. The first being the abolition of the Sedition Act, a promise that this current Government made to the voters.

And then today we have democracy being used to justify an undemocratic way of life. How so, you may ask? Well, when you impose theocratic laws on a set of the population based on their supposed religion as determined by the state, then you are no longer a democracy. You are a theocracy. Today, basic religious family law has been elevated to encompass moral policing and has usurped the democratic state. No country can function with two set of laws. That is neither fair nor practical. It is a road to disaster, just ask Hong Kong. Worse for us, we have both overt and covert attempts by sections of our society to undermine civil democratic laws with laws based on beliefs as interpreted by theologians and preachers.

This must stop. We must not allow religion to overthrow democracy. The Iranian revolution for democracy was hijacked by their religious clerics and today we see the result of that disaster. We must not allow our own religious scholars to hijack our democratic way of life. Our lawmakers must recognise the loopholes within our laws that are currently being used to destroy our democracy and put in place the theocratic state. Such loopholes in the law, even if they have been made to reside within the Constitution, must be amended in order to preserve Malaysia as a democracy.

Only a proper democratic way of life will create and sustain a fair and equitable society. In every instance in history, no other system has achieved that and continue to perfect a fairer civilisation. A democratic system is only as good as the people who run it, for human weaknesses influence the character of the governance. Thus, the integrity of the instruments of governance that are created to serve the people will depend on the ethical and moral bent of the authorities.

A proper democratic system incorporates the three major divisions of governance: legislature, judiciary and executive. These are separate and independent entities that act as checks and balances. As we can see, this separation is often breached in our very own country. Are we still in the Third World? First World democracies respect this separation of governance and each branch is administered by people of integrity and accountability.

Malaysia has been independent for more than 60 years but we still see an unfair and non-equitable society today, be it from whichever divide or segment of the population we come from. And we will never get there if theocracy usurps democracy. Only in a democratic state can we see evidence of its ability to evolve a more egalitarian existence for its citizens.

Our Rukun Negara wants us to guarantee, stop there a second and let’s repeat the word, guarantee, a liberal approach to our multi-ethnic traditions. This is key to our unity – the guarantee of our liberalism. Acceptance of those differences in culture, heritage and tradition as equal. Nowhere in the world does a culture or tradition or even religion hold supremacy over another. None. An official religion of the state is not the supreme religion of the state. It’s a symbol of heritage that we uphold.

So why is "liberal" a bad word? They take the most extreme examples of behaviour or those that they feel would make people uncomfortable and attach such examples as the very essence of liberalism. Why? Because they need to make their position as special and inalienably supreme to the rest of others. So, they must demonise a word that denotes acceptance of others as somehow dirty.

I will not abandon my Rukun Negara, no matter how dirty these extremists want to make it and the words in it because it is the essence of the soul of this nation that has carried us this far. I guarantee you that I will always remain a liberal as does the Rukun Negara.

That guarantee of liberalism is what will make a progressive nation. A progressive nation is always in search of the boundaries of knowledge and understanding of the world. Humanity and civilisations evolve. Nothing is static. It cannot be because knowledge grows, and civilisation evolves with such comprehension.

A theocratic state must insist on an unchanging world. At every point in history, the cleric-class has insisted on knowledge being what they want it to be – not God, but them. So, they then become the word of God. That is how the cleric class retain power and dominion over others far superior in intellect and knowledge and keep the masses under their thumb.

The theocratic state destroyed Europe in wars and engulfed the Islamic renaissance into a darkness that has yet to see the light of day.

Malaysia must continue to insist on progress through science and technology. Our education system must be science-centric. Science and technology know no religion or race. They only know knowledge and knowledge is democratic.

That, my fellow Malaysians, is how unity will be achieved. When a person’s worth is based on their ability, and solely on their ability to contribute to the betterment of a progressive Malaysia.

The views expressed here are solely the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Star.

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Siti Kasim , Rukun Negara , Malaysia Day


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