HERE’S a question I wish to pose to our leaders: Do you still believe in a multiracial Malaysia?
I ask because as a born and bred Malaysian, I want to know whither lies the future of my country.
It has not gone unnoticed how more and more leaders and government agencies have taken a deeply conservative and hardline stance on various issues.
What has happened to our global brand as “Malaysia, truly Asia” and the much touted Global Movement of Moderates? Do we only “sell” such products overseas, which disillusioned citizens increasingly see as akin to hawking fake goods?
The disillusionment stems from hearing our leaders calling for moderation but when certain institutions and individuals in official positions act or speak in downright extremist and intolerant ways, these leaders keep silent and do nothing.
The harsh reactions to and desire to ban so many things which have long been accepted as part of our cosmopolitan makeup – Valentine’s Day, Oktoberfest, Halloween, among others – to declaring concepts like liberalism, progressiveness and pluralism as bad and evil notions started at least two years ago.
These have been followed by more dangerous and racially or religiously provocative incidents be it the antics of the Red Shirts, the Low Yat incident, demands to remove a cross from the outside wall of a church in Selangor and a developer in Langkawi being ordered to repaint air wells in his link-housing development because they looked like crosses from afar.
This month, an obviously ignorant and prejudiced university lecturer insulted Hindus and Sikhs in his slides on Islamic and Asian civilisations.
It was reassuring that the university’s vice-chancellor quickly apologised and ordered an inquiry.
But before there was closure on that episode, the mufti of Pahang, Abdul Rahman Osman, declared DAP and anyone he deemed as opposing Islam as kafir harbi.
Those words shocked many right-thinking Muslims and non-Muslims quickly learned why: the term kafir harbi is specifically reserved for those who wage war against Muslims and therefore can be “legitimately” killed.
In the Malaysian context, it is clear who Abdul Rahman is referring to: the strong protest by not just the DAP, but even Barisan Nasional component parties like MCA, MIC and Gerakan, against PAS’ private member’s bill on hudud.
Many feared Abdul Rahman’s remarks, first reported in Utusan Malaysia last week, were as good as sanctioning violence against non-Muslims.
The latest insensitivity towards non-Muslims surfaced in an Ipoh city council Hari Raya Aidilfitri invitation.
In stating the dress code, it specifically ruled out the traditional Indian saree.
Instead of immediately apologising and removing the offensive invitation, the council tried to explain it away as a “misunderstanding” and that kecuali sari (except saree), “means the staff can wear a suitable saree and those who work in the field can make a choice to wear a saree, office wear, or anything that is appropriate for the ceremony.”
What nonsense! If the invitation card was in English, then the council’s excuse that it was misinterpreted and misunderstood might hold a shallow bit of water. But it was written in Malay and its meaning is crystal-clear.
We all know what happened.
Some small-minded civil servant decided the elegant saree that generations of Malaysians grew up with nary a lascivious thought was unacceptable because it is midriff-baring.
The council finally retracted the invitation with an apology for the “confusion and misinterpretation” caused. More importantly, it said it would be more mindful in future. Thank you for that.
But the more worrisome development is the attempts to shove aside the Federal Constitution that supports a multiracial, secular nation and rewrite it according to narrow and self-serving interests.
That’s why the MCA took Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom to task for stating that laws that ban unilateral conversions contradicted the Constitution.
If these were the acts and the remarks of no-account individuals and mosquito groups and got strongly whacked by the powers-that-be, then we could relax and let them be.
After all, we should allow a measure of free speech. But when such acts and words come from elected leaders and state or federal agencies, then I think we have the right to be deeply concerned.
That is why I cannot help but wonder where we are heading as a nation.
Why have we veered off the clear road of mutual trust and collective well-being and into a minefield of doubt and suspicion?
Our journey as a nation, 59 years ago, didn’t begin this way.
While we did start out with race-based political parties, our leaders, while representing their own community’s interests, were always mindful of being multiracial in their approach. Our pioneer national leaders worked together and were always considerate and respectful to each other and to all communities.
This I have said before and I am willing to sound like a nagging old woman because some things need repeating over and over.
So where is the esprit de corps that was so strong at the birth of our nation and the assurance that every citizen has a place under the Malaysian sun gone?
That is why I am posing the question at the start of this column: do our leaders in power still believe in a multiracial Malaysia?
Aunty wishes to remind present leaders what former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi said: “Let all citizens of Malaysia, without feeling inferior, without feeling sidelined, irrespective of race or religion, rise to be statesmen in our own land. We are equal, we are all Malaysians. No individual in this country is more Malaysian than another.” Feedback to email@example.com
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