TODAY marks the 62nd anniversary of Merdeka, a key milestone in the journey that led to the birth of our beloved home.
Against the backdrop of all the colourful parades and celebrations taking place, something is not quite right.
Our National Day anniversary should be an occasion that brings us closer together. Instead, we seem to be going in the opposite direction.
Of late, a number of incidents have led to ugly quarrels, with “race and religion” narratives threatening to tear us apart.
There’s the storm created by Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik, an Indian citizen who stirred controversy here with his open evangelism denigrating non-Muslims.
The introduction of khat in schools caused a protest by many people which descended into a race and religiously-charged debate.
Viral messages stoking racial sentiments were also widely spread following a fender-bender that turned into a car chase and ultimately led to a fight where one of two motorists involved was killed near Bandar Baru Bangi in Selangor.
On social media, certain groups sensationalised viral photos of the Jalur Gemilang being flown upside down, prompting a stern warning from the police.
The ease with which these incidents quickly turned racial or religious shows that unfortunately, too many Malaysians still think along narrow, communal lines.
What made things worse in all these cases were the irresponsible quarters, including some politicians, who thought nothing of fanning and exploiting anger over these issues to drum up support.
Let’s not take the bait when they try to pit Malaysians against other Malaysians based on race and religion.
Starved of the attention, these elements will shrink to the irrelevant fringes where they belong, instead of hijacking public discourse from real issues we should be focusing on, such as fixing our education system and boosting the economy.
It is not easy to forget the pain and alienation caused by the misguided, ignorant or outright malicious people in our midst.
At the same time, if we truly cherish Malaysia, then we must also never forget the foundation that allowed our country to be formed in the first place.
It was summed up by Bapa Kemerdekaan Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, when he uttered the following words to describe what he believed was Malaysia’s greatest treasure:
“In our multiracial society, our Malaysian democracy, nothing is more fundamental than harmony between the many races which form the Malaysian nation.
“In fact, if I were asked to name one single outstanding quality to explain the success of Malaysia as a free nation, I would without hesitation say it is due to racial understanding and cooperation.
“Not only does this harmony express the trends of thought and feeling in this country, but it is a treasure of priceless value to each and every one of us.”
We’re all Malaysians. It seems silly to have to point out an obvious fact, but here we are. The divisive politics we now contend with came from decades of such narratives slowly seeping into our thoughts and discourse.
It only seems worse now because just a year ago, there was great hope that Malaysia was moving towards becoming the country we all dreamt of having, the vision our founding fathers fought for.
It is not too late. We are at a crossroads now. We, the people of Malaysia, can tell our politicians, in no uncertain terms, to stop their attempts to tear us apart.
And we also need to practise what we preach. We need to remember our shared destiny.
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