POLITICAL polarisation is getting worse in our country. We see it ripping our communities apart as people stop being friends because of their political choices, couples doubt each other’s judgments and parents increasingly advise their children not to marry someone who supports another political party.
On another level, our communities are also becoming more divided. According to a study funded by CIMB Foundation that was released earlier this year, there is little interaction among the races in Malaysia now. About 90% of Malay respondents, 80% of Chinese respondents and 70% of Indian respondents reported that almost all of their friends were of their own race, “Re-stitching Malaysia’s social fabric” (Sunday Star, April 30).
I organised an interfaith dialogue recently with imam, priests, Hindus, Buddhists and all religious leaders in Malaysia. The purpose was both symbolic and foundational. By being able to gather different heads of communities together, we aimed to solidify the image of a united, tolerant and open-minded Malaysia – one that aims to use our common bridge of nationality as a strength to solve problems together in the future.
Strategically, the dialogue narrowed down to how we could quickly translate interfaith dialogue into interfaith action and create a platform to respectfully address one another when disagreements arise.
In the Quran’s Surah Al Hujurat, God reminds us that He created us into different tribes, races and communities so that we “may know one another”. This surah does not say we should try to convert one another but simply that diversity is accepted and we should get to know one another on a deeper level, heart to heart.
As the Prime Minister said, “Political and social stability can only become a reality if we have interfaith harmony in the country.”
The question then is whether the political divide up top and in the news is the reason behind the communal divide. Or is it the ground affecting the top?
As a senator, it has become my role to exemplify an open and accepting Malaysia that can be mirrored for common Malaysians. I believe it is high time that politics today becomes the example of a maturity that is based on fact rather than emotion and forward thinking rather than inward looking.
What can we do to tackle the polarisation in Malaysia’s political discourse? What can we do to connect with our political counterparts?
As a start, we must recognise that the political qualms in our country are based on a deeper moral divide. Some Malaysians may prioritise moral values like transparency and equality while others may tend to uphold the values of religion and identity.
Does this mean people who value religion and identity do not care about equality? Certainly not. It just means that from their upbringing, they have learned to accept that the values of religion and identity resonate more in their life than others. These moral values translate into what they read and watch, and how they act and comprehend everyday news.
Part of the reason why our communities and politicians become so antagonistic towards one another is that we talk to each other through the lenses of our own values. For example, someone who prioritises religion may argue with others in a rhetoric that centres upon religion. They may quote the Quran and use the life of the Prophet as an example. And while this may be convincing to them, it may not be as satisfying an argument for those who are less versed in religion. It seems that living in our own cultural silos has made us uncompromising even in the very structure of our arguments.
So here’s the solution; if you want to persuade your counterparts on certain policies that you know they disagree with, your first step must be to identify and connect with the values of the person you are addressing. For example, if you are a DAP MP and you want to preach gender equality to someone from PAS, structure your argument in a way that is supported by the values of Islam.
If we truly love our country, then we must let go of the immature “he pushed me, he hurt me first” bickering. Putting our country back together requires the collaboration of all leaders. Fearmongering about one another and hampering of communication need to stop. Even more critical is the need for us to engage at a level that is unselfish and understanding of each other’s values. We owe it to one another and to our country to reach out and try to connect.