How about a nation that has been independent for 62 years?
Let’s not forget that we are forever indebted to our forefathers for freeing this land from colonialism. Some fought courageously in the field; others utilised their wisdom to negotiate self-rule.
The quest for independence was hard. Here comes the harder part: surviving.
Recently, we see divisive issues piling up. Disputes about the introduction of khat (jawi calligraphy) in schools, the arguments about a foreign Muslim preacher, a call to boycott products to name just a few.
Let’s reflect and admit: We are all responsible for this emerging disharmony directly or indirectly. From the politicians with their partisan remarks and the followers who fan fanaticism to the media with unethical journalism.
It is distressing to witness that even an insignificant argument can easily incite interracial antagonism be it through perception, verbally or action.
Living in an age that celebrates the freedom of speech, people are easily flattered by the opportunity to voice out their feelings and express their thoughts. Provocative news and speeches that stir racial and religious sensitivities are easily visible and accessible nowadays on social media. It is acceptable to be opinionated but what is more important in exercising the right to speak is to differentiate between right and wrong to avoid spreading lies.
A respected figure in Constitutional law, Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi stressed that freedom per se has no value. It is what freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put and the sense of responsibility with which it is exercised. By neglecting this fact, we are purveyors of ignorance and practitioners of injustice towards those who are potentially affected whether they are individuals, parties, races, or the nation itself. Rights must be practised holistically.
Speaking of harmony, emerging extremism is a challenge. Call it chauvinism, bigotry, or fanaticism, the consequences are usually distasteful. We often associate extremism with beliefs that are interpreted and expressed excessively or when the fundamentals are transgressed. However, any attempt to minimise or lessen a belief and practice is another form of extremism. To be moderate is actually to be able to put any subject in its own place: neither in excessiveness nor deficiency.
At this time of alarming
polarisation, tolerance is worth mentioning. Let’s not forget that one of the most important factors that brought us self-government was interracial cooperation in
the formation of the Alliance
party. This evidence of interracial unity fortified the pursuit of independence and gave all races a guarantee of their interests in the new order.
Tolerance is written in our Constitution. We are a multireligious and multiethnic nation. Islam is the country’s religion but other religions can be practised in peace and harmony. All persons are equal before the law.
Though we are different religiously and culturally, tolerance and mutual respect act as a tool to harmonise the differences. It is difficult to understand others’ moral and ethical fundamentals but it is our duty to be considerate, avoid belittling other people’s religious and cultural practices, and show respect by not intentionally stirring up sensitive issues.
In multiple channels, the learned and experienced have voiced their concerns lately. In different tones, they have conveyed their fears, frustration, and disappointment over the fate of this nation.
However, there is still hope. Ups and downs are common in a nation’s life. Preserving independence is a journey.
Nation-building depends both on civil society and leadership. Leaders are the reflection of those who chose them. Besides integrity and moral standards of the politicians, we need improvement in our economic, racial, and most importantly educational structures.
As citizens we need not passively wait for intervention from government to implement policies conducive to a meaningful unity. We all have a role to play.
Some say the grass is always greener on the other side. That is partially true. The other half of the truth is: the grass is greener where it receives sufficient nourishment and is nurtured.
DR NABILAH ZULKIFLY
Did you find this article insightful?