Cultural diversity is Malaysia’s greatest strength

  • Letters
  • Wednesday, 23 Oct 2019

I AM a 59-year-old Malaysian. I am a third generation Malaysian on my father’s side. My grandparents arrived in Penang from China over 100 years ago.

I am at least a fifth generation Malaysian on my mother’s side. Because this side of my family had been in Penang for so many generations, the genealogy is less clear. My great great grandmother, a Nonya, was a sundry shop owner.

I call Malaysia my home. I cheered for Nicol David and Lee Chong Wei. I always look forward to seeing our athletes on the international stage, like divers Pandelela Rinong, Cheong Jun Hoong, Ahmad Amsyar Azman, Ooi Tze Liang, Bryan Nickson Lomas and our gymnasts.

When Lee Hup Wei (pic) became the first ever Malaysian to qualify for the final in the International Association of Athletics Federations World Athletics Championships in the men’s high jump in Doha recently, it was a high point for Malaysian sport, and indeed a proud moment for Malaysians.

We Malaysians are generally colour and religion-blind towards one another when we are overseas and even in Malaysia. I met a Muslim Malaysian family in Kyoto, Japan early this year. We had no problems finding a connection. I have a sense of warmth when I hear a fellow citizen speaking with our Malaysian accent in a crowd whenever I am in a foreign country.

During the Mughal Empire, religious acceptance was very much the key to the prosperity and stability of the empire. Emperor Akbar even invited people of other religions to have a discussion about their beliefs. This was reflected in some of his portraits, which have influence from other religions. He had people of all backgrounds in his administration. The Mughal Empire was a great example of successful race relations.

I have great admiration for Siti Kassim, Mariam Mokhtar, Zainah Anwar, Sisters in Islam and others who always speak up against injustice and for the minorities in Malaysia. Their selfless activism is an encouragement and inspiration to many.

Every human is an asset, not a liability; so too is every Malaysian. Due to our unique exposure to cultural diversity and multilingual abilities, we have great potential to link up with other trading nations around the world. Unity in diversity is really our greatest strength, not our pitfall.

Good leaders are entrusted with effective use of these human assets. Any populist policies putting blame on others in order to gain support will only lead to sectarian divides and the empowerment of supremacist groups that would target the minorities. This is a dangerous slippery slope for Malaysia.



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