Committed to diversity in 2016

As we raise the curtains on 2016 and digest the events of 2015, Malaysians have a lot to be thankful for; despite the many ups and downs of 2015, we remain a stable and harmonious nation weathering the effects of global turmoil and uncertainty.

The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the ensuing migrant crisis that afflicted Europe was clearly of the most defining events of 2015. The attacks in Paris and the downing of Metrojet 9628 served as potent remind that we indeed live in troubling times.

The slowing global economy and the plunge of oil prices placed a significant burden of Malaysia’s finances and in spite of this the government presented a budget that tackled the difficulties faced by the middle class while ensuring that the lower income groups continued to enjoy a social safety net.

The incidents in Low Yat and Kota Raya stirred the conscience of all right-thinking Malaysians and compelled us to once again confront our prejudices and do more to further the concept of Bangsa Malaysia, while the Bersih 4.0 demonstration and the subsequent Red-Shirt rally were both unnecessary and also accentuated the divide in our society.

The clarion call for Malaysians in 2016 is to do better and be better.

Malaysia is always at its strongest when we are united in purpose and values. Despite the political differences, we must always remain committed to founding precepts of this country which are justice, equity and unity.

At the same time, all those who seek to unravel the Malaysian project must be branded as un-Malaysian and action must be taken against those who incite and use the fault lines in our society to serve their own hedonistic interests.

To quote a passage from Justice Edwin Cameron’s book Justice: A Personal Account, making reference to the 1994 South African Constitution, “The Constitution’s commitment to diversity is not rooted in sentimentality. It is based in sound political and social calculation. It is true that tolerance and acceptance foster human well-being. They create warm feelings. It is rooted in hard-noosed conceptions on essential public interest. We have to tolerate and celebrate our differences as people so that we can thrive economically and culturally and intellectually. Both materially and spiritually, diversity is good for us.”

It is my fervent belief that diversity is good for Malaysia. Malaysia is home to the world’s oldest religions and immigrant communities that have been interwoven into the fabric of the nation.

We have food that everyone craves because it is enriched by our diverse traditions. We are matured enough to celebrate one another’s festival and celebrations without feeling threatened in anyway. We speak many languages and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We laugh and joke about our differences because we are confident enough with it.

However, there remains a section of society that preaches separation and individualism. In a world that is growing more cosmopolitan and globalised we still have those who wish to erect walls that entrenches our differences.

We need more Malaysians who are willing to speak up and do so in one voice. As we do so we must also remind ourselves that we must strive to create a more perfect society that cures the injuries of colonialisation and ensures we live in an equitable society.

Malaysians from lower income groups must continue to receive the aid they need and efforts to empower the Bumiputera community must continue to ensure we enjoy long-term societal stability. It is simply the right thing to do. However, we must also promote our best and brightest so that they contribute to the nation’s advancement. It must not be a racial calculation but a social one.

I am also reminded of the fact that many claimed at the time of Malaysia’s independence that we will not succeed as a nation. Despite the many challenges we faced at that time we have always overcome because we abide by the mantra that our better days lay ahead.

So 2016 should be a time for introspection and renewal. Let us renew our bonds and friendships and put the troubles of 2015 behind us. We must focus on a positive narrative of our country and not obsess with the shortcomings because it is salacious and politically beneficial for some.

Politicians, especially those who enjoy running down the country locally and abroad, should ponder on the effects such negativity has on the growth of the nation. At the same time, leaders must continue to govern in the national interest with people’s welfare as the paramount consideration to ensure nation prospers.

My New Year’s wish for 2016 is for all of us to have an unflinching commitment to our nation’s diversity.

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