Most important ingredient for national unity

By: K.K. Tan
The Sun
Wed, 27 Apr 2011

DESPITE the debate on racial unity and attempts by the government to achieve it, there seems to be more disunity than ever. It appears that the silent voices of reason and moderation of the majority, who are in support of 1Malaysia, are drowned by the increasingly aggressive voices from a small minority of extremists.

Once again, the destructive and inflammatory proposal to punish a certain ethnic community in the post-Sarawak election blame game is being promoted to “force” a warped kind of national unity. I am not siding with any political party, but touching on a fundamental principle of democracy. Presumably, the punishment suggested would involve the denial of legitimate aid, funding and development to the areas concerned.

According to Newton’s third law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Hence, the attempted punishment of voters by the Sabah state government in the Tambunan by-election of December 1984 backfired in April 1985 when the ruling party was routed and lost in the state election.

If such “punishment” didn’t work in 1984, it certainly will not work in 2011. These punishment promoters are effectively undermining 1Malaysia.

This idea about using public machinery and resources to punish any community (who are law abiding taxpayers loyal to the country) for not voting the way some quarters want is tantamount to showing contempt to our cherished democratic process, rule of law and the spirit of our Federal Constitution.

It may even be regarded as blackmailing and intimidating the electorate into voting in a certain manner.

What happens if these promoters are still not satisfied and feel that the selective punishment on these voters, such as denying aid and development, does not go far enough? Where do we draw the line? We should learn from history on how to treat voters who are increasingly aware of their rights and to address their legitimate expectations.

Those who, under the guise of democracy, prey on the emotional fears of certain groups to stir up unnecessary tension, should be exposed for the dinosaurs that they are – and reminded that their era has passed.

Most of our mainstream political leaders (government and opposition), thankfully, do not fall into this category but it pays to be ever vigilant to ensure that such potential agent provocateurs do not gain a foothold, influence or legitimacy.

Another misconception being promoted is the need to get all the races united under their respective ethnic representation before we can achieve racial unity. It has never happened before and it will never happen this way, as our society is not programmed to develop in such a mechanistic manner.

This is not to deny that past democratic racial representation and bargaining in the period before, during and after independence had helped to establish some order and stability and therefore a semblance of harmony.

Even former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad stated only last week that the ethnic polarisation into two main blocks of racial representation (Malays versus Chinese) would spell disaster and dire consequences for the country.

So how can we achieve racial unity? While mutual respect and social justice are essential elements, the most important ingredient is equality or the acceptance of equality of all races by all races.

Nowhere in the world can unity be sustainable unless there is genuine equality. Any ethnic community which feels it is being treated “less than equal” would not seriously want to unite with the other communities on a long-term basis.

Equality is based on a person’s attitude and outlook. It’s not about supporting or opposing vernacular schools; it’s not about tolerating other races or religions; it’s not about paying lip service to the voters every five years or less. And it’s not about the laws and policies needed to minimise racial conflict. All these are symptoms or signs of ethnic harmony or disharmony or measures needed to mitigate or minimise the effects of the problem.

Equality is about treating a person of another race the same way you want to be treated yourself. It is about challenging the negative racial stereotyping and questioning within ourselves, our family and friends the prejudices that we may have of other races.

It is about accepting, that despite the differences in our skin colour and cultures, we are all biologically, genetically and mentally the same. We are all from one human race but in a wide variety of “forms” while “substance” is the same for all races.

Equality is about accepting another person of another race as “one of us” or one of the same kind like your own. It’s like putting oneself in a same scenario of, for example, empathising with a family of another race going through a tragedy.

A key objective of the struggle of the Palestinians against Zionism, of the Bosnians against the former genocidal Serb leaders, of the black people of South Africa against apartheid and of the coloured communities against racism in the West is about achieving equality, of being treated and respected as equals as the rest.

The situation in our country is certainly not like those mentioned here but such divisive and oppressive threats exist and the people of all races must be on guard against them.

Whether you like or dislike, agree or disagree with another person of another race, it must be based only on his ideas, attitude, personality, actions and politics and not simply because he is from a different race.

On achieving social justice (another ingredient for unity), affirmative action to help the poor and the socially disadvantaged seems to be the answer.

However, studies around the world have indicated that it must be based on need and has a fixed time frame. Unfettered and unlimited affirmative policies will lead to abuses and undermine the self-reliance and the self-improvement of the very community it sets out to help. It would be counter-productive in the long run.

The sole purpose of affirmative action is to create a level playing field for the poor in order for them to acquire the skills and knowledge to be on their own, so that they compete freely with others.

In this age of globalisation and increasing competition from other countries and economic groupings, Malaysia can ill-afford to wait and slow down the economy too much in order for the socially disadvantaged to catch up.

What we need is a philosophy that, while abiding by free-market principles, tempers that with compassion and an emphasis on social justice.

So, what is the most crucial ingredient for national unity? That same old rule stressed by the religious traditions of all Malaysians: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

This is K.K. Tan’s last article for this column. Next month, he starts a new one that will deal with not just race but other more global issues. His 29 articles from this column plus contributions from some leaders will be compiled into a book to be published by June.

  1. #1 by yangturk on Thursday, 28 April 2011 - 10:03 am

    When we lose rationality, high and lofty ideals are just mere words. The only difference between humans and animals is the capacity to REASON, this seems to be a rare element now even amongst those who lead.

  2. #2 by k1980 on Thursday, 28 April 2011 - 10:09 am

    The most important ingredient for national unity is EQUALITY. Once there is EQUALITY, everything else will fall into place.

    The 1789 French Revolution was based on equality, liberty, and fraternity. It marked a milestone in the world’s history of human rights. These principles were the basis of the French Revolution for which thousands of French sacrificed their lives to topple the despotic monarchy.

  3. #3 by hallo on Thursday, 28 April 2011 - 12:05 pm

    Name those not support MALAYSIAN Malaysia

    Or interest racial issue in Malaysia


  4. #4 by ktteokt on Thursday, 28 April 2011 - 11:16 pm

    The most important ingredient for national unity is the RUKUNEGARA – but it has to be taken in its full context with implementation to these four words contained in the preamble – MEMBINA MASYARAKAT YANG ADIL which means Ketuanan Melayu has to be ABOLISHED!!!!

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