The journey in nation building by Shad Saleem Faruqi - The STAR
The people need to improve their knowledge of the Constitution as the delicate provisions dealing with inter-ethnic relations can help to moderate extremism.
TILL the nineties Malaysia was regarded as an exemplar of how a deeply divided, plural society can survive and thrive politically, economically and socially.
However, some believe that lately we have regressed; that racial and religious polarisation has reached alarming levels; that unlike other parts of the world where walls of ethnic separation are being dismantled, in Peninsular Malaysia these walls are being fortified.
A large number of painful, intractable issues keep on tugging at the frayed social fabric.
The above pessimistic view is not shared by all.
Datuk Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, Distinguished Professor at the UKM Institute of Ethnic Studies has eloquently argued that in their daily interaction Malaysians enjoy “cross-cutting social ties” and exist “in a state of social cohesion”.
“Even in times of fierce competition”, Malaysians “talk conflict, walk cohesion”.
In his view, the empirical reality is that Malaysia is a nation “in a state of stable tension”.
Malaysians “prefer tongue wagging not parang (machete) wielding”.
Contestation between different ethnic groups does exist but the chosen path is one of consensus not conflict.
Indeed this is so and credit must be given where it is due.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that new grouses, new problems and demands have come to the fore.
One cannot rest on past laurels. The search for a “new middle ground” is a constant challenge.
Nation-building is a journey, not a destination. To consolidate the achievements of the past, a number of legal, political, administrative, economic and educational measures need to be reinforced.
Constitutional literacy: We need to improve knowledge of the Constitution’s glittering generalities, especially its provisions on inter-ethnic relations.
If we study the drafting of the Constitution, we will see that the forefathers of our Constitution were animated by a spirit of accommodation, moderation, compassion and tolerance.
The Constitution, even in its “ethnic provisions”, sought to avoid extreme measures and provided for a balance between the interests of the “Bumiputera” and “non-Bumiputera” communities.
Regrettably, the level of constitutional literacy is very low and needs to be overcome at all levels – from schools, colleges and universities to the civil service and parliamentarians.
Employment: The public and private sectors are trapped in a tit-for-tat riposte of ethnic prejudices. In recruitments and promotions, ethnicity remains significant. We need to put all this behind us and expand our circle of life.
Subject to the constitutionally permitted quotas of Article 153 in four specified areas, racial differentiation must be prohibited in both the public and private sectors by a National Harmony, Civil Rights or Race Relations Act.
Build bridges, not walls: All of us have the national duty of building ethnic bridges and dismantling walls, of healing and reconciling, and of developing a vision of unity.
A beginning can be made by recognising that disagreements are natural. Truth is multiple. Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
Education: The primary and secondary educational systems must nurture tolerance, mutual respect and inter-cultural dialogue.