A moderate Malaysia at all costs by Michelle Tam - The STAR
PETALING JAYA: Moderation has never been so important in the history in Malaysia.
And in an age where some find our differences dire enough to divide us, The Star Media Group managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai feels there is a pressing need to focus on commonalities.
“Important values like patience, forgiveness, understanding, tolerance, the fight against corruption... we find that all religions emphasise those. So why must we talk about differences in all religions and races?” he queried.
Earlier last year, The Star initiated the Voices of Moderation campaign to pave the way for pledges for open, rational and moderate discussions from balanced voices on a variety of issues affecting the country.
The moderation campaign runs parallel with The Star’s Brave Views, Bold Ideas campaign that was launched later to encourage Malaysians to espouse moderation while being open, rational and balanced in their discussions.
Despite appreciating the support shown for the campaign, Wong finds that nothing much has changed one year on, and finds himself wishing that more people would speak up as advocates of moderation.
“If you do not speak up, you are also responsible for the state of the country,” he cautioned.
Wong also finds that Malaysian leaders tend to shy away from pertinent issues at home, even though they speak about moderation in an eloquent fashion at the world stage.
“A wrong is a wrong, and I don’t think they should remain quiet. If you want to be known for your moderation stand, you should start at home,” he said.
For instance, the only Government leader who spoke up for gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi - who was criticised for her “revealing” competition attire - was Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
“I wish that more Cabinet ministers had spoken up. Why must it be restricted to only one person?” Wong added.
Hence, he hopes that Malaysians will remain liberal-minded to avoid being hijacked by religious or racist figures.
“I don’t care what’s the colour of your skin, or your religion, or about anything else. To me, you’re either a good human being or a bad human being.
“It’s as simple as that. Because the colour of our blood is red - it’s all the same,” he added.
Running the good race
Of course, there is a price to pay for what you believe in and what you choose to stand up for.
“I’ve been sued by Perkasa, and The Star has been sued. It’s still pending. I’ve received threats whenever I write or say something,” he said.
According to Wong, some of his friends in the moderation campaign have reason to believe that they had lost certain contracts and positions - such as a directorship at a government-linked company - because of their liberal views.
With Malaysia being a melting pot and a plural society, Wong believes there is nothing wrong in declaring oneself as a secular liberal.
“We have paid a price in some form of our personal liberty, but we will continue to stand up and voice what we think should be right for Malaysia,” he promised.
However, Wong acknowledged that some Malaysians face difficulty in articulating their views, which is reflected in the local use of social media.
“We are brought up in a society where we do not question the authorities. It’s a monologue. And when people do not wish to articulate their views, we don’t really know what they think!” he explained.
Those on social media can feel much more empowered to speak their mind, albeit in an unsavoury fashion.
“They can’t articulate, they put you down, and they call you a lot of racist names, which I think doesn’t reflect your ability to think or be reasonable or be moderate. That’s the sad part of Malaysia - we are not using the platform correctly,” said Wong
Thankfully, it is not all doom and gloom on social media.
Wong lauded his fellow moderates on the platform, citing the likes of Syed Azmi, G25 coordinator Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin and Anas Zubedy as sterling advocates of the cause.
“Syed never looks at a particular person from a racial point of view - he sees their needs. I know he spends a lot of time cruising around KL at 3am, helping people. He talks to them and listens in a very patient way,” he said.
Wong also holds Anas in high regard for being brave and moderate enough to turn a critical eye on one’s own faith, as it is all too easy to criticise another religion and another race.
“When you point out the weaknesses of your own community, your own ethnic group and your own religion, you will feel a lot of pressure. When it comes to criticising your own, it’s very important. Because you want that benchmark, you want to be fair.
“Anas does that a lot and I think the pressure has always been enormous for him. For all these brave people who have spoken up, I can only salute them,” he added.
In efforts to reach the heartlands of Malaysia, including the rural areas and new villages, Wong also hopes to see more people fluent in mother tongues - such as Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil - spread the clarion call for moderation.
Though Wong believes race and religion will continue to be an issue in Malaysia in his lifetime, he thinks the focus should remain on acceptance and tolerance.
“We have to be realistic. Race continues to be a dominating factor even in places like the United States. Maybe not in an institutional form, but the fact remains that it will always be a problem.
“There are things that we cannot change in our time, because that’s simply how things are made out to be. That’s why we have to work on areas that we can work on together,” he added.
For one, it must be a widely accepted fact that Malaysia belongs to Malaysians of all races.
“I find it disturbing that the country is also becoming much more religiously conservative. This is not the Malaysia that we know, this is not the Malaysia that we want.
“We want Malaysia to be what it is and has always been - multiracial, multireligious, and we seek the views of everyone,” he concluded.