Much have been said and written about the current state of unity in the country. We hear voices of concerns from the top leadership of the country to common civilians on the streets and coffee shops. All are worried with the social temperature of the relationships among the different racial groups. Conversations of the older generations centre upon reminiscing the ‘good old days’ when bonds of friendships and brotherhood (and sisterhood) transcend the colours of the skin or the names that came with it be they Ahmad, Bala, Chong, Mary or Daljit. Harmonious relations, tolerance and mutual acceptance were identities of the people and the nation. Sadly, at this present moment, such values that identify our Malaysia are all mostly written in the ‘past tense’.
One tries to trace where it all started. What makes temperatures rise in our society today, how did prejudices and hatred become creeping norms and who should be blamed for all that have been going on are among questions in need of immediate answers. We should realise that as much as how difficult it was to strengthen the trusts among people of different races and religions to coexist harmoniously, it takes only a few minutes of irresponsible and inconsiderate small handful of individuals to destroy that trust.
One of the main problems with unity today is when its narratives are determined through the partisan lenses. Some leaders have the tendency to leverage on matters that would expedite their group interests, either individually or collectively. The danger to this game is when there are those who use or rather abuse ethnic, religious and cultural differences as the trump card for sectarian gains. The danger to this game is too obvious for all to see when short-thinking and emotions are not guided by wisdom, patience and spirit of goodwill. The effect will be disastrous to the survival of this nation and also to the credibility of any government.
Leaders from all political divides should try to use common terms associated with unity to ensure the objectives of unity and peaceful coexistence are achieved. Terms like tolerance, harmony, goodwill and diversity must be mutually understood and carry the same meaning for them to be greatly appreciated. Leaders should also realise that not all matters that involve differences in ethnicity and religion are actually aimed at demeaning the other. Statements and speeches of leaders are signals to their followers on the actions that they must take. Responsible leaders will seek to minimise chaos and elements that can destroy the stability of the society but instead will use their positions to foster better relationships and promote ties of friendship among their followers and other members in the society. Leaders in the country should be aware that their ability to unite the society is integrant in achieving the goals of a successful nation. A true leader will use his or her position of leadership to further enhance his or her moral character and bring goodness to the society.
It is important to be objective when dealing with issues that can cause conflict and chaos in the country. Problems that arise which might be associated with the pluralistic character of the society require solutions that stem from the spirit of consensus. Harmonious relations among people of different ethnic groups, religions and cultures should not be at the behest of certain figures only. Rivalries among groups must not put national unity at stake.
Unity should be an agenda which is above constrictive politics. Common Malaysians must learn to bring our own narratives that promote mutual understanding and respect. The cultural and ethnic diversities are actually pillars of strength that can become a sense of pride to all Malaysians. It is time for all, leaders included, to shift the focus of the nation to the agenda of nation building. The Constitution has already provided us with a strong framework for our engagement with one another. We need to learn to set aside our egos for unity to work.
Unity for Malaysia is a continuous pursuit. It should be the noble mission of every individual Malaysian. It must not be left solely in the hands of the government or just leaders. As the rakyat, we need to keep on spreading words of peace and harmony and conduct ourselves in a manner where respect and tolerance are reflected in our actions. We have nothing to lose if we do this and everything to lose if we let partisan politics and political rivalries shape how we should relate to one another. It is high time for the rakyat to lead the agenda of unity for Malaysia.