So I was filling up this questionnaire that The Malaysian Insight sent as part of their assessment of the 1 year anniversary of the PH government. And this question, “Do you think PH is doing a good job managing race and religious relations?” was the hardest to answer and in the end I chose “I don’t know”.
The thing is that I think race and religious relations have been going downhill since a long time ago when BN became more and more Malay-Islam centric and allowed the rise of the notion of ketuanan melayu into the the Malaysian vocabulary. Wikipedia suggests that it was during Badawi’s time that the language came into common discourse although the notion existed long before. This not only legitimises the idea that one race is superior, but cements the presumption that this is a right. This statement in 2003 by Azimi Daim captures the mindset: “In Malaysia, everybody knows that Malays are the masters of this land. We rule this country as provided for in the federal constitution. Any one who touches upon Malay affairs or criticizes Malays is [offending] our sensitivities.”
The spirit and principles of Rukunegara that were established by Tun Razak after the 1969 riots are largely forgotten and ignored. These principles formed the Malaysian national philosophy instituted by royal proclamation on Merdeka Day, 1970 and reads as follows (translated in English):
WHEREAS OUR COUNTRY, MALAYSIA nurtures the ambitions of:
- Achieving a more perfect unity amongst the whole of her society;
- Preserving a democratic way of life;
- Creating a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner;
- Guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and
- Building a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology.
WE, HER PEOPLE, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends guided by these principles:
- BELIEF IN GOD
- LOYALTY TO KING AND COUNTRY
- THE SUPREMACY OF THE CONSTITUTION
- THE RULE OF LAW
- COURTESY AND MORALITY
Race relations these days are a far cry from the ideals of Rukunegara. BUT it has certainly improved from the past few years when even a major Malay newspaper can run a headline “Apa lagi Cina mau?” which although translates simply as “What else do the Chinese want?” is framed in a rude and derogatory way.
Today the challenge is how to deal with UMNO and PAS who believe that their only recourse to power is to appeal to Malay-Muslim sensitivities and tries their level best to paint the government as one that does not defend the rights of the Malay-Muslim community. The situation gets worse when Muslim religious leaders and royalty enter the picture.
At the same time, in the more open atmosphere that the PH government has fostered, other communities, not least civil society advocates, also clamour for support of their issues, including Sabah and Sarawak over their rights as established during the formation of Malaysia.
As a fledgling government it is not easy to assert authority and as a government committed to respecting all communities neither is authoritarian rule its chosen approach. But at some point all parties need to rally round the government or we will be in danger of drifting further apart. All of us have a stake in this because the alternative, communal disintegration, or held together by force of law, will be detrimental to all, but especially the poor and defenceless.
The answer to the question is that race and religious relations, indeed unity, does not lie solely in the hands of the PH government but on all stakeholders and all of us as Malaysians. And we need to pray that God will instill good people to come to the forefront to forge a strong foundation for unity. And certainly resurrecting the Rukunegara would be a good starting point.