This is what I wrote in my diary in the year 2036, 20 years from now.
2036 has been such a wonderful year. At 67 years old, I can still say Malaysia is the best country in the world to live in. It wasn’t always like that. Twenty years ago, people were divided by race, religion and even by different coloured T-shirts!
There was a lot of friction. We didn’t socialise outside of our kind even though we were all Malaysians. It was like, “Hey, we only hang out with people who look or think like us”. Chinese kids didn’t play football. Malay kids didn’t play basketball. It was really strange.
But, it wasn’t always like that, too! Way, WAY back in the 70s, Malaysia was a really different place. I was a PJ (Petaling Jaya) boy and PJ in the 70s was the best place on earth. Jaya Supermarket was my entire world. My best friend was Daniel Lum Kah Weng. We went to La Salle Primary. We cycled and played football every day. I had Sikh friends, Indian friends, my childhood was like a Lat cartoon. We visited each other for Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Christmas, you name it.
In the 80s, I went to Sekolah Menengah Sains Selangor, a boarding school where 90 per cent of the students were Malays from all over Malaysia. It was really different from the urban mixed-race PJ I was used to. Both worlds taught me a lot. But, it did feel like I was in two different countries.
Religious fundamentalism began to take root when I was growing up. Nothing wrong with being religious. It helps us become better human beings. However, we began to be challenged by a certain interpretation of Islam that sought to divide rather than unite Malaysians. And, every ethnic group seemed to think its way was the only way.
The situation worsened when opportunists used religious and ethnic sentiments for their own vested interests, claiming ANY injustice as racially motivated! It looked bleak, diary. We were walking on egg-shells, fearing a religious or racial war at any time.
But, something happened.
Somehow, in 2016, at the height of bigotry, some people rediscovered an age-old national ideology — the Rukun Negara. A result from the dark days of May 13, 1969, the Rukun Negara is a national charter to avoid May 13 from happening all over again. Right there in the Rukun Negara was the answer to unity.
For years after it was launched, there wasn’t any attempt to make Malaysians appreciate the Rukun Negara. Well, that changed in 2016. It took a lot of will and drive but after 2016, everyone — from leaders to corporations to schools to the family — began practising what was in the Rukun Negara instead of just leaving it on the back of our exercise books. It was our way out.
With the Rukun Negara in our hearts, we developed genuine empathy for one another, a crucial ingredient to unite a multiracial society. We started to embrace and respect our fellow Malaysians, even if they didn’t look like us, or have the same religious beliefs.
Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan (Belief in God). Not MY Tuhan. Not Your Tuhan. Tuhan. And, believing in God means ALL of us believing in trustworthiness, honesty and compassion as ALL our religions ask us to.
Soon, even the Islamic extremists realised that the Islamic spirit is not intolerant, but compassionate, universal and inclusive.
In fact, ALL of us got inclusive. We stopped viewing injustice from only our point of view. If a person was being wronged, we stopped thinking that his whole ethnic group was being attacked.
The Rukun Negara taught us to have Love for Our Country, to have Integrity and Justice, Good Manners and Morality. To be Liberal and Progressive. These were shared values we knew we must uphold as they made us true Malaysians! We fought anyone who acted against the Rukun Negara.
After 2016, our leaders became brave enough to tell any bigot or extremist: “Stop being stupid.”
Now, in 2036, Malaysia is a far cry from 20 years ago.
The Rukun Tetangga is back in full swing. Nowadays, it is more about food and concerts in the park but EVERYONE is there.
Sekolah kebangsaan has now combined the best of Chinese education, Tamil education and international education all into one. EVERYONE wants to get into sekolah kebangsaan now.
EVERYONE speaks really good Bahasa Malaysia. That has given us a distinct global identity. And, we also speak good English, Mandarin and even Tamil!
We had a street rally yesterday. There were the yellow shirts, of course. And, the red shirts. And, of course, the blue shirts and the white shirts because together, yellow, red, blue and white make up the colours of the national flag! It was more of a street party to celebrate our national flag than a street rally actually.
Our political parties, even though still organised around racial lines, have stopped manipulating racist sentiments to get support. They realised that the party that represents ONE race but fights for ALL races wins!
And, now, when there’s an accident on the roadside, the first question is not “Melayu? Cina?” We ALL help the poor and disadvantaged, whoever they are.
In fact, our police, army and bomba are multiracial now. Finally, in 2036, after nearly 80 years of Merdeka, we have found a national identity. And, that has helped us unite. To think it was right under our noses in the Rukun Negara.
And, guess what, once we were united, the magic really began. Because we went BEYOND unity for the sake of harmony into unity to create and produce like no other. Our potent multiethnic combination supercharged Malaysia into the world and no one could compete! They don’t have our multiculture formula!
We are known globally for innovation, our success attributed to our unique culture mix and our multilingual population.
Our creative arts have produced worldwide hits. Someone did a mash-up jazz big-band hip-hop EDM version of Negaraku, and it won a Grammy.
Our multiracial football team reminds me of the 70s, of players like Soh Chin Aun, R. Arumugam, Santokh Singh and Mokhtar Dahari. We qualified AGAIN for the World Cup.
In fact, everything reminds me of the 70s in PJ, growing up in that Lat world. I should call Daniel, my old friend, and hang out like old times.
The Rukun Negara is in a glass-encased box in the museum and many go to see this amazing document that got us out of trouble. It’s displayed together with the Malaysian Constitution and Wawasan 2020 documents.
What about those documents, you ask? Well, let’s save the Constitution and Wawasan 2020 for tomorrow night. That’s an even MORE magical story.
Good night, diary.
Ahmad Izham Omar works in the production of TV, film and music content, and gets panicky trying to figure out his next tweet. He is also a member of the board of trustees of 1Malaysia Foundation