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(File pic) Participants from various agencies recited their vows at the 2019 National Day celebration in the Putrajaya Square. (NSTP/ASWADI ALIAS)

WHAT is the state of race relations in our country today?

After 62 years, it seems to be more racially polarized. It would be too easy to just put the blame on the new Pakatan Harapan government. But actually, everyone one of us is responsible for such a state.

“Every cloud has a silver lining”. In every crisis, there are opportunities to understand better our strengths and weaknesses and to improve, remedy and move on.

Firstly, we must ask ourselves — why do we need national unity?

In the past, while our people were fighting for Merdeka, unity was needed to achieve their mission. Under the able leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman, we were one of the few countries that managed to achieve independence without bloodshed. I shudder to think what would have happened if our people were divided and busy slaughtering each other in the struggle.

As for the present and future, as a small country of 32 million, we need unity to face the harsh external challenges and globalisation. We need unity to be productive, resourceful and efficient in developing our country. We are not going to make it in the brave new world if we allow the trouble makers to divide us and undermine our economy.

It is often the perception of a threat, created or played up by bigots, that causes ethnic strife. Even if a real threat exists, responsible leaders must find a solution to defuse the tension for the sake of national unity rather than pour more oil over fire.

Whatever ethnic background we come from, we must remember that scientifically, there is only one race on this planet of ours — the human race. The basic necessities to survive and progress, to be educated and treated with respect and dignity, to love and enjoy life without causing offense and harm to others and to live in peace and justice, are the same for all, regardless of ethnicity.

The younger generations today tend to be more open-minded, liberal and respectful of cultural diversity in an increasingly globalised world of connectivity. The old shackled mindset based on unjust and unsustainable values is giving way to a more progressive one. In this respect, the recent change in law on reducing the voting age to 18 is the right move.

For those sincere leaders who have integrity and truly love our people and country, they would want to unite, build and develop our country in a just manner for all.

As a champion of the Palestinian cause and other oppressed people for more than 35 years, I would like to share my experience on how to fight racial bigotry.

Many years ago, I got a standing ovation for a speech I gave at a forum with the Palestinian Ambassador to Malaysia, at a local university, to support the uprising of the Palestinian people against the Zionist oppression. Some Muslim students approached me after the forum to ask me, “Encik Tan, you Muslim kah?” I said “no, I am not a Muslim but I support the struggle of all oppressed Muslims. If the Chinese here were to oppress the Muslims, I would fight them too”.

I then added “why must we always see an issue through racial or religious lenses and why can’t we fight for oppressed people of all races based on principles of humanity and justice?”

When Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was severely attacked, especially by the Western media for his superb speech at the 10th OIC Summit in Putrajaya on October 17, 2003 (just before he stepped down), exposing the disproportionate influence of the Zionist lobby, hardly any Muslim leaders spoke out. I felt so indignant on the silence that I wrote a full page article to defend Dr Mahathir in a local English daily on Oct 29, 2003. I wrote another piece which was published in the Asian Wall Street Journal.

When Donald trump became President of the United States in early 2017, he was ramping up Islamophobia, banning Muslims from seven countries to enter the US and stereotyping all Muslims as fanatics or terrorists. There were hardly any responses from Muslim leaders. I wrote at least four big press articles to denounce Trump as blatantl

y racist, insane and being a bigot himself, like some of our own local leaders. My articles were also published in a leading Bahasa Malaysia newspaper.

As for the non-Muslim political parties and leaders in this country, they have not done enough to support oppressed Muslims in other countries, especially the Palestinians.

They must show that they are not a threat to the Muslims and that they care as much for the welfare of Muslims as well. Then, it would not be easy for the Muslim to attack the non-Muslim parties.

All political parties must do more to practice cross-racial representation like what every Member of Parliament must do in their multi-racial constituency. There must be more efforts by all politicians and religious leaders to represent, help and show concern, especially for the poor and needy people of other ethnicity.

Courtesy, humility, civility and respect for cultural diversity are values needed to unite our multiracial society.

The writer is a corporate and political analyst, and CEO of a regional museum project to promote sustainable peace and cultural diversity.

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