NO nation is built in a day. Our nation’s potential and attributes as it is known today is an accumulation of its rich historical experience. The historical journey of our great nation reached an important milestone on Sept 16, 1963, six years after its independence, when Malaysia was formally announced as an independent and sovereign federation.
Without a doubt, the formation of Malaysia marks only the beginning of our nation’s ascension towards greater heights. I pray that this blessed motherland will flourish as a nation that firmly stands on equal footing with others, and even more, especially in addressing the many challenges at the global stage.
Since its inception, Malaysia derives its strength from the ability of its people to remain united in the face of diversity.
“Diversity is Malaysia, and Malaysia is diversity”. Diversity is such an integral element to Malaysia that without it, our nation will cease to exist. Diversity and multiculturalism have long been a perennial challenge to governments worldwide and many have failed miserably by pandering to “easy” solutions that promise unity at the expense of diversity.
Malaysia has always been a staunch defender of ethnic, racial, cultural and religious diversity, and has no intention of stopping now. While we continue to debate on the issues surrounding national identity, lest we forget the shining example provided by the fore-founders of this nation who chose to preserve diversity within their mould of unity, as opposed to moulding unity through uniformity.
Amidst our struggle to trust one another and prolonged contestations over which specific ethnicity owns the country, our forefathers and predecessors have long deliberated the ideal model for Malaysia.
Sabah and Sarawak are the sparks that gave birth to the formation of Malaysia. The Borneo states are exemplary microcosms of Malaysian diversity since both have thrived within a plural society, and have “tasted” or “savoured” the sweetness of living in a multi-cultural society for generations.
Nevertheless, diversity remains a challenge for us. After 62 years of independence, we continue to argue about “who owns Malaysia?”. We continue to spread narratives of victimisation where a particular ethnic group is being oppressed by another. Even more worrying is the trend of (mis)using religion as a tool against diversity. Unfortunately, until today, we remain trapped in the endless habit of seeing each other through the lens of ethnic egotism (or egoism).
The formal establishment of a state called Malaysia only marked the first steps of a long journey which now brings us to the phase of New Malaysia. In this phase, we strive to develop and strengthen the cores of economic prosperity, social cohesion and public well-being for all Malaysians, excluding none. The current challenge is how to deal with the ever-growing calls for narrow racial and religious narratives, often for the sake of guarding specific selfish interests.
Shouldn’t the interest of the country become our most significant concern?
It is unforeseeable that a more unifying narrative that promotes a single Malaysian nation (that includes all ethnicity, sex, and religion) can flourish if prejudice and negative sentiments based on ethnicity or religion continue to increase in our inter-ethnic relationships.
As diversity is both a celebrated and inescapable reality in Malaysia, there is a pressing need to have a cultural bridge built on sincere trust and deep love for one another. In this regard, we pave the following acronym R.A.H.M.A.H which carries six qualities: Amicable (Ramah), Peaceful (Aman), Harmonious (Harmoni), Genial (Mesra), Universal (Alami) and Respectful (Hormat).
We desire a united and strong nation that can realise the Shared Prosperity vision in which all citizens would reap a fairer portion of the economic “harvest”, in addition to propelling the nation’s economy towards reclaiming its status as a “roaring” Asian Tiger.
We cannot afford any compromise on efforts that harm or destroy our nation’s diversity under the guise of unity. Religion offers us ample guidance in addressing diversity. Islam, as the religion of the Federation, teaches us that diversity is a deliberate creation of God in which healthy interaction is vital towards cultivating a harmonious society.
The core principle of “universal compassion” (Rahmatan Lil Alamin), which is underpinned by the principles of peace and harmony, is the unifying thread that will bind our diverse society. It is a principle that will ensure everything is preserved peacefully in its proper place. This is the challenge that we have undertaken to safeguard the trust (Amanah) of the nation.
Some would argue that Malaysia could have opted for an “easier” solution which prioritises uniformity (or homogeneity) at the expense of diversity. Defending diversity, however, is the right and wise decision, especially since Malaysia has become one of the world’s leading models in terms of commitment towards diversity and its quest for peace and harmony.
This is a success story that needs to be preserved. We should put our lives to defend it. Our enemies are those who try to undermine diversity by spreading “viruses” of discord that fan racial and religious hatred, often for a purported “cause”. What kind of “cause” leads to hate and hostility? Do we wish to let everything our nation has built fall into ruins merely for the sake of a “struggle”?
What should be our first struggle is to safeguard our diversity by striving to provide a “mould” that allows and protects diversity while having a unique identity of its own. This “mould” represents our beloved state of Malaysia, and the diversity it protects are us the Malaysian people.
Let’s protect our nation and preserve our diversity, and pray that our country will progress into a nation respected by friend and foe. To that end, together, we embrace diversity as we embark on an ark of peace and harmony.
Selamat Hari Malaysia.
The writer, the MP for Parit Buntar, is a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department