MORE than 50 years have passed since the days when we held out hope for the emergence of a nation built on the pillars of diversity and unity. Many who grew up in those years are still holding out the same hope today, in spite of the rising tide of voices calling for supremacy in some circles.
Yes, Minister. The promising tide of post-independence is supposed to take the country and its people to a point of great convergence and propel us further beyond today and tomorrow as a people regardless of ethnicity, creed and belonging.
That was the ethos and the ‘Holy Grail’, and we now worry that they are edging further away.
But everyone is reportedly doing their best, from leaders of the land to the farmer in a remote rustic village, to stitch together many of the torn and detached patches to form a strong socio-cultural tapestry of many colours.
But what is the best?
Does the nation come first, or their ethnic community?
Additionally, the seams of the patched-together items may need to be repaired indefinitely because people and groups who are not open to other colours and designs will likely pull on them, stretching and tearing the seams.
Yes, Minister. Such a social tapestry still needs to take shape and be accepted in the face of unfriendly forces to the efforts of well-meaning Malaysians who look beyond the narrow confines of ethnicity and religion to a higher pedestal of achievable unification and progress.
No justification for discrimination
The United Nations (UN), of which Malaysia is a member and also a member of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the 2022- 2024 term, has made it abundantly clear that there is no justification for racial discrimination, either in theory or in practice, and that any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust, and dangerous.
Interpretatively, Malaysia supports the UN’s stance in affirming the necessity of speedily eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations, and of securing understanding of and respect for the dignity of the human person.
Given the UN’s position, which is now widely accepted as a global norm, those local groups with political or social leanings towards ethnic supremacy should have no justification for advancing their agenda of hegemony.
‘Supremacy’ is abhorrent
Yes and indeed, Minister. Theirs is an anachronistic cause that struggles to find space in modern times.
In a more extreme linguistic sense, the word ‘supremacy’ is abhorrent and was once part of the vocabulary of former colonial rulers who oppressed men’s dignity and engaged in rampant discrimination.
That was then. Period.
The people-sanctioned order of democracy must not be distracted by the ghost of colonialism, a time when white power supremacy once flourished.
But supremacy in the country must now find expression and greater meaning in the unity and collective power of people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.
This is based on the principles of the dignity and equality inherent in all human beings, which are spelled out clearly in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Yes, Minister. No one in this instance is more supreme than the other.
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to all of the freedoms and rights outlined in it, without distinction of any kind, especially with regard to race or colour.
If that is not enough to wake us up to our senses on human rights and human dignity, which are seemingly sidestepped by advocates of ethnic supremacy and nuanced ethnocentricity, we need to be reminded of this.
Where does this place the constant promotion of ethnic superiority and other xenophobic ideologies by certain quarters in the country?
Is the ethnic-centric initiative and its claims to uphold the rights and dignity of the community widely understood and accepted within the same community?
Yes, Minister. This is the first question we need to ask and seek a thorough response to.
Is the effort to bring the community together and utilise its diverse potential for the pursuit of a shared socio-economic destiny within the broader context of multiracial Malaysia purely motivated by social factors?
In other words, is it a puritanical social doctrine designed to improve the socio-economic well-being of the community without sending waves of fear to other ethnic groups?
No reason to feel threatened
In the more than 60 years since independence, Bumiputeras have steadily advanced in all facets of the economy and increased equity participation. There has never been a time when Bumiputeras were not in charge of steering the nation on its path to nationhood.
Yes, Minister. There’s no reason to feel threatened and there’s no reason to make others feel threatened.
That leads us into thinking if the cause is a myth, or reality.
Notwithstanding the aforesaid, all hearts and minds, irrespective of ethnicity and creed, should be on advancing the cause of ‘Malaysia Madani’ or ‘Civil Malaysia’, which focuses mainly on good governance, sustainable development and racial harmony in the country.
However, the message of ‘Malaysia Madani’ and ‘Unity Through Shared Power’ appears to have fallen on deaf ears among some groups that remain adamant about their alleged fear of losing control and dominance in the nation.
Either they are resistant to new ideas, or they have developed a hardened heart that allows them to reject them (new, progressive ideas) with an unforgiving heart.
Agenda of individuals with political aspirations?
Then, what is it that’s keeping certain quarters active and buoyant in their pursuit of the ethnic-centric and supremacy agenda?
Question again must be asked: Is it the community’s overall agenda, or just some individuals with political aspirations?
Yes, Minister. This raises the possibility that it might become a divisive issue.
Further probe will uncover additional concerns and questions, which will ultimately shine a spotlight on certain individuals.
The allegation may not be sufficiently supported at this point, and it is not advisable to go beyond what is permitted by law.
So, let the law take its natural course.
Invoking ethnic consciousness and pushing people towards greater exclusivity is unhealthy for Malaysia’s multi-ethnic social fabric.
They are in opposition to the Unity Government’s current efforts to forge unity, a trajectory of purpose, and a shared pursuit for all.
Sending wrong signal
It has to be restrained.
Better still, it has to be stopped in the interest of well-meaning Malaysians who cherish unity, harmony and sustainable development.
The wrong signal may be sent to other communities in the country if the behaviour, attitudes, and actions of some groups motivated by ethnic centricity are not checked and controlled by the appropriate authorities.
What if the native communities in Sarawak and Sabah — unrelated to their Muslim cousins in Malaya — decide to seek out space and a chance to assert some sort of dominance in a region where they are the majority?
Yes, Minister, it is hypothetical unlike the alarming reality that is brewing in Malaya.
Still, looking ahead into the future, one can never be too presumptuous even if it is widely regarded as hypothetical.
Supremacy non-existent in Sarawak
In the living social-cultural matrix of Sarawak, concepts like ethnic supremacy and exclusivity are non-existent.
As in the years leading up to independence, it is still true and applicable today.
The secret to Sarawak’s success lies in this unbroken living tapestry that has withstood the test of time.
Here, inter-ethnic respect, unity and harmony are passed down through generations rather than being taught or enforced by law and continue to be an integral part of Sarawak culture.
A multi-cultural society like Sarawak values unity and racial harmony, as repeatedly stated by Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg.
The Sarawak government would be the first to take action to eradicate any early signs of ethnic supremacy consciousness and as a result, it will never be able to take root.
Supremacy: A social evil
Yes, Minister. A nation cannot experience stability without peace, unity, and harmony within the community.
Race, religion, and creed should not be grounds for argument or strife among people, much less motivate the majority group to claim superiority over the minority.
In this, ethnic supremacy is a social evil.
Abang Johari describes religious or racial extremism, which underlines ethnic supremacy, as a major disease that gives rise to a split in a society, adding that the basic right of every race and religion should neither be taken lightly nor be threatened by any individuals.
Whither then ethnic supremacy? Has it been ‘hijacked’ by a political ‘bandwagon’ to appeal to a larger mass on the basis of ethnic and religious sentiments?
Yes, Minister, we’ll wait and see.
* Toman Mamora is ‘Tokoh Media Sarawak 2022’, recipient of Shell Journalism Gold Award (1996) and AZAM Best Writer Gold Award (1998). He remains true to his decades-long passion for critical writing as he seeks to gain insight into some untold stories of societal value.