A meditation about the common bond of life and how it relates to the recent tussle for ownership of the word ‘Allah’. This is an essay in three parts which will be published over three consecutive days. Comments may only be made on the third instalment. This final segment discusses the possible steps we as a nation can take to get out of the political rut we are in as a result of turning the word ‘Allah’ into an issue.
So where do we, as Malaysians of this beautiful country go from here? I do not have all the answers. In fact, I do not think any of us individually do. But together, if we engage with each other with soul-searching honesty, with complete humility, without seeking some advantage for ourselves, I truly believe we can find it, I truly believe we can work at it and I truly believe if we give it our best effort, we can even come to learn how to love and appreciate one another.
My first suggestion is that we cannot leave it to the government, to the non-governmental organizations, to the media, to even our Imams, church leaders or temple priests. Each and every one of us has to shoulder that responsibility to commence that engagement with each other in the manner I spoke of earlier.
My second suggestion is that we all have to start taking an interest in not just our own religion and culture but others as well. The political Malay cannot go around demanding that others respect them while they go about disrespecting and being ignorant about other cultures and religious beliefs. The political Malay must start the process of learning about other religions and cultures and even better, look for the commonalities between them. The political Malay must realize, in spite of their fear, that the others (the Indian community, the Chinese, the Orang Asli, etc.) are not out to annihilate them, to demean them or to show that they are superior to them. In truth, most are only too ready to understand and help them. They must view favourably and be more patient with the others’ attempt to understand them. So often I see Malays tell their Chinese and Indian countrymen to shut up and not ask when they try to learn something of their culture and religion. The Malays must try to understand that to be asked is not the same as to be questioned, so there is no need to be defensive and contemptuous.
The Chinese and Indians in turn must try to understand and comprehend not simply the Malays but the political Malay that has been so subjected to the reckless damaging policies of our government and be less harsh with the appraisal and appreciation of them. They must come to understand that no matter how many times the Malays try to push them away they must not recoil into fear and loathing, but keep returning to their sides, always ready to forgive and embrace them with the widest arms.
Yes, I know they have been marginalized, oppressed and discriminated against but the solution does not lie in more of the same. The way out of this conundrum does not lie in revenge or apathy. It lies in compassion, empathy, patience and fondness, if not love. These of course are the hardest things to have and hold on to in an environment of distrust, contempt, ignorance and fear, and that is why it is all the more important that we do so.
My third suggestion is that we, as citizens of Malaysia, if we truly love our country and want to make it a better place, all have to try and give it our best effort. That effort and the will to drive that effort will be difficult, it will be painful, it will always be disheartening. The greatest prizes often demand the most heart wrenching, soul searching and demanding of efforts, if not the prize would not be great.
A harmonious, peaceful, flourishing and loving Malaysia is one of the greatest prizes our country can hope to have. So great is that prize that one or a few men cannot achieve it, nor even a group of people, nor even a group of organizations. That prize is so great that it commands nothing less than the efforts of our entire country, the efforts of each and every one of us to pour ourselves into that struggle so that we can all claim it together because we can only claim it together or not at all.
These three suggestions are my meager offerings in trying to foster and cultivate a more refined engagement on the conundrum besetting our country. I know it is not easy and so I hope very much that I can last and stay the course and live to see that our country claim that great prize, or at the very least all our children would. I cannot bear the thought that our future generations would have to dwell in such oppressive and fearful conditions, and toil in the humidity of anger and hatred as we do now.
Let us take that first step and stop asking, How am I different from you?
Let us instead ask, How alike are we?