On a global scale, the world has begun to look inwards. The western world is closing the door on globalisation as we witness President Trumps’ presidency unfold with the issues that have managed to broil, if not spark ethnic tensions around the world. Across the Atlantic, Brexit (in the United Kingdom) has caused much trouble as regret glooms over England. Brexit was a response to the growth of migration in England (However, it might be debatable), and another door shut upon globalisation and the free movement of people as the British respond to need to strengthen their national identity.
Back in tropical Malaysia, in the comfort of our newly developed buildings and fast-rising skyscrapers in central Kuala Lumpur, we go about our daily lives interacting with individuals from different races and ethnicities. Malaysia is a nation that was founded in recognition of three different races – Malay, Chinese and Indian. Unlike England, we started off diverse. Not just in ethnicity, but in culture and skin tones. Thankfully, our country has not allowed ethnic and racial tensions to broil since the infamous 13th May incident in 1969 that haunts us until today.
Following the incident and the years of development, Malaysia has not seen an incident as horrible as it. Without a doubt, the country puts in a large amount of resources in ensuring national peace and harmony, and in Malaysia’s case, that would be interracial harmony. Our interracial harmony is secured.
But, as the saying goes, “Security is like Oxygen. when you have enough of it, you pay no attention to it. But when you don’t have enough, you can think of nothing else.” Have we forgotten, and do we really understand the depth behind the meaning of “interracial harmony” that our country depends on so heavily?
We might not be aware of the importance of interracial harmony among Malaysians, if not a country as a whole. It is essentially the first security concern for our country seeing as but for stability in the country, doors would open to threaten the other aspects of security in our country – that includes financial and foods security.
Developments are not made as political instability is absent. And this is a simplified version of the importance and links between security and interracial harmony. Without a doubt, racial issues are an important security concern that is synonym to sensitivities in Malaysia. However, given the utterance of political rhetoric in Malaysia, one wonders if a sense of realisation is as widespread on its sensitivities as one would think.
If you look out the window, you see the harmony that exists between the residents – our neighbours, friends and colleagues. From our naked eye, we see nothing but people of different colours brushing shoulders in public places with the absence of hostility.
But occasionally, you would read the headlines in the newspapers on incidents that may open doors toward a possible friction between races. More so now, not just exclusive towards the three main races in Malaysia, but involving communities of different ethnic and origin who have made Malaysia its home. There is a there that we, as a community need to grow more aware of, and be more sensitive of to maintain our peace and harmony. It’s only our responsibility to police our community to not fuel fire by not allowing hostilities to flourish. We do the most that we can, even if it might seem the smallest thing we can do to others.
The Racial Discrimination Report 2016 (by Pusat KOMAS, a Non-Governmental Organisation) published in March this year (2017) identified racial discrimination based on ethnicity in education, health care, finance, workforce and welfare. Unfortunately, as stated in the report, and referred to in the New Straits Times’ article, there was a continuation of the discrimination on an upward trend.
So the question remains, as Malaysia develops and attracts people from across the regions and beyond, can we resist the broiling of tensions that knock on our doors from rhetoric that are uttered, especially the political ones that, in recent months, have become louder given the 14th general elections looming around the corner? After all, the Malay saying goes, “kerana mulut, badan berbinasa”.
Worries are all around. They are being uttered and conveyed by the civil society. Eddin Khoo, a respected scholar and civil society member highlights just this year, how disharmony is currently not currently problem, but might soon be given the growing polarisation that happens in Malaysia. This follows decades of social conditioning. As we are aware of, no human being is born racist. Seeds of racism or antagonism are planted in to have us conditioned against a certain race, or culture. We did not wake up one day to discriminate against a skin tone – we were taught to.
As Malaysia’s racial demographic widens and grows more diverse, one wonders about the correlation between the growth of polarisation in race and ethnicity in the country with the growing worry over interracial harmony in Malaysia. Groups such as G25, 1Malaysia and the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM), among the many have raised concerns about how racial harmony should be thought about by Malaysians. Matters are further exacerbated given the global growth of religious extremism that has found its way into Malaysia. Just this year, numerous terrorist attacks were stopped by our Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM).
But personally thinking further about this, things seem to have a contradictory nature – or rather, interracial harmony in Malaysia is conditional. In urban areas, you would hear of incidents were the country’s interracial harmony and tolerance being questioned. But, the same cannot be said with rural areas. Having had my own experience of engaging with the rural communities in Kelantan, I have witnessed Chinese and Malays in Kelantan sharing a tikar together in shelter homes during the flood season in Kelantan.
They cook, and eat from the same wok. They participate in the same community to benefit each other despite the impressions those across the state borders have upon the state. Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese women were comfortably dressed in anything but a hijab. Eddin Khoo had also demonstrated his experience, too from working with the rural folk where animosity of different races do not exist. Instead, absolute warmth exists instead. If one thing is prominent, it’s the hostile sentiment that exists in urban areas that we hear of more than those in the rural areas. So, does that mean hostility between races exist according to one’s socio-economic class?
One could think to argue about racial harmony that currently exists, or does not exist in Malaysia. But what’s important and should be focused on would be to ascertain racial harmony is achieved in the future. We should begin looking at how much Malaysia’s development has attracted international communities of different kind to the nation, and in large numbers, too. But we should also begin to identify a common factor of racial friction that exists that exist beyond the kampungs, but in the cities instead.
Whatever the variety of factors that might affect Malaysia’s interracial harmony, as a nation that was founded on the idea of unity as it was the main challenge to overcome, its importance should not be undermined, especially in the newer generations’ where the horrors of the May 1969 incident grow more distant each day.
Let us usher in the new year on a positive tone more aware of the concerns raised in 2017 where racial harmony is growingly seen as a serious threat, but one that most are unaware of as we lead our daily lives. Given also the studies and rise in alert on racial harmony last year, let’s hope 2018 creates the awareness that this security issue of ours truly deserves.
(Tengku Nur Qistina is the granddaughter of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman and the daughter of Tengku Temenggong of Kelantan. She fell in love with the Malaysian history, culture, heritage and the uniqueness of Malaysia while studying abroad, and looks to feed from her legally-trained curious mind and soul with Malaysians. She hopes to share her discoveries and love of Malaysia.)