A DESIRE to see a return of the kinder, more harmonious Malaysia they once knew was what prompted a group of retired police and military officers to set up the National Patriots Association (Patriot).

That, and a burning desire to call out and condemn the actions of some national leaders in stoking the fires of racial and religious discrimination, said its leader Brig Gen (ret) Mohd Arshad Raji.

Arshad said his generation was raised to look beyond race and religion, adding that it was “evil” politicians who had created a rift among the younger generation.

It is the politicians who have ruined this. Politicians did all this. We are all Malaysians,” Mohamad Arshad said in an interview with The Malaysian Insight.

“We need to teach them. We need to show them a good culture, and the spirit of loving our country because we are ‘bangsa’ Malaysia.”

Arshad defended his earlier statement that the Patriots would continue to support Dr Mahathir Mohamad after it was revealed that the government had withdrawn the former prime minister’s police security detail.

“In my opinion, this is all political. I sure if it’s meant to weaken Dr Mahathir’s spirit. It’s very obvious,” he said.

Arshad reiterated that Patriot was not aligned with any political party, and was free to speak about issues that affected the safety and interest of the people and the country.

The group has 25 office bearers and about 100 members.

Below are excerpts of his interview with The Malaysian Insight:

TMI: How did the National Patriots Association get started?

Arshad: We started in March. I held a press conference at the Royal Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur.

At that time, we didn’t announce an association. I held a personal press conference, and I brought up many issues. But I didn’t have a platform. I brought up issues via my blog, Facebook and others.

After the press conference, people came up to me and said, “Arshad, if you are a lone voice, you will not be strong.  You don’t have a base, no support”.

So, there came an idea to form an association. This is the reason. I gathered a group of like-minded people, and we formed this group.

What is important in this group is that we are non-partisan. We are not involved with any political party, but we can become members of a political party. No problem. But don’t use this association as a personal project as a politician. We don’t want that.

The second criteria is we are multiracial. When we were in the service, we were trained to never even mention race and religion. We are all friends. We cry together, we laugh together.

It is the politicians who have ruined this. Politicians did all this. We are all Malaysians. Which is why I recently wrote about the issue of the Bugis.

What is there to talk about our ancestry? We were born here. My father came from Padang, Sumatera, in Indonesia. Some people suggested he return there because he had a lot of property.

He said, “No way! I was born here”. This is what my father taught me.

Malaysia is the land where I will live and die. Don’t bring up issues about my ancestry.

TMI: Most of Patriot’s members, did they serve with you in the past?

Arshad: No. They came on their own. We spread the message through WhatsApp groups, Facebook. They were interested, and so, we met.

In the beginning, all members were former uniformed personnel, like the army and police. But after this, we will expand our membership to include all Malaysians.

TMI: Malaysia has now become a warzone for issues of race and religion. What should we do about it?

Arshad: I hate this situation. I am angered when people play up race and religious issues. I was not trained like this. I was a soldier, our culture is to never even touch on race and religion.

We are all the same. Look at one of our Patriot members, Captain Dr Wong Ang Peng, we have been together for a long time. Do you think I am going to talk about race and religion with him?

When I was in the service, I led a ranger battalion. It was mixed, there were Iban, Malays, Chinese and Indians. We all mixed around. We never spoke about race and religion. We talked about the country.

These are all political games.

TMI: What is your advice to the politicians.

Arshad: Stop all this rubbish. As long as you bring up issues of ancestry and race, we will not be united.

Even religion is being brought up. Are there any religions that differentiate between races? None! God created humans to be of different races. Not to fight among ourselves.

I am reiterating this…don’t cause racial and religious hatred. I also blame some of these ulama. Try listening to their sermons.

Some of them are good, others are sowing the seeds of hatred towards people of other races and religions. When I hear (the sermons of) those type, I get disgusted. It’s not just non-Muslims, even Muslims will feel disgusted.

This is not our way. Even though I am not very pious, I know this is not our way. Our ulama must be firm to correct those who have gone astray.

But the most evil are the politicians. We have to teach them, teach them properly. Don’t bring up these kind of issues.

TMI: You sent out a press statement after it was revealed that Dr Mahathir’s security team was withdrawn, saying the Patriots will support him. Will the Patriots be setting up a team to protect Dr Mahathir?

Arshad: No, that’s not what we meant. When I read the news about it, we all asked how it could come to this? Why is a former statesman like Dr Mahathir being treated like this?

That is why we wanted to send a message to Dr Mahathir, we are behind him. We will always be with him. Not because he is a politician, but because we acknowledge his sacrifices.

TMI: Should Dr Mahathir be treated this way because he is opposing the government?

Arshad: He was our prime minister for 22 years. There has been so much he has done for this country. Surely we cannot ignore that, right? Common sense, common sense. We need to support him now.

We should, as patriots of this country, defend him who has served and contributed much good to this country.