Let’s start talking to one another as a nation
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 13 May 2011
It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.
When news of Osama bin Laden’s death came in, Americans rejoiced on the streets. In this tit-for-tat world, a murder was cleverly orchestrated and celebrated, in the end boosting the public perception of US President Obama, whose ratings had been previously falling.
For the less bloodthirsty of us, it was discomforting to note the level of enthusiasm displayed. Sure, the man was instrumental in the deaths of so many, but, as some have pointed out, the modus operandi was distasteful. He was unarmed and did not fire any weapon when the killing took place, a decision the US embarked upon unilaterally without international consultation.
The celebratory response was only too telling of people’s ignorance. Surely this would not stop “terrorists” from detesting the West’s arrogance. But the ignorance runs deeper, not knowing what Islam truly stands for, and thereby creating a culture of fearing Muslims among many conservative Christians – the worst sort of generalisation, which national leaders take advantage of for political gain.
But they are not the only ones guilty of politicising fear and insecurity. I witnessed the same being cultivated in the recent run-up to the Singapore elections, where the PAP (People’s Action Party) government used stability and economic wealth to woo voters, threatening that the opposition parties would fail to deliver and hence jeopardise Singaporeans’ quality of life.
Fear and insecurity at home
Back home, we are probably the worst lot. The human race is already prone to bouts of fear and insecurity as a natural instinct, but in Malaysia it is made worse by the multitude of subcultural groupings of ethnicity and religion. The mantra is true that political parties have capitalised on both race and religion for their own personal gains at the expense of national unity. How so?
Most recently, following the success of the DAP in the Sarawak state elections (winning 12 out of its 15 contested seats), there was some concern that its dominance in the Pakatan Rakyat coalition would juxtapose a Chinese-strong opposition against a Malay-strong Barisan Nasional coalition (where Umno calls the shots and other parties meekly comply).
This has culminated in a rather bizarre chain of events. A Christian meeting in Penang organised by the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship with other partners was accused by pro-Umno bloggers of conspiring with the DAP to firstly replace Islam with Christianity as the country’s official religion, and secondly to put a Christian prime minister in office.
Christian leaders denied that these calls were part of the session, which they say was an ethical seminar organised to “discuss and address the issue of bribery and corruption in the marketplace and the Christians’ contribution in addressing such issues”.
Just preceding this, Pembela, a coalition of 20 Muslim bodies, issued a statement expressing concern that Islam’s position in Malaysia is under siege. The Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism responded with their own statement, in which they say Muslims’ position would never be threatened in Malaysia as they would still possess political control, being in the majority.
Thus began the domino effect, the seemingly unending downward spiral. The DAP, the Bar Council, and a group of non-governmental organisations, which includes the Centre for Independent Journalism, responded in uproar, essentially implying that no verification was done to prove the accusation against the DAP was true.
Perkasa demanded punishment imposed on those challenging Islam as the country’s official religion; a police report was made on the Bar Council’s constitutional committee lawyer who said there was “no official religion” in Malaysia. The verbal banter goes back and forth – it is like watching a badminton game live on court.
Shutting out the noise and thinking
All that is taking place in our country is not new. New incidents, perhaps. But these are merely manifestations of a deeply rooted problem. They stem from age-old sentiments of ignorance of “the other”, which are for years and years never corrected – prejudices that stick like cling-wrap, which teachers, parents, and mentors never bother to change.
And this is the real indictment on our leaders and elders: that the generations to follow will adopt these false notions of people outside our respective comfort zones.
The noise that has been churning around for the last week are symptomatic of the problems, yes; but they are also being made by groups intentionally stoking the fire. In the debate that revolves around race and religion, for the rest of us who are by-standers, it is not good enough to passively allow these extreme views to represent that of our own. That is not innocence.
The critical mind must shut out the noise and stop to think.
Christians have to realise that Muslims are genuinely fearful of evangelical Christians. Under such circumstances, Christians must address this fear first and foremost, or risk further suspicion and anger.
Muslims, on the other hand, require some soul searching to rid themselves of any false insecurity and fear on their part. With the instruments of the law, the Federal Constitution, government, and religious institutions at their disposal, there should be adequate security that their faiths are not, in fact, being threatened.
The wishy-washy answer is to “start talking to one another”. Friendships abound between adherents of different faiths. But this is not enough. Conversations have to dig deeper into unveiling the prejudices against the other, which can be a painful process.
Perhaps false misconceptions can then be corrected.
A preference, of course, would be to see each other as humans first – never mind which god one prays to, resisting the temptation to save the person opposite you from the doom of Hell, and treating the person as if he or she were someone whose views and conversations you would perfectly enjoy in a regular Malaysian mamak stall because of his or her humanity and dignity.
A player in this merry mess put it aptly: “Allowing the debate over which race or religion wielded precedence in the matter of who is qualified to become a holder of high office … diverts from what is more important … a person’s intellectual and moral fibre for high office.”
We criticise the West for their foolhardy reactions against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the like. But the real question is, do we not feed ignorance, fear and insecurity on home ground itself? And the ugliest of them all is that the ruthless game of politics has reared its vicious head to capitalise on this. Creating divisions for selfish gain.
The only way out is for us, the people, to stop fearing and start learning. About each other. Properly. For real. We have to do this. To save our souls from the eternal damnation of politics.