National unity plan too narrow
SHAH ALAM: The government’s plan for national unity is too narrow because it only addresses ethnic contradictions, according to a professor.
Universiti Kebangsaan Institute of Ethnic Studies founding director Professor Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin (pix, below) said there are actually five “major contradictions” that Malaysians have been facing since independence.
They are ethnicity, social class, spatial (urban-rural), gender, and generational (young-old).
“The government’s plan for national unity, with input from government retirees, again is only addressing the ethnic contradiction, not the others. As such, it is still too narrow.
“I think we should alert the public and make them more aware that we have more than just ethnic issues to be addressed. But expectedly, non-ethnic issues don’t sell or get enough attention, unless it’s about petrol price increases and the destruction of some petrol stations,” Shamsul said in an email reply to theantdaily.
He was commenting on the government’s initiative to set up the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) to advise the government on efforts to unite the various ethnic groups in the country.
The NUCC will be formed by year-end and tasked with preparing a comprehensive unity plan.
The initiative came about after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak suggested in Parliament on June 26 for such a move as part of efforts to forge closer relations between people of various races in the country.
It is because ethnic differences are the ones that are seen immediately that there is a perception of a decline in racial relations.
Shamsul, however, said that there is no empirical evidence to prove that perception.
He points out that the conflicts or grievances currently seen are a product of social media articulations.
“Yes, the expression through this medium has increased and expanded from nothing, when there was no social media, to something, due to the huge social media presence.
“So as a result, Malaysians are suddenly more daring in publishing racially sensitive things in the social media…”
Malaysia has seen a slew of racially igniting postings on social media in recent times.
Some of the more recent ones include the Alvivi posting in July where couple Alvin Tan Jye Yee and Vivian Lee May Ling were seen enjoying a “bak kut the” meal with the words “Selamat berbuka puasa (dengan bak kut teh... wangi, enak menyelerakan)” appearing at the top and a Facebook account allegedly belonging to an assistant to a DAP state assemblyman featuring a Hari Raya greeting showing a pighead with ketupat.
A print screen of the alleged Facebook account of the DAP leader's assistant with the image was circulated on the Internet but the aide claimed that his identity on the account was forged.
Shamsul said that it is an exaggeration to generalise that ethnic relations in the whole country are suffering because of the emergence of racially provoking postings on social media.
National reconciliation, he said, should not be a special agenda now, but one that remains important for all time.
“All the talk about national reconciliation is nothing new… the bargaining and negotiation, an exercise of seeking reconciliation in various forms, have been a continuous process in Malaysia.
“Malaysians practise plenty of ‘tongue wagging’, but not ‘parang wielding’. Malaysians ‘talk conflict’ but ‘walk cohesion’.
“We do enjoy a certain admired level of peace and stability in the country due to our ability to continuously bargain and negotiate on every little thing that we find different from one another,” he said.
However, Shamsul warned that this does not mean that peace and stability should be taken for granted.
“It is something we have successfully constructed and preserved, must continue to monitor… because Malaysia... is always a ‘work-in-progress,” said Shamsul.
Malaysia is overly fond of setting up councils and drawing up plans. Maybe it is time for definitive action instead, such as removing entrenched discriminatory policies for a more united Malaysia.