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Monday, May 21, 2007

K Haridas NairRace, religion, colour and language have been exploited to divide human beings. But differences provide us with opportunities to grow, and to love the 'other'.

Malaysia provides an example of power balance within a multi-ethnic society. A large immigrant population of ethnic Indian and Chinese origins were brought in during the colonial period. Since achieving independence fifty years ago, the country has tried to balance political and economic interests amongst the various ethnic communities. Affirmative policies have not been popular. Nevertheless these have contributed to a greater sense of social justice. However, there is growing antipathy to the continuation of such policies for these are being perceived as a right or privilege by those who have benefited. This is undercutting the goal of national unity states a Malaysian.

The opening caption for 'Visit Malaysia Year 2007' reads 'Malaysia is truly Asia'. Yes, we are a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society that reflects the diversity of Asia. Yet aspects of this diversity cannot be elevated to reflect a norm or a value. These aspects best describe notions relating to identity. It is these identity factors that continue to provide the basis for political governance in a nation that soon celebrates fifty years of independence. Political parties are largely ethnically based in Malaysia.

When issues of identity are elevated as normative values then we do injustice to ourselves and to the goal of establishing 'unity in diversity'. Race cannot be elevated to be a norm like love, fairness, or justice. When race takes precedence over such normative values then it does so at the expense of justice, fairness and equity. It is this nexus between politics and issues of identity that continue to undermine our efforts at forging national unity.

Positive discrimination through affirmative policies has been a tool for ensuring social justice. The New Economic Policy (NEP) launched in 1970 over a twenty year time line aimed at ensuring a more level playing field in the relationship between race, economics and politics. These remained time based corrective policies and tools and should not be elevated to be a 'right' or 'privilege' for any ethnic group. To do so breeds only injustice and dissatisfaction amongst sections of the population. This also denies the very best in all religious traditions.

Processes and tools need revisiting in a changing reality. What was appropriate in the 1970's needs amending and adjusting or even re-evaluating in the decade of the 2000. To persist with the same formulae is to lock ourselves into a mindset that is inappropriate to a growing consciousness within the nation.

So many of us from different ethnic origins have grown up in this nation, drank from its waters, grown from the vegetation of this land and have been endowed with a love for this nation. The national 'Vision 2020' calls for a new social agenda and processes that are in keeping with the aspirations of a growing generation.

Despite all the bonding and feelings that we share, we have often to face the challenges of racial preferences. To feel left out, to be considered the 'other' or to be accorded a different status by virtue of race or religion is to deny the notion of national unity. We need to address sensitive areas of contention through continuous dialogue and appreciation. Despite differences in ethnic origins we must grow together and as time moves on and evolve a sense of belonging that transcends these identity factors.

To do otherwise is to let reality shape us rather than be formed from within. We are human beings first before any other consideration. Every ethnic group within Malaysia has to find that capacity to transcend this dimension. In doing so, we strengthen our shared identity as Malaysians. However, the challenge is to ensure that enabling factors like policies, programmes and approaches are appropriated in a manner that adds meaning to the sense of belonging amongst all citizens.

Every divide is part of the humanness of the human being. Life is about diversity. However, this very diversity can be exploited to deny a sense of humanity. There is enough evidence of how race, religion, colour and language have been exploited to divide human beings. At the same time these challenges provide us with opportunities to grow, to transcend and to love the 'other'. This remains a fundamental call of all faiths.

When we read stories or listen to experiences of people who have sacrificed for the 'other' or responded to their needs or even forgiven it touches our spirit in an ennobling way. Our hearts are warmed by the humanity that is expressed. The future lies in the hands of those who have this capacity. To them diversity is an enrichment and not a fear. Being human precedes becoming a human being whatever be one's ethnic, religious or linguistic background.