KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 4 — Malaysians must embrace their diversity and should not allow themselves to become divided by those seeking to sow disunity, former education minister Maszlee Malik said today.
Maszlee, who is also chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia, said Malaysians should also speak up against extremists.
Urging for Malaysians to embrace the values of “multicultural harmony, unity and inclusivity”, Maszlee said Malaysians have actually been living this way since even before then-Malaya’s independence but had somewhere along the line stumbled upon “fascism, discrimination, bigotry, racism, religious extremism.
“To do away with these, we must (always) be reminded of the values, beliefs and practices that make us Malaysians. We must recognise and value our multiculturalism and multiracialism, while simultaneously building a sense of oneness as Malaysians. Only then we can truly become a strong and united nation and united country.
“We must speak out against extremists, reject instigations and avoid politicising race and religion. Our differences should unite us; diversity is to be appreciated and celebrated, and not rejected,” he said in his welcoming remarks at Harmony Malaysia’s sixth annual conference “Bangsa Malaysia: Myth or Reality” which was co-organised by IAIS.
Maszlee said Malaysians are one of the things that make Malaysia “unique”, noting that Malaysians’ diverse backgrounds makes the country strong as a whole and adding that Malaysians must not lose or compromise on their identity as Malaysians.
But Maszlee noted that there has been a “disquieting trend of polarisation and division among Malaysians”, noting that the rise of “extremism, intolerance and animosity” is a substantial threat to the cohesion of Malaysia’s social fabric and national unity.
“The manipulation of racial and religious sentiments for personal and political gain is another troubling development, eroding trust and mutual respect within our diverse communities and groups.
Maszlee said such sentiments and polarisation are challenges that Malaysians have to overcome in order to realise the dream of “Bangsa Malaysia” or Malaysian nationhood.
“We must not let ourselves be deceived by those who want to sow discord and disunity among us. We must not let ourselves be swayed by those who want to impose their narrow and exclusive views on us. We must not let ourselves be divided by those who want to exploit our differences for their own personal benefit.
“Rather than succumbing to the divisive forces of ethno-religious nationalism, we need to reaffirm our commitment to Bangsa Malaysia, or Malaysian Nationhood, as our shared identity and our destiny,” he said.
He also said there is a need to uphold the Federal Constitution which enshrines all citizens’ rights and privileges while also respecting the distinctive features shaping the country’s national character, such as the position of the Malays and the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak.
“We need to embrace our diversity as a source of strength and richness, not a cause of weakness and conflict. We need to foster a culture of dialogue, understanding and mutual cooperation among all sections of society,” he added.
Among other things, Maszlee also said Malaysia also has its own set of challenges like other multicultural nations, and that a culture of “happiness, love and mutual respect” has to be fostered to sustain unity.
“Bangsa Malaysia should not be treated as a mere slogan or a concept,” he said, adding that it is instead a “reality, vision, aspiration and a goal” for Malaysians to work together on in order to achieve a harmonious prosperous and progressive nation.
“We need to respect and appreciate our differences, as well as celebrate our similarities which are more compared to our differences. We need to uphold our rights and responsibilities, as well as protect our interests and values. We need to embrace our challenges and opportunities, as well as share our burdens and benefits,” he said, also quoting former US president Barack Obama to say that change will not come if people wait for some other person or some other time as they themselves are the change that they are seeking.
He said the work of building a sense of togetherness and oneness is not a “one-man’s job” but said the government will need every stakeholder to participate and that everyone representing Malaysia including institutions and corporations need to unite and work together on this.