Harmony in Malaysia? Look to common interests over law, says minister

R. Loheswar
Liew said the government’s proposed National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission — aimed at strengthening racial and religious ties — is in its final stage of discussions. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 14 — Datuk Liew Vui Keong believes Malaysians would be better served pursuing harmony through things they have in common than in looking at laws that regulate what they can and cannot say about each other.

Amid the latest interracial and interfaith tensions testing multicultural Malaysia today, the de facto law minister thinks most can be attributed to misunderstandings due to preconceived notions enforced by ethnic stereotypes.

“To me, personally, racial tension or racial disharmony arises because we are not able to find what we have in common.

“If we can find a common ground and identify ourselves as such, that in turn will lead to all of us living harmoniously without inciting each other and having to enact laws or Bills to restrict our speech,” the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department told Malay Mail when contacted yesterday.

Malaysia’s celebrated cultural plurality also frequently triggers clashes between its people of different ancestry and beliefs.

The latest firestorm broke out last Saturday ahead of the Hari Raya Haji holiday, fuelled by two separate incidents. The first over reported remarks by Mumbai-born Islamic preacher Dr Zakir Naik that Indian Malaysians may be more loyal to their ancestral homeland than the country in which they were born and raised; and the second over a fatal road rage incident involving drivers of Chinese and Malay descent.

Liew said the government’s proposed National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission — aimed at strengthening racial and religious ties — is in its final stage of discussions.

He is hopeful the final draft for its set-up will be ready by October 16 when the Dewan Rakyat reconvenes.

The commission was proposed last year by Islamic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa in place of two Bills to combat rising extremism and bigotry and is under the purview of National Unity and Social Wellbeing Minister P. Waytha Moorthy.

However, the senator did not respond to Malay Mail’s attempts to contact him for comment. It is understood Waytha is currently abroad.

Liew, who is also permanent chairman of Parti Warisan Sabah, told Malay Mail that there are rarely interracial conflicts in his home state; the reason being Sabahans have been taught from a young age to be tolerant of people with different beliefs and cultural practices.

He added that part of the reason why tolerance and understanding is deeply ingrained among Sabahans is because of the frequency of intermarriages, which helps the different communities learn more about other cultures and their sensitivities.

The Batu Sapi MP said Sabahans never look at a person’s race or colour.

“In Sabah, we don’t have this kind of problem. I don’t see the colour of you. I see you as you are, I see you as a Malaysian. We’ve been trained and educated like this,” said Liew.

“Our families have such values because of a lot of intermarriages. It helps us a lot to understand each other more.

“I sincerely hope we can all look at things from this angle and learn to progress as a nation based on our common ground,” he said.

Following the public uproar over the road rage incident that is being investigated under Section 302 of the Penal Code for murder, Liew believes the case stemmed from a misunderstanding that spiralled out of control that is now likely being regretted by the survivor.

“In that particular case, it was two individuals. There was a misunderstanding that went out of control, then it caused that incident, which is regrettable.

“I’m sure the person who was arrested is pondering whether his action was worth it. We must always remember to calm down and ensure we do not lose control of any situation. Because it can happen to anyone,” said Liew.

The minister thinks the public outcry over the accident has been blown out of proportion due to the racial overtones, pointing out that accidents and road rage can happen between people of the same ethnic background without creating as much of a stir.

“Sometimes, it can happen to the same race, you know. Between friends and so on. They can lose control too,” he said.

The road rage incident that resulted in the death of a 29-year-old Malay man took place in Bangi, Selangor on August 10.

According to police statements, a 40-year-old Chinese driver reversed into the Malay man who had earlier used a baseball bat to smash the former’s car bonnet following an altercation.

The Chinese man and his 36-year-old wife who was in the car when the incident occurred are currently under police remand until August 17.

The police have issued a reminder urging the public not to turn the incident into a racial issue.

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