Jom! Let’s join #MZB365 and save Malaysia from crumbling in disunity

On 7 April, the “Maaf Zahir Batin 365 (#MZB365)” campaign was launched, borrowing from the Hari Raya Aidilfitri tradition of asking for forgiveness.

A photo of the Malaysia flag hooked on to a building.
A group of 18 media firms and civil society organisations in Malaysia have teamed up to check growing tensions by telling Malaysians to seek forgiveness, to forgive others and to move on in togetherness. (Photo: Getty Images)

One of Malaysia’s biggest problems is a lack of intercommunal trust. And unity seems to exist, more and more, on a superficial level.

Some Malaysians no longer subscribe to the “unity in diversity” model propagated by the nation’s founding fathers.

The two prongs of the New Economic Policy, introduced in 1971, were “eradicating poverty” and “restructuring society to eliminate the identification of race with economic function”, with the ultimate goal of creating the conditions for national unity.

Obviously, it has failed to do this. In fact, the implementation – some say faulty implementation - of the NEP only served to drive the wedge further between Malays and non-Malays.

Race-based political parties make unity difficult

Politics of race – embedded in the system via race-based parties – and the rise of a certain brand of political Islam have made it worse. The lame education system has not helped either.

The problem is exacerbated by the presence of thousands of keyboard warriors, some of whom are ready to pounce on and magnify perceived insults and wrongs or post comments on social media that cause further divisions.

Malaysian governments have, over the years, been grappling with the need to forge a sense of unity among Malaysia’s multiracial, multireligious and multicultural mix.

None has had any significant success, certainly not at the level that existed during the years preceding and shortly after Malaya achieved independence in 1957 and when Malaysia was formed in 1963.

The current government too does not seem to be having much success in bringing the people together, but it is not for want of trying.

Government launches various campaigns to foster unity

It has introduced various programmes to foster unity, with a very active unity minister, Aaron Ago Dagang, leading the charge.

For instance, the Unity Ministry launched the #CakapBaikBaik campaign to promote civility in daily conversations and encourage more civilised interactions last year.

"Negative comments and insults are often found in the virtual world. As a civilised society, we need to learn not to engage in unnecessary strife. On the other hand, we can choose not to respond or take more positive actions such as reporting disrespectful comments," Aaron said last October when the campaign was launched.

Despite that, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), in collaboration with social media platforms, removed 1,454 contents - mostly hate speech - touching on race, religion and royalty between January and March this year.

The ministry has also been emphasising the need to recite and practice the Rukun Negara, the national philosophy, whose five principles are: belief in God, loyalty to the King and country, supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, and courtesy and morality.

In fact, parliamentarians have started to stand up and recite the Rukun Negara on the second day of the first meeting of every parliamentary session. History was made on 27 February this year when MPs recited the Rukun Negara pledge, including the preamble, in the Dewan Rakyat or lower house.

Last year alone, the Unity Ministry implemented 661 community-related programmes to foster solidarity.

This year, it has reached out to businesses to collaborate in organising programmes to foster unity.

Recent issues test resilience of Malaysians

However, despite these efforts, when several pairs of socks with the word “Allah” were discovered and pictures posted on social media, many Malaysians forgot to #CakapBaikBaik.

And a race-based political party capitalised on the anger and anxiety of Muslims.

But even before that, several issues popped up that tested the unity of Malaysians.

For instance, earlier this year there were verbal protests and debates over the government’s recognition of bak kut teh, a Chinese dish usually made from pork ribs simmered in herbs and spices, as one of Malaysia’s heritage dishes and the proposal to nominate Chinese new villages to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When the “Allah” socks issue continued to drag on despite the owners of KK Mart apologising and despite its top management and the vendor being charged in court, and petrol bombs were thrown at three of its stores, many Malaysians were shocked.

Shouldn’t those insisting on further dragging the issue just forgive and move on, many asked themselves.

Media, NGOs start unity campaign

And as if to answer them, a group of 18 media firms and civil society organisations have teamed up to check growing tensions by telling Malaysians to seek forgiveness, to forgive others and to move on in togetherness.

On 7 April, they launched the “Maaf Zahir Batin 365" (#MZB365) campaign, borrowing from the Hari Raya Aidilfitri tradition of asking for forgiveness for mistakes made knowingly or unknowingly and forgiving others their mistakes.

The group includes Free Malaysia Today, New Straits Times, Radio Televisyen Malaysia, the Star, Malaysiakini, Malay Mail, Astro Awani, Bernama, Utusan Malaysia, Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, G25, the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, IDEAS, Patriot, Pure Life Society, Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia and the Allied Coordinating Committee of Islamic NGOs.

I believe this is the first time the media has come together in such a fashion to promote unity.

The group said in a statement: “If we are reluctant to seek forgiveness, then the harm we have caused – intended or not, due to bad deeds or misjudgements, big or small – will stay and destroy ties between each other.”

They noted that this was all the more important now because there were individuals and groups searching for opportunities to divide society for their vested political, business and personal interests.

“They find faults that can be amplified to sow distrust and hatred so that they can emerge as their community’s heroes to the point that some even break the law through arson and violence.

“The phenomenon of populism built on hatred and conspiracy theories has paralysed countries, destroyed societies, damaged economies, starved children, sunk dreams and even killed people in many parts of the world. We must make sure Malaysia does not follow in their footsteps,” it said.

Forgive and move on for greater good

The group stressed that forgiving did not mean one had become weaker; neither would it unwittingly encourage more trespasses and mistakes.

“It is certainly not about compromising on the rule of law. When the trespasses are offences under the law, the offenders must still face trial and punishment,” it said, adding: “To counter ethno-religious hatred, let us do #MZB365, let us fight hatred with grace every day.”

The media companies and organisations involved – and the number is growing every day – should be praised for banding together to help make Malaysia a better place.

This laudable effort deserves the support of every Malaysian.

Let’s not make mountains out of molehills or inflame any situation. Let’s be more respectful and civil in our interactions. And let’s seek forgiveness for our mistakes and forgive others for theirs, and work together to build a better Malaysia.

Jom! Let’s #MZB365.

A.Kathirasen is a veteran Malaysian journalist/editor who has been writing columns, with breaks, in newspapers and online since 1981. All views expressed are the writer's own.

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