National unity is a process that seeks to unite people from different ethnicities, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds, where citizens sacrifice individual interests for the sake of the country.
There was a time in Malaysia when all races coexisted, and friendships between the different ethnic groups were common and sincere. Religion was not a big issue.
In 2019, the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah said that even after 62 years of independence, national unity in Malaysia was as elusive as ever; that it was always a work in progress.
Leaders often deplored the lack of unity, but many make seditious remarks that divide the different races. Some policies continue to create disunity and promote segregation.
There have been calls for all segments of society to be treated equally. This, however, is the ultimate Utopian ideal. Even among family members, not everyone is of the same height, build and socio-economic standing.
In the 1940’s, Malay opposition to the idea of the Malayan Union was spontaneous. While this united the Malays, most non-Malays were generally divided, or indifferent. The radical Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU, established in Singapore) supported the proposal. However, it was later abandoned by the British.
The British then entered into secret negotiations with the Malay aristocracy and the United Malay National Organisation (Umno). The British came up with the Anglo-Malay Proposals (AMP), which included institutionalised handicaps against the non-Malay community and the absence of a road map towards independence.
A united front was created to oppose the AMP. There was unity then.
The MDU, the Malay Nationalist Party (PKMM), the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) and other groups worked together to ensure there was no self-interested representation. Later, a Malay organisation, Putera, established a coalition with the All-Malaya Joint Council for Action (AMJCA), with Tun Tan Cheng Lock as chairman. It was known as Putera-AMJCA.
However, when the CPM decided to launch an armed rebellion, the coalition dissolved. The insurgency resulted in two Emergency periods (1948-1960, and 1968-1990).
The sustained and concerted military response to the Communist insurgency, as well as the Baling Talks in 1955, paved the way for independence. There was unity here, too.
However, this fragile unity was tested on May 13, 1969. The National Operations Council (NOC) released a report on Oct 9, citing ‘racial politics’ as the primary cause. Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, in his book released two weeks before the report, blamed opposition parties, as well as the influence of the Communists, for the race riots.
The existence of political parties based on race and religion, as noted by the NOC, created a political system that is polarising and divisive.
Some blamed the education system. Shared values and tolerance deteriorated when students were separated according to the different school types. Many non-Malays were disappointed with national schools, perceiving them to be more and more “religious”. The alternative was to attend vernacular and private schools to help preserve their racial identity and protect the mother-tongue.
One solution is to improve national schools with better teachers, curriculum, and facilities. Curiously, Singapore doesn’t have Chinese schools.
Parents should not neglect their responsibility in inculcating positive values in their children, including tolerance, fairness, humility, respect for others, and civic consciousness.
Social media is swirling with hate and vitriol. As responsible users of social media, we should start questioning the sender(s) who constantly forward us these vile messages as to their intentions, and advise them to propagate positivity, instead.
The Communications and Multimedia Ministry has a major role to play here in promoting core values and communicating the government’s initiatives in encouraging national unity.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar, in his book, Reflections on Malaysian Unity and Other Challenges, stressed on the role of the monarchy as the safety net and protector of all citizens, and for the majority not to suppress the rights of the minority group; neither should we have tyranny of the minority over the majority.
The late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman pointed out that it was important not to allow communal feelings to engulf, divide and destroy us. We need enlightened leaders who think, and act, Malaysian.
We should focus on our common ideals and strengths, and religiously follow the five principles in the Rukun Negara.
Don’t take unity for granted.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.