Tanah Melayu was a conglomeration of various Malay ethnic groups that formed part of the Malayo-Austronesian entity collectively known as the Malay World.
The migratory waves of people from the north and the south who settled in Peninsula Malay (Tanah Melayu) became the indigenous people.
Even before the British colonialisation era, Indian and Arab traders had made their appearance, especially in the port of Melaka. It is a fact that Indian cultural influence had a great impact on the Malayo-animistic culture and beliefs of the indigenous people.
Further migratory waves occurred during the colonial times when the British brought in Indian indentured labour to work in the plantations and encouraged migration from Southern China to work in the tin mines and engage in retail business.
By the time of independence, Malaya had become a plural society —multi-ethnic, cultural and religious conglomerate.
The formation of Malaysia saw the inclusion of several tribal indigenous groups from Sabah and Sarawak into this ethnic conglomerate. By the time of independence and the formation of Malaysia, the three racial groups were the Malays (indigenous — including the various tribes from Sabah and Sarawak), Chinese and Indians.
It has persisted until now without leading towards a melting pot of acculturation and assimilation. Each race has maintained its cultural identity and belief.
We have managed to live together since Merdeka, respectful of each other’s socio-cultural practice, albeit with some frictions which were rationalised and resolved as we moved forward together eking out our livelihood and to a certain extent sharing our trials and tribulations.
But since then, the tenuous harmony has been exacerbated by political chauvinism and schisms.
The situation has further deteriorated to the extent that it has created suspicion and mistrust among the people as a result of the absence of a coherent policy to manage and foster unity and integration among the various races.
This is because the politicians are consumed with their own political agenda of being in power at whatever cost, even at the expense of animosity and being insensitive to others’ faiths and cultural traditions.
As a result, there has emerged, among politicians, politically aligned civil servants and academics an unhealthy attitude that is manifested as cultural/religious bigotry and nincompoop and hypocrisy.
Instead of respecting each other’s faiths and cultural traditions, these people have become intolerant, disrespectful and assumed an adversarial stance.
These are the cultural bigots.
A case in point is Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor who ordered the demolition of a hundred-year-old Hindu temple just because it was erected on state land.
They must have got some kind of consent at that time for it to exist for a hundred years. It was only recently that the PAS state government exerted its authority to claim the land.
The menteri besar could have engaged the Hindu community and arrived at an amicable solution as a mark of respect and sensitivity to other faiths.
Instead, he dismissed the pleas of the Hindu community.
Recently, he courted controversy again when he declined to declare Thaipusum as a holiday in Kedah on the pretext that it was not a gazetted holiday and that all celebrations were banned because the Movement Control Order was in effect, notwithstanding that in other states Thaipusum was a holiday.
His actions showed insensitivity and gave Islam a bad name as an intolerant religion when in actual fact, tolerance is integral in the practice of Islam.
Another major concern that also reflected ignorance and insensitivity to ethnic-religious relations came from the highest echelon of policymakers.
It had to do with the Chinese New Year reunion dinner. Those policymakers who wrote the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for this ritualistic celebration were oblivious of its significance within the overall context of Chinese New Year celebrations.
This became more glaring when they had to rescind their earlier decision and replace with a more sensible SOP after hue and cry from the Chinese community.
Another bone of cultural contention is the controversy surrounding the learning of Jawi (khat) as part of the Bahasa Melayu subject.
Its detractors view it as a means to inculcate Islamic elements in the curriculum.
This is sheer ignorance on their part on the role of Jawi in the Malay language.
Jawi was the script of the language before being replaced by the romanised script. A huge corpus of knowledge about Malay culture, traditions, governance as well as literary expressions are in the Jawi script.
Knowing the script would allow access to this vast knowledge about the Old Malay World. Treating the Jawi script as a plague is another form of cultural bigotry.
There have been other incidents of cultural and religious bigotry as in the cases of desecrating houses of worship, and condemning others as infidels just because they are of a different faith.
There is a dire need to re-educate the public at large to respect and learn each other’s faith and culture through formal and informal interactions.
But the best and most effective way is to get the young people of different ethnicity, faith and culture to study, work and play together by way of the educative process.
For the sake of the nation and future generations we must rid ourselves of these cultural and religious bigots, charlatans and those who manipulate our differences to serve their own nefarious agenda.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.