Unity Ministry can start engaging NGOs, work with sports associations to further unite people

“The Malays are expected to respect the rest (non-Malays), but do the rest respect the Malays?”

That was a question posed by a member of the audience at the ‘Professional Nationalism Dialogue: Responsibilities of professionals and NGOs in promoting unity among different races and religions, to strengthen the nation’.

While the name of the event, held on May 4 in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, was a mouthful, the answer from one of the panellists to the question, was short and sweet.

“Respect is (a) two-way (street). Anyone who demands respect must also respect. That’s it,” said Raymond Woo, deputy president of the Federation of Malaysian Business Association.

Woo was joined by senior lawyer and president of Yayasan Rapera, Datuk Seri Dr Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos, academician Professor Datuk Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, who is also part of the National Unity advisory board, and Datuk Shapawi Ahmad, the head of United Sabah Islamic Association (USIA). The session was moderated by RG Holdings Sdn Bhd executive chairman, Prof Datuk Radzwan Abdullah.

It was an interesting two-hour discussion that boiled down to respect, and the need to have an open mind (and an open heart). They also agreed it’s not about tolerating, but about understanding and appreciating one another.

The idea of the event was to encourage discourse about race- and inter-faith relations in Malaysia. According to Radzwan, Unity Minister Datuk Aaron Ago Dagang was invited to the event but could not make it due to other engagements. It remains unclear if any representative from the ministry was at the event, or joined online, to take down notes.

Policymakers often shy away from such discourses for not wanting to rock the boat, and some, for fear of losing votes. While some conversations can go overboard, others are even afraid to initiate talks on the ‘3R’ (race, religion, and royalty) for fear of prosecution.

Thus, it was no surprise when Jerald Joseph, the director of Pusat Komas, a non-governmental human rights organisation against racism and racial discrimination, said Malaysia’s appreciation of the diversity in this country was only skin deep.

Ahead of the National Unity Week from May 23-26, Joseph told Twentytwo13 last week that the Malaysian government should identify more relevant topics, including educating people on what constitutes hate speech, and reaffirming the ‘Malaysian First’ concept.

He too, admitted leaders were more concerned about losing voter support if they spoke up about the elephant in the room, adding: “We (Malaysians) will be stuck forever if leaders focused more on their political survival, rather than the future of this nation”.

Thus, it is only right for the Unity Ministry to engage with non-governmental organisations in having conversations about respect, and how it works both ways. The ministry should fund such initiatives, instead of superficial activities that offer little impact. It can start with Yayasan Rapera, an organisation that focuses on creating a thinking and compassionate society.

It is key that the decision-makers identify the concerns of the people, no matter how misinformed the concerns may be, and find solutions to correct them.

Unity is more than just appreciating traditional outfits and food. It’s about appreciating each other as human beings. Such a visual – of Malaysians coming together – is often seen at stadiums.

When Twentytwo13’s article on Joseph’s views was shared on X (formerly known as Twitter), the BA of Malaysia secretary-general Datuk Kenny Goh said, in referring to the National Unity week, posted: “That’s the same week as the #PeroduaMalaysiaMasters2024. Buy tickets and come to Axiata Arena, and you can see how badminton can unite the people”.

Interestingly, Jahaberdeen – the man behind Yayasan Rapera – is also BAM deputy president and president of the Kuala Lumpur Badminton Association.

This is where the Unity Ministry can work with sports organisations to inject a sense of unity and patriotism, and be seen as doing more than just recycling the old textbook approach of bringing Malaysians together.

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