In our recent push towards nation-building under the banner of 1Malaysia, it is often expressed and emphasised that we, the various communities of Malaysia, should respect and understand each other. Malaysians are enjoined not to merely tolerate but accept each other. Malaysians are persuaded to see their cultural diversity as a source of strength, making for unity, rather than a cause of political and social discord.
All this is well and good, even lofty and beautiful. But alas, all these wise and pious exhortations would remain ideational and little else ( I am chewing my words and relying heavily on euphemism), if they remain untranslated into meaningful policies, planning, pratice and institutionalisation. If they are merely confined to the sterile domain of rhetorics, they differ little from
idle talk and self-delusion.
Before Malaysians can understand and respect other communities than their own, there must be enough contact between them in the first place, contact of the kind that is meaningful, that bonds and builds consensus of values and ideals. It is idle talk to expect different communities of different cultural background to understand and respect each other, to see cultural diversity as a source of strength, if there is no sufficient contact and the sharing of common life experience in the first place! I would not be exaggerating if I say that presently we know so little of each other. so as to succumb ever so easily to prejudices, stereotyping and mutual-suspicion.
Now we all know that our Malaysian realities do not exactly afford many opportunities for such meaningful contact and relationship among the various communities. What with the divide-and-rule policy of old and new, economic activities along communal lines, rural-urban dichotomy, divergence of education process, diversity of background and cultural history and many more divisive factors.
All this conjures up a grim picture of a very divided nation, of strangers and aliens, of divergent paths and existence, doomed never to meet and know each other, what more to understand and respect: strangers and aliens, who would never cultivate any relationship of sufficient depth, to appreciate each other's history and culture, so as to see the diversity between them is indeed a source of strength, common and universal to each other.
It is within this context that I see the importance of a common national education system for young Malaysians. A national education system where our young can learn, understand and therefore appreciate each other. A common experience of growing, learning, discovering the self, in a truly Malaysian or national atmosphere at an early age and stage of their lives.
Such common experience, in meaningful relationship with each other, is crucial for the moulding of the future citizens of Malaysia. Only through such common experience of growing and learning can our young develop the mutual understanding, respect and appreciation of their common humanity, albeit their cultural diversity.
The issue of a common national education system is an important one for the survival of our Malaysian nation. This is not a quesion of 'ours' or 'theirs', of 'us' or 'them'. This is about our common identity and shared destiny. We have to give our young the historical opportunity to be in touch with one another, to bond, to share, to emphatise, to share dreams, in short to be a nation in the future.
The writings of KijangMas, raising the alarm against deepening polarisation merits our deep concern. Polarisation has encroached into many areas of common life, steadily reducing what should be our common 'national space'. The sadness of SatD over the dearth of our national identity and shared aspirations ("souless" nation) should alarm us. So should the many writings of our wonderful bloggers in the same vein (too many to mention here).
Polemics and discourses on nation-building is normally complicated, heated and long drawn. This is inevitable as we know that the task of nation-building is not an easy one. But at the end of the day , the real question is whether DO WE WANT to be a nation, or continue to be strangers and aliens the rest of our lives, as well as those of our future generations.