Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A nation of strangers and aliens?

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.


  1. Dear Sir,

    Reading your latest entry here, I like to share the comment I submitted at Satu Sekolah Untuk Semua website, as below. I think it is important for Malaysians to take a serious look at our current race relation.

    I like to extract a paragraph on the Star News report today titled “Don’t take Bendera’s threat to attack lightly:-


    “They may create a civil war by attacking one particular race and hoping the attacked race would retaliate thinking these attackers are locals. They probably know how fragile our race relationship is.”

    Our race relationship is that FRAGILE !!! At least that’s how a neighbour sees it!

    And here some of us and government still do not see how IMPORTANT to have a single National school system, no more racial based SRJKs, for the sake of the country.

    Very very strange indeed!!!

  2. I have serious doubts about the slogan "Unity in Diversity". I think it is applicable only in a very limited sense. We need tangible efforts to bring about greater understanding, tolerance and mutual respect and, most of all, a sense of togetherness and of a shared destiny.

    With cultural and religious diversity prevailing among us, attitudes and values often differ, even contrast significantly at times. These have been exploited by politicians from time to time, notably those espousing the so-called "Malaysian Malaysia" concept since the time of Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP in Malaysia. Their adherents remain in the form of present-day DAP, still flogging the same tired, old horse. Racial polarisation has been increasing as a result of these. Such statements as "the days the Government knows best are over" and "let the rakyat decide" are not helping.

    There must be bonding among us Malaysians for the sake of greater understanding, tolerance and racial harmony. A suitable vehicle must be found. The proposal for Satu Sekolah Untuk Semua (SSS), put out by the Demi Negara Blogging Community, is meant to be that very vehicle. It is designed to bring about a sense of togetherness among children at their formative age, break ethnic barriers, foster understanding and tolerance among one another so that gradually a united and cohesive Bangsa Malaysia will emerge.

    The Proposal has been discussed at Demi Negara blog and is being pursued further in the Kempen SSS blog. All the arguments for it have been put out there. Some arguments against it have also been expressed by interested parties. I believe the pros far outweigh the cons and I believe there is a silent majority supporting the SSS Proposal.


  3. Dear Ken,

    Thank you for reading and comment, Your concern on the fragility of our 'race' situation is more than well founded, and should concern all Malaysians.But your Malaysian consciousness and sentiments is most heartening to me, make my day! Well, leaders should not take this lightly, but still I would say, our best defence remains our vigilance, bonding, and militancy against chauvinism.

    Warmest regards


  4. Dear Sepadu

    Thank you for reading and comment. You are right in that 'unity in diversity' has its limitation. It depends on many things and how we interprete and understand it.

    If it is seen to mean endless and ubriddled accomodation, a kind of cultural laissez-affair, each community being left on its own, an enclave of their own, islands unto themselves, with no contact, then we are talking of divisive diversity, which we don't need. I don't think this is accomodation but irresponsible abdication on our part, our failure to forge into a nation.

    On the other hand, if the slogan is taken to be our desire to work out consensus, common grounds, values and principles of life and conduct, despite our 'differences', then there is a lot to the slogan. It is meant to be simply our barricade against chauvinism, of the kind that expects people to simply give up their identity and cultural ways, to 'melt down' into their unreasonable expectation. Such chauvinism expects cultural uniformity in place of diversity. Now this I say is not only unreasonable, but downright unrealistic, if not impossible. I have reasons to believe so.Just to give an example as reference to our discussion, bahasa Indonesia is dynamic as the national language of Indonesia, but the other regional dialects are thriving too,in all their richness and dynamism.

    Our task is to work out the national space, domain, areas of consensus of values, ideals, principles, code of conduct and behaviour, in short to forge a nation, out of the richness of our various great traditions! Now I am definitely in agreeent with you in that a single education system is one area that should fall within the national space, a national right I would say, to be jealously guarded by all Malaysians!

    Warmest regards