For a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation like Malaysia, peace, harmony, political stability and economic progress with social justice can only be achieved if there is racial harmony, tolerance, understanding and cooperation amongst the various communities.
The government, the civil service, administrators in schools and other educational institutions, members of the various communities and the Malaysian public, each have an important role to play in promoting, advocating and enhancing racial harmony, tolerance, understanding and cooperation.
Education, starting from the primary schools all the way to colleges and universities, is the basis and foundation for building a tolerant society guided by the principles enshrined in the Federal Constitution, a social contract suited for a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, and the Rukun Negara.
In addition, it is important to have continuing discussions and cooperative efforts by the government, politicians, religious leaders, civil society organisations, communities and individuals to nurture and promote the culture of racial harmony, tolerance, understanding and cooperation.
The 1Malaysia concept and Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF) together with the transformation policies and the creation of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) raised hopes for Malaysia to be the model for a democratic, tolerant, harmonious and progressive multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation.
Unfortunately, ethnic relations are not getting any better for various reasons including divisions beginning from the schools system, continuing divisive race-based politics with heightened tensions nearer the general election, speeches and actions questioning the fundamental provisions of the Federal Constitution, and extremist, hate speeches and actions by certain groups who do so with impunity despite the existence of the Sedition Act, the Penal Code and other powers of the law.
The recent incident at the Low Yat Plaza, which was a simple and clear cut case of theft of a mobile phone that led to an ugly fracas that could easily have flared into a much bigger and serious racial conflict, is a wakeup call for Malaysia.
We in the G25 would like to compliment the police for taking decisive action and to quickly clarify and calm down the situation.
It is time for Malaysians to think seriously about the state of inter-ethnic relations. All of us in Malaysia must play our part to address and reverse the deteriorating state of inter-ethnic relations.
Above all, the government and political leaders have to take a clear and unequivocal stand that Malaysia must remain a moderate and tolerant nation and all the powers of the law must be brought to bear on those who promote hatred and intolerance on the basis of race and religion.
Following the scare over the Low Yat Plaza incident, there have been statements by political and other prominent figures calling for racial harmony including the one by the former prime minister Tun Abdullah Badawi.
In particular, we in the G25 would like to support the call by Datuk Seri Nazir Razak for the government to enact a law banning racism and anti-hate speech.
This is indeed necessary and urgent as testified by the incendiary statements issued by certain extremist groups and how dangerously close the incident was to turning into a racial conflict as a result, amongst others, of the rapid spread of wild rumours through the social media.
At the same time, the timing and circumstances are right for the Government to seriously consider and adopt the recommendations made in the recent Report by the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), after 20 months of deliberations, including its nine-point key outcomes and the proposal to enact a National Harmony Law and to establish a Reconciliation Commission.
In his article in The Edge dated July 17, 2015, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah , a member of the NUCC and CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, said that the highlight of the report is the nine key outcomes or salient points:
1) Increased levels of consultation between ethnic and religious groups in Malaysia. A more holistic and inclusive approach is needed to bring about better understanding between different communities. This will help create greater social cohesion and national unity.
2) Increased democratic literacy and political maturity to enhance multi-ethnic, multi-religious engagement critical to effective nation building.
3) A holistic and balanced understanding of the Federal Constitution with reference to Articles 3, 4, 8, 10, 11, 152, 153 and 181 as the foundation of the Nation. Every Malaysian ought to understand and appreciate the historical, legal, and political development of the Federal Constitution. We should also understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
4) Establish a non-judicial mechanism for mediation and conflict resolution. Every Malaysian should have access to this mechanism and feel confident that the process is just, fair and transparent.
5) The bottom 40% of all communities must have full access to public-sector services. Every Malaysian irrespective of ethnic, religious, political and locational background, as well as gender and sexuality, must feel he or she is a fellow human being and citizen of Malaysia.
6) Improved commitment to ethnic and gender diversity in recruitment in the workplace, both in the public and private sectors.
7) The understanding and appreciation of multi-ethnicity among communities, including proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia and other communities’ languages, need to be strengthened.
8) Ethnic relations and national unity are regularly monitored and reviewed.
9) Strengthened institutional policy and mechanism for the NUCC.
In the context of the follow-up on the report of the National Unity Consultative Council, the G25 makes the following recommendations:
There is a need to incorporate the recommendations made in the NUCC report into the curriculum in schools, colleges and universities;
To conduct a serious review of the controversial National Civic Bureau (BTN) with the purpose of either revamping the BTN in line with the recommendations of the Report of the NUCC or else to close down the BTN altogether and in its place, the G25 recommends that the government should introduce compulsory Community Action Service in the secondary school curriculum with mandatory number of hours required for each student to pass the SPM; and
The time is opportune for the government to revive and expand the vision school initiative, and encourage interracial interaction by striving to have a better mix of students as well as teachers of all races in national schools. At the same time, symbols as well as contents in school books that contain notions of racial or religious supremacy should not be allowed.
The Low Yat fracas and the more recent Berjaya Times Square incident should also be seen as symptoms of a more serious underlying social and economic problem, including, a widening income gap between the affluent middle class and the urban poor amidst the rising cost of living.
The unemployment rate among the young (including graduates) has been rising with the majority of the number of unemployed coming from the Malay community.
The lethal combination of desperation, ignorance and frustration has led to the culture of mat rempits, restlessness and violence, and susceptibility to manipulations by undesirable elements, using the social media.
The government, political leaders and civil society organisations must cooperate and work together to address these dangerous underlying problems. In addressing this underlying problem, the G25 calls on the leadership to:
> Revive the observance of the Rukun Negara principles in schools, the workplace and where relevant, in order to influence the overall conduct and behaviour of all Malaysians. The fifth principle of the Rukun Negara, “Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan” (Courtesy and Morality) is particularly relevant to fostering racial harmony. In this context, there is a need to promote intercultural understanding and literacy of ethnic-based values of all Malaysians as reflected in their everyday life, languages, religions and rituals. Banning the use of words insulting to the different races (e.g: pendatang, pariah) would be a good start to encourage Malaysians to observe “Kesopanan” and respect for our multicultural sensitivities at all times.
> To make attitudes in schools, the civil service and other government institutions which spell of racism unacceptable. These attitudes as seen at service counters of government departments, by overzealous bureaucrats under the guise of application of Islam, must be corrected with new norms which promote respect for values of the different races. It is critical that government administration of public services is not undertaken with undertones of condoning racism and according preferences to certain races based on personal values of public sector officials. There should be sanctions against such behaviour.
> To sanction and impose penalties on teachers and school administrators who practice racist acts in their schools or during student activities. At the same time, to encourage schools to instil a culture of racial harmony, awards or other forms of recognition, including higher budgetary allocations, should be given to schools which introduce innovative programs that actually result in a favourable environment of cultural and religious understanding and tolerance in the school environment and among its students.
Teachers and school administrators have a significant influence on student attitudes on racism, student capacity to develop cultural literacy and overall good behaviour (kesopanan).
As such, it is important that teachers are given personal accountability of their behaviour on this aspect of student development. School heads have an important leadership role in developing a culture of racial harmony and religious tolerance by improving the intercultural understanding and ethnic-based literacy in their schools. An appropriate incentive system can help foster an environment favourable to promoting racial harmony among students at a young age.
The G25 would like to take this opportunity to call on the people of Malaysia and the Government to stand together in promoting and pro-actively advocating racial harmony, tolerance, understanding and cooperation amongst all the races and to take a firm stand, and decisive and quick action against those extremist and divisive groups and individuals.
The lack of firm, decisive and quick action by the authorities against the intolerant, extremist and hate groups is a major disappointment and a cause for concern for many Malaysians. The time to act is now.