A fragility that is tough to break

pic by BERNAMA

BY NOW, surely most Malaysians would have noticed that it had been a cacophonic two weeks of overbearing racial-religious narratives.

No doubt, they are passionate matters, and so everyone but everyone dives in with an opinion without care if the opinion is going to cause more harm than otherwise.

But more disconcerting is that it exposed the fragility of Malaysians in so far as race and religious matters are concerned.

It was pointed out by a discerning Malaysian that what was unravelling is not something that is new nor out of the ordinary.

He shared a few passages from the Malay Dilemma, a controversial book authored by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad half a century ago, at a time he was in the political wilderness. (It has to be noted that Dr Mahathir had, a few years ago, when asked if he still stood by what he had written, replied that he had changed his mind on some points but did not provide any specifics).

The passages, whether they were among those that Dr Mahathir no longer held on to or not, read: “Looking back through the years, one of the startling facts which must be admitted is that there never was true racial harmony. There was tolerance. There was accommodation. There was a certain amount of give and take. But there was no harmony. There was, in fact, cacophony, muted but still audible. And periodically, the discordant notes rose and erupted into isolated or widespread racial fights.”

He further wrote: “Racial harmony in Malaya was therefore neither real nor deeprooted. What was taken for harmony was absence of open inter-racial strife. And absence of strife is not necessarily due to lack of desire or reasons for strife. It is more frequently due to lack of capacity to bring about open conflict.”

It is quite eerie to read these passages that came from an ugly Malaysian past, written after the “May 13th” tragedy when some of them sounding still quite true in the present day context.

In fact, the cacophony of racial discords that Dr Mahathir wrote then is no more muted, but is loudly proclaimed through the social media platforms.

And if the debates that rage publicly across these platforms are to be taken as the barometer to gauge race relations, the tolerance, accommodation and give and take that he wrote have deteriorated further than what it was 50 years ago.

It is a situation where no quarter shall be given so none will an inch gain.

There are, however, contrarian opinions that given the openness and public debates over such matters, the possibilities of an open racial strife are reduced as these negativities are no more bottled and akin to letting off steam.

How far that’s true will probably require another write-up and a book from Dr Mahathir, but the crux of the matter that needs addressing is how it is so easy to stoke racial and religious bigotry in a nation.

Debates and the presence of the Dong Zong, Zakir Naik, khat and jawi, UEC and vernacular schools, and so forth are merely symptoms of the illness afflicting the nation.

A firm and uncompromising stand in dealing with some may be required so as to stop the potentially gangrenous spread.

Superficially, they don’t seem to be matters beyond resolve, but try doing so will result with one side going ballistic and resolving them is also not an option as the “other side” will be baying for blood, metaphorically speaking (to be on the safe side lest someone decides to take it literally).

While concerned Malaysians lament on these intolerant and belligerent racial-religious adherents, there are those whose conviction over these are purely driven by political gains.

Whenever possible, they pounce of these issues, stoke the fire and add the fuel, hoping that it would reach a level that it spills over and lead to a political backlash on the ruling party.

Most times, these racial/religious cards are used to undermine the government though most realised that gaining favours and political support from racial and religious groups will only see them demanding their dues once power changes hands.

When their demands are not met, they will offer if not sought by the now powerless faction and so the vicious cycle continues.

More difficult to detect and fend off is when such moves are encouraged if not sparked from within, for whatever reasons or game they see afoot. Since it is politics, obviously it is about power.

Regardless what are the motives and the outcomes, if the plan succeeds, it will still see the racial and religious relations remain unresolved, if not worsened.

And the cacophony will grow louder for everyone to hear. But those who gain, they’ll be unperturbed. For they are skilled in turning a deaf ear.


Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.