Hornbill Unleashed

October 7, 2016

Can language, religion and culture really unite us?

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 9:01 PM

malaysian2Conflicts exist today simply because we forget that religion, language, and even culture are “living creatures” with a set of utilities, functions and rightful roles attached to it.

We have argued about why Malaysians are generally not proficient in Malay, our official national language. We have argued about why certain religious practices are at odds even with those professing the same religion. We have argued about why our cultures are dying, inundated and overwhelmed as it is by Western influence or modernism and so on.

I have always believed that if something is useful, people will learn it and later adopt it. Hence, many learn English because they know the language will widen their horizons, enhance their knowledge and skills, as well as improve their employability and economic wellbeing in the long run. We master the language willingly as we are not incentivised in any way by the state.

We are told Malay is our national language. Learning and mastering it is mandatory in our schools. We need the language in order to deal with officers in government departments, for citizenship application and to apply for jobs in the civil service. Yet, despite its importance, many have remained rudimentary in their command of the Malay language. They find investing in English and Mandarin probably more rewarding.

Perhaps we shouldn’t look at the national language purely from an economic standpoint. We are told Malay is our language of unity and national cohesion. Somehow, most other countries believe in this too and Malaysia is no exception.

But seriously, is a single language really that important to unity? Have we not seen people who speak the same language and share the same culture and religion fight like cats and dogs? The reality is that there is no end to the reasons that divide people. We tend to create or find a new excuse. If we have a common language and religion, maybe the next dividing factor will be income disparity, social status or regional differences.

The same goes with religion. We have seen the increased emphasis people put on it. We have seen the strict adherence expected from all its followers as well as non-believers. We have seen state apparatuses coming to the forefront to enforce religious doctrines and beliefs. But has all this gone well? Increasingly, have we not seen more people resenting the encroachment into their lives?

If religion is good and timeless, why is it causing so much dissension today? Instead of uniting, it is often a source of conflict even among the followers of the same faith.

I think the problem has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with human interpretation which may be driven by many factors other than faith. It is either that people make religion relevant by being inclusive or make it irrelevant by being dogmatic. I think there is too much of the latter today.

We can promote and uphold many issues – religion, culture, language et cetera. Ultimately, the success of our efforts depends on whether there are buyers or not. When we buy something, it is based on whether it is beneficial to us. Religious and language experts and nationalists can talk about the grander stuff till the cows come home but the success of any effort still depends on us, the buyers.

TK Chua

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