Society should remain steadfast, shoulder-to-shoulder, to ensure religious bigotry, racism, and extremism are never allowed to fester, says Tan Sri Joseph Kurup.
As Malaysia looks forward to its 60th Merdeka anniversary, the Minister in Prime Minister’s Department shared his views and vision in an exclusive interview with Malay Mail’s Ida Nadirah Ibrahim.
Q: Why is it difficult for the people in Peninsular Malaysia to adopt the Sarawak formula, where the people seem more united despite their racial diversity?
A: Sarawak and Sabah are a glimpse of the future — the role model for unity, harmony and opportunity. The people are united despite their differences. We appreciate the uniqueness of our society and our readiness and acceptance of one another’s cultures.
There is also greater interaction among our kids as they play and grow up together.
The government had introduced the National Integration Visit, where we have community leaders from Peninsular Malaysia brought to East Malaysia and were exposed to the different cultures.
The interaction that takes place between the regions among leaders and communities teaches the merits of tolerance and racial harmony from the people in Sabah and Sarawak.
Q: National unity is a term used a lot in our political realm. How does the government define national unity and plan to achieve it?
A: Malaysia has chosen to embrace diversity in ethnicity, religion, beliefs, and build mutual respect. This is something which has been worked on over the years, and creating a united Malaysia will take time.
We shouldn’t have to redefine the meaning of national unity because it is being abused by some individuals. Those that need education on what is national unity are the small number of narrow-minded politicians and bigots who always work towards creating division.
Q: How does Barisan Nasional reflect the concept of national unity by still having race-based parties?
A: Barisan Nasional (BN) was born from the struggle of the people, for the people, by the people, and not from the notion of ideology alone. Each party in BN has their own struggles and beliefs but we never neglect the need of all Malaysians. While many have advocated multiracial parties, race-based political parties remain dominant in our political system. The people have the basic right and freedom to exercise political preference, and if race-based parties are a preference over multiracial parties, we are in no position to deem it wrong or inappropriate.
Q: How do we move forward towards acceptance, love, and understanding?
A: Without tolerance there will be no acceptance. The perception that we are still stuck where we have been is attributed to elements of religious extremism and spread of right-wing rhetoric by a few.
In reality, Malaysians definitely can tolerate the practices and cultures of others. We are in the right direction but there are still challenges. Moving forward, we must continue to practise mutual respect, embrace diversity and not behave as if our own culture or belief is more superior to others.
Q: You had previously said there was a need of a paradigm shift or a re-conceptualisation of how we manage national unity. Can you elaborate on this?
A: Malaysians are no longer thinking solely along the ethnicity paradigm. We see Malaysians cheer for Datuk Lee Chong Wei, Mohd Azizulhasni Awang, Pandalela Rinong and our Paralympian heroes.
We come together to help during disasters such as during the Malaysia Airlines MH17 tragedy, where all Malaysians offered their prayers and mourning. East Coast floods also saw aid pouring from every corner of Malaysia.
We see this and want to promote more of these moments where we Malaysians come together as one. In order to form a more harmonious multiracial society with a higher degree of acceptance, elements of extremism must be dealt strictly with to form a more open-minded society for a better future.
Q: How can the government continue to address and contain the recent surge of racism, extremism and religious bigotry among some Malaysians?
A: Deeper involvement of the community is needed to contain extremism. Local communities should be more active in programmes aimed at ending violent extremism, racism and bigotry. We have spread many positive messages through the 7,000 Rukun Tetangga networks nationwide.
As a grassroot social development machinery, Rukun Tetangga has better understanding on the situation on the ground. Containing the surge of racism, extremism and bigotry should not be solely left to government.
Q: What approaches have the government taken in the areas of economics, education, and cultural to integrate the nation?
A: Many initiatives and national policies are in place to address integration. The New Economic Policy and Vision 2020 were to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth in Malaysia. There are also special economic development corridors to ensure each part of Malaysia is developed. Education policies are introduced such as vision schools, unity kindergartens and Rukunegara clubs in schools.
Q: Should vernacular schools start using Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction to inculcate the importance of the language in national integration?
A: As students spend over a quarter of their time in school from the ages of seven to 17, schools are in a key position to foster unity. Every school has its own character which also includes its medium of instruction.
Bahasa Malaysia, however, is still being adopted as the major medium of instruction and it is still being used as one in vernacular schools. Perhaps there is no need to enforce any law that requires the vernacular schools to use Bahasa Malaysia as the sole medium of instruction. Bahasa Malaysia will always be the country’s national language. Malaysians should not only be able to master Bahasa Malaysia alone, but it must be one of the spoken languages.
Q: What challenges does the government face in nation building? How are they overcomed?
A: There are many challenges, but one that stands out is the need to balance change with continuity. The current phase of nation-building should be in line with the times and reflect the realities of the modern world.
Excellence and meritocracy are the rule of the game as we are facing a globalised environment. Upholding the rule of law is paramount. Good governance and a thriving civil society are also important as institutions of governance should demonstrate norms and behaviour that are fundamentally efficient, productive and just.
The biggest challenge is to build a national identity without forgetting our own roots.
Source : @ Malay Mail Online