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An understanding heart

  • Conflicts and tension have been a consequence of undesirable emotions from a closed, angry, jealous and insincere heart.

By Dr Jeniri Amir

One of the subjects I have been teaching at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UMS) is ethnic relations. I am also involved in authoring and editing ethnic relations book that has become a major source of reference for use at the university.

During the writing and editing of the said module, a group of lecturers hailing from across the nation regularly met and discussed so that the book would take into consideration its benefits to all ethnic groups in the country so as to give the students optimal effects in learning.

I have always stressed to my multiracial students from around the nation taking this subject the importance of looking beyond the contents inside the textbook.

This book clearly explains the various factors and concepts that will help fortify solidarity in our multicultural society as well as those that may hinder or even destroy national unity.

In addition, I regularly make use of anecdotes from real stories that contain more effective messages because of the abundant element of pathos or emotional touch that comes from the heart as well as harmonious interracial relationship with a pure, genuine and open heart.

The message that I have always wanted to present to my students is the utmost importance for them to understand and respect other ethnic groups, including their religions, cultures and beliefs.

Based on the feedback from the students, this subject has somewhat opened their eyes and hearts so as not to act in a racist or prejudiced manner towards people from other ethnic backgrounds.

It is by no means easy to build a peaceful, harmonious and united society and country, less so in a multiracial, multireligious and multicultural society.

If we were to take a look at the many social issues that are developing in our society at this moment -- from the Zakir Naik issue to conflicts between drivers from different races on our highways as well as the teaching of Seni Khat at vernacular schools, among others -- the situation now indeed is alarming and worrisome.

Such issues have not only triggered tension across the racial line but also within an ethnic community itself because everyone has his or her own interpretations of an issue. To make things worse, everything has been largely viewed from the angle of race.

Has our interracial relationship or solidarity improved as we prepare to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of the country's independence?

If yes, then why have all these things happened despite the many steps and policies having been taken by the government all these decades to establish a united society? What has actually gone wrong?

Are we now in a stable yet tense era in ethnic relations, or are we back in the tumultuous era of interracial conflicts?

Indeed, it is not easy to build a harmonious and united society.

A thousand and one policies will never be effective enough if a particular ethnic community in this country still looks at other communities from its prejudiced racial point of view. A harmonious and united society will remain a remote dream if we still keep our discrimination, stereotyped impressions and prejudices towards other races deep inside us.

The heart is the source of everything!

The situation is worsened by the presence of social media that makes it extremely easy for an individual to post a provocative, emotive and irresponsible statement or comment. The attitude of netizens and social media users who write emotionally and irrationally have made it much easier for tension to rise within our society. A heart that is overpowered and dominated by negative sentiments: anger, hatred, prejudice, etc., will tend to see things from a biased and slanted perspective.

As such, it is imperative that we exercise our rationality and a tranquil heart to deal with this thing cautiously, because if we fail to do so, we will all sink or get burned alive. It is important for us to always remain calm and sensible to ensure the country's sociopolitical stability which we have been building up collectively for so long.

Baseless narratives and comments especially those touching on culture, language, religion, race and the royalty, will instantly fire up social sentiments. Consequently, we must stay away from trouble, as it will not benefit anyone in the first place. Each of us, irrespective of race, has an inevasible obligation to preserve the racial harmony of Malaysia.

Irresponsible talks and writings without considering racial sensitivity will only imperil racial solidarity and harmony of this country. Statements that are provocative and disparaging to other communities will only be reciprocated with statements that are not any less provocative and disparaging. Emotions that spread through any form of uncontrolled communication channel will only serve to destroy our cordial relationship with people from other ethnic backgrounds. Such statements are akin to raging fires that will burn us all if more oil is thrown into them.

As a Sarawakian, I sometimes find it unbelievable how racial tension and conflicts could be sparked off so spontaneously among the Malays, Chinese and Indians on Peninsular Malaysia. Is political or economic hegemony the source of all this? What makes it so easy for negative emotions to be ignited among the Malays, Chinese and Indians there?

The Malays see the political domination of the Chinese as a major threat to their status, while the Chinese perceive the apparent inequality and injustice being practiced in the country.

In Sarawak, we are constantly cautious when it comes to racial sensitivity. We never post our race-related comments or remarks deliberately for fear they will ignite the flame of racial conflicts.

We are well aware that we should not quarrel with people from other races but help one another instead. Moreover, interracial marriages are so common in Sarawak.

Take for example my own Melanau family has had marriages with people from other backgrounds such as the Malays, Chinese, Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu. So, how can I belittle other races or hold prejudices against them whereby many of my relatives and subordinates have mixed lineages as a result of the very common cross-cultural marriages?

This whole thing actually is a question of heart: how important it is for us to take care of the hearts and feelings of other races in a bid to avert unnecessary misunderstanding.

Misunderstanding could give rise to problems that may eventually imperil our social relations, harmony and solidarity. Conflicts and tension have been a consequence of undesirable emotions from a closed, angry, jealous and insincere heart.

Promoting interracial harmony should start from the heart. What I was trying to say is that we have both uplifting as well as destructive emotions. If we allow our negative emotions to take control of us, making us see other races with full hatred, prejudices, etc., sure enough such negativity will disrupt our racial relations with other people.

On the contrary, if we are full of sympathy, empathy and understanding, positive effects shall prevail. A sincere heart untainted with hatred and prejudices will sow the seed of peace, serenity and joy in our multicultural society.

Being sincere means devoid of the elements of hypocrisy, deception and dishonesty. We need not generalize a particular ethnic group just as we should refrain from instilling stereotyped values inside our hearts and minds.

A reality that we need to admit is that it is not a matter of whether a particular ethnicity is good or bad, but how it is perceived by another individual. No one is from a good or bad community. As such, we should be realistic because this will help deliver us from being emotional and issuing irresponsible narratives and rhetorics that may jeopardize racial relationship.

We must always inculcate a pure heart imbued with good and positive values because this will help us maintain a cordial relationship with other people.

Merdeka Day offers a unique opportunity for us to reflect on the nation's past and future as a multiracial, multicultural and multireligious nation.

We must continue to be accommodating, tolerant, understanding, appreciative and respectful, and not to quarrel among ourselves, for such squabbles and conflicts will destroy us all eventually.

Indeed, all these have to start right from our hearts!

(Dr Jeniri Amir is political analyst from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Unimas.)


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