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A nation full of miracles

  • For such a culturally diverse country to come into being was itself almost a miracle.

By Alex Chong

This article is published on Malaysia Day, a day the entire nation celebrates.

Malaysia is a unique country with two birthdays: Merdeka Day on August 31 and Malaysia Day on September 16. It not only has two birthdays but also two sets of laws: the civic and Syariah laws which I'm sure many outside this country may not be aware of.

Looking back at the nation's history, Malaya took six years after its independence in 1957 to seal a federation with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.

September 1963, the Kelantan state government filed a lawsuit to challenge the legality of the Malaysia Act. The case came to a conclusion only two days before September 16, after an entire day of hearing. The formation of the Federation of Malaysia met with resistance from both within and without the country.

The formation of Malaysia has created a multiracial, multireligious and multicultural society. Although Muslims make up the majority of the nation's population, the people here embrace more than a single religion. Some of them are more conservative, hoping that the country is run with conventional Islamic teachings, while others are more liberal and are more inclined to embrace modern philosophies.

Pluralism steers the nation away from dangerous extremism. Former US president Barack Obama had very high regards for this country for taking the initiative to resist religious extremism. To the international community, moderate Malaysians have become role models for Muslims the world over.

Such pluralistic advocacy exists not only in the Malay Muslim society but is also evident in other ethnic communities. Just take a look at the local Chinese community, some are avidly defending the traditional Chinese culture, some are more inclined towards Western ideologies while others uphold the local Malaysian values. Take the protests in Hong Kong for instance, some are fighting tooth and nail for their freedom while others fervently support stricter controls by Beijing.

While differing beliefs may bring about confrontation, it is equally unhealthy for a society to only have one type of voice. If everyone thinks completely the same way, it means that there are people who never exercise their brains.

In addition to the Malays, Chinese and Indians, there are still other minority communities in this country. Assimilating the entire nation is not appropriate for this country. Even the Chinese cannot assimilate all the Chinese here. The survival of this nation lies with its ability to respect and help one another in achieving the ultimate goal of national unity.

Although East and West Malaysia are physically separated by the South China Sea, they both belong to one same nation, albeit with differing political philosophies.

West Malaysian politics has long been influenced by religious and racial ideologies while in East Malaysia, they are more concerned about the rights of the native people to ensure equal treatment in politics, economy and all other areas as well as higher level of self rule.

With non-Malays and non-Muslims making up a much higher percentage of the total population than in West Malaysia, preserving the rights of the Malays and Islam-first advocacy hardly work in East Malaysia. To win the support of the whole population, the administrators need to be fair to everyone irrespective of race and religion. This is what should prevail in a civilized society, and what multicultural Malaysia needs most.

With the formation of Malaysia, Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak became one large family although Singapore opted out two years later.

50 years after its secession, Singapore has become a developed country while Malaysia is still very much stuck in the middle income trap. Indeed there is something about our tiny neighbor's economic policies which we can learn from.

For so many years this country has been doing a lot to help the poor and underprivileged, constantly exploring the issue who is richer and who is poorer. We are so much engrossed in dividing the cake without teaching people how to enlarge the cake. If this is allowed to go on unchecked, the country's economy will remain stagnant. While Malaysia has a population six times larger than Singapore, the city state boasts a GDP that is larger than ours. There is still a lot of room for us to boost our productivity.

The establishment of Malaysia must not be taken for granted. In his 1963 speech, Tunku Abdul Rahman mentioned that the road of nationhood came after we had experienced countless of anxieties, tensions and crises, which I personally agree. Indeed, for such a culturally diverse country to come into being, the establishment of Malaysia was itself almost a miracle.

For the last several weeks, the sky above much of Malaysia has been shrouded in a thick smog. Everyone in this country has hoped that the haze will clear by September 16. Some offered prayers to seek rain while others have come up with the fancy idea of erecting a giant fan to blow the haze away. From the scientific point of view, none of these will promise any chance of success. But for a nation full of miracles, who knows when our next miracle will arrive?

(Alex Chong is Development Manager, Department of Justice, Western Australia.)

 

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