By Mariam Mokhtar
If you are asked your nationality, do you say you are Malaysian, or do you mention the particular race to which you belong?
If you have lived overseas for an appreciable length of time, you are probably aware that people in your host country could not care less about your racial origins. The chances are that you would say you are Malaysian.
If you were to ask a non-Malay if he were Malaysian first or non-Malay first, the chances are that he would readily admit that he is Malaysian, rather than state his race. As will the progressive Malay. He would not hesitate to declare that he is Malaysian first.
On the other hand, the Malay living in Malaysia may be reticent about proclaiming that he is a Malaysian first. Why?
Malaysians have been brought up on an unhealthy diet of conducting our lives through race and religious tinted spectacles. So, have we forgotten to be Malaysian?
I do not think so. Despite the despair, the feelings of hopelessness and the contempt we have for leaders who preach division, we tend to forget that many of us are actually practicing the spirit of being Malaysian without realizing it.
For instance, what do Nicol David, Pandelela Rinong and Fara Ann Abdul Hadi have in common with the white flag that was flown during the coronavirus lockdown?
The answer is simple. These three female athletes fly the flag for Malaysia at international sporting events and they attract strong support from Malaysian spectators.
These Malaysians do not care if Pandelela was from Sarawak. They only want her to score top marks in diving.
Similarly, the Malaysians rooting for Fara Ann do not care if they consider her leotards skimpy and showed too much flesh. All they want is for her to win.
The white flags flown by Malaysians during the coronavirus pandemic have something in common with the athletes.
Individuals, NGOs and companies which responded to the call of help represented by the white flags only saw families in distress. They did not donate food and provisions by looking at the race or religion of the individuals in trouble.
Their effort was about Malaysians helping less fortunate Malaysians.
So, if we can act Malaysian when feeding the poor and supporting the national team, why can’t we be Malaysian for the rest of the time?
To answer the question of how we can realize the “Malaysian first” dream, five things have to be addressed.
First. The Malay of today has lost his identity. He is confused and torn between being a Muslim, an Arab and having read books on the early history of the Malay archipelago, he realizes that he could probably be of Hindu stock.
For political expediency, Umno, Umno-Baru and the ulamas have hijacked Islam and used it to manipulate the Malay mind.
By restoring the cultural identity of the Malay, his sense of belonging as a Malaysian may return.
Second. The problem is that many Malays do not really know their religion, and so Umno-Baru and PAS took advantage of their ignorance and turned Islam into a cult religion.
As in any cult following, the politicians demanded absolute loyalty from the Malays who blindly obeyed the leaders of the cult.
So, if we want to save Malaysia, help stop the religious slide to the point of no return.
Third. To be brutally honest, our so-called leaders are nothing more than second-rate car salesmen with inflated egos.
In our culture, we treat our elders with deference and that is one reason we find ourselves stuck with the old guard — the politicians who are past their prime, who are in their seventies onward, and who possess outdated political ideas.
So, if we want to realize the Malaysian first dream, the young must be bold and seize the challenge to address the leadership vacuum.
Fourth. The ministers of education from the 1980s onward were responsible for laying the foundations for dumbing down the quality of education.
The emphasis on religion stunted the minds of our children, removed the element of being curious and segregated them so that proper integration between different races and faiths was limited.
If we can sort out the education system, we are better equipped to fulfill the Malaysian first dream.
Fifth. With little interaction between different communities, we grew up in a “them” and “us” society which was largely motivated by fear.
It is only through dialogue that barriers are removed. This is when people of different faiths and cultures are surprised to find that they share many common interests like good healthcare, decent jobs, a safe environment to live in, effective infrastructure and good education for their children.
We should promote art and creative projects to open the mind to new ideas.
However, we cannot leave this important task to the politicians. We can make a start at home, in school, in the community, in adult learning groups, on the playground, the sports field and the internet.
Realizing the Malaysian first dream does not require a huge injection of cash like the greedy JAKIM.
Some of us may not realize it, but we are already practicing the spirit of being “Malaysian first” through sport and helping others in our community. We just need to extend the boundaries further.
1. AllEvents.In: Book Launch & Webinar: Lim Kit Siang: Malaysian First
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)