Making the impossible dream possible

Last weekend saw the sealing of a pact between a race-based political party and a party with an exclusive religious agenda.

Sep 20, 2019

By Anil Netto
Last weekend saw the sealing of a pact between a race-based political party and a party with an exclusive religious agenda. That it took place on the eve of Malaysia Day, a day to celebrate our diversity, was depressing, a worrying development, for many.

This pact could attract those with chauvinistic or bigoted views who do not understand what it means to live in a multicultural society that should celebrate diversity and see it as an asset.

In the 2018 general election, the old politics of race and religion was roundly defeated thus raising hopes of a new Malaysia. For about six months after the general election, we felt the promise of a new Malaysia was within reach.

But then, the defeated forces of the old politics that focus on ethnicity and a narrow religious agenda regrouped. What we are seeing in recent months is a pushback by these forces of the old politics who have come together in a show of strength.

Unfortunately, by focusing on narrow ethnoreligious issues — thereby forcing the government to respond to them — the nation risks losing sight of the critical issues confronting us. These issues include the high government debt, youth unemployment, a lack of genuinely affordable housing, a poverty rate (15-20 per cent) higher than earlier thought and stagnant real wages.

The government needs to focus on improving the quality of life for the people, especially the poor, the marginalised and vulnerable  groups. It should increase social spending, as the UN special rapporteur recently advised. Such spending should go into public education, public healthcare, public transport and genuinely affordable housing.

Where will the money come from? Simple — just scrap the unnecessary mega-projects that will only benefit a relatively small circle of vested interests and introduce a progressive taxation system.

We have not even begun to consider the plight of the six to seven million people in our land who have little or no rights — the migrant workers, along with refugees and asylum seekers.

Environmental issues have also struck us with a vengeance. Think of the smog, the Lynas controversy, our diminishing rainforests and the flash floods — and now climate change.

What is unfolding here is perhaps not much different from the situation in many other countries, even in the developed world, where politicians manipulate ethnic and religious
sentiments to win support or remain in power.

Sometimes these unscrupulous politicians stoke up fear, or even hatred, of “the other” especially foreigners and refugees. This allows them to divert the insecurities of the ordinary people from critical socioeconomic issues to whatever bogeymen the politicians can come up with.

But all is not doom and gloom.

Many ordinary Malaysians will be able to see through such an ethno-religious pact whose obvious goal is to win votes by appealing to the primordial ethnic and religious sentiments of the majority community.

In this more open and digital era, more Malaysians are now mature enough to overcome these divisions and understand what it means to live and work side-by-side with one another.

Our hope lies in mature and enlightened Malaysians, especially the younger generation and new voters above 18 and Sabahans and Sarawakians — who will show us the way to live in harmony in the new Malaysia that treasures its diversity.

Even if our faith in some politicians may be eroded somewhat, that does not mean we cannot be the salt of the earth, trying to change the world one bit at a time.

Of course, those in power or with high positions do have the potential to bring about great change. But sometimes, no matter how much an individual may want to reform the system, that person could end up being marginalised by the system — a voice in the wilderness in the corridors of power.

Many of the great people throughout history, who brought about lasting change, did not have political power. Rather, from the prophets of old to modern-day public intellectuals and critics, through their prophetic actions, words and writing, they have left a lasting legacy and influenced countless generations of people.

Think of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Oscar Romero, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Ambiga. They show us what ordinary people can do to make a big difference.

This is why we should not allow those who manipulate ethnic and religious sentiments to monopolise the narrative.

On the contrary, we need a new narrative for a new Malaysia that promotes justice, compassion, inclusivity and a celebration of diversity in all its richness.

If all of us, the salt of the earth, were to promote this narrative in our everyday lives and at every opportunity we get, then we can expect the unexpected and realise the impossible dream

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