SOMEONE should tell the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department that Malaysia is not an egg.
Last week, Datuk Ahmad Maslan reportedly confirmed that Biro Tatanegara (BTN) participants are given eggs to signify how “fragile” our community is. There may indeed be beneficial lessons to be learnt from egg-caring as demonstrated by a US school curriculum for young students.
But that aside, it is unhelpful and unfortunate that the government’s official line about our nation is that we are a community that is delicate and fragile. Yup, liable to shatter at any time if the slightest pressure is applied.
Walking on eggshells
Malaysians have been constantly bombarded about their supposed fragility by our politicians. If some politicians are to be believed, Malaysians are a really sensitive lot, prone to violence and chaos at every insult, imagined or real.
The spectre of racial riots has been branded into Malaysians’ psyche by constant references to the possible “chaos and unrest” that could be caused if fragile Malaysians took offence. Hence, Ahmad Maslan’s egg metaphor is just part of the “Beware of Violence” script that our politicians are constantly trying to scare us with.
Race is sensitive. Religion is sensitive. The NEP is sensitive. All these issues are too sensitive to discuss openly. They must be discussed “cautiously“, carefully and above all, “sensitively”. Best in fact, if all these issues which beleaguer our nation are discussed behind closed doors, or better still, not raised at all.
Malaysians therefore huddle in their dining rooms, mamak stalls or corner coffee shops and speak about their grouses in low voices, just in case the Special Branch overhears and locks them up without trial under the Internal Security Act.
We’re not fragile
Describing Malaysians as fragile and sensitive really doesn’t give us enough credit. Malaysians have in fact demonstrated a huge propensity for mutual respect, tolerance and cooperation throughout history.
The Nut Graph’s Found in Malaysia section for instance, is brimming with stories from notable Malaysians about strong and united communities in their neighbourhoods. These multiple stories speak of great understanding and friendship amongst different cultures and communities. These stories are probably only the tip of the iceberg of similar experiences shared by many others in this country.
Even today, with the increasing polarisation, friendship and harmony amongst different Malaysians can still be found. Anyone who spent time at the recent Penang Jazz Festival would have encountered multi-ethnic Malaysian bands playing together. In the performing arts as well, artiste collectives such as Five Arts Centre involve Malaysians from different religions and backgrounds working closely together.
Statutory bodies such as the Bar Council also remain multiracial and multi-religious in composition, with no reported clashes between members due to their dissimilarities.
So what is this fragility that politicians like Ahmad Maslan keep talking about? And why is it that this fragility is not spoken of when truly harmful behaviour such as the Shah Alam cow-head protest is blatantly acted out in front of the police? Why no talk of fragility then? Surely, Malaysians cannot be prone to suffering a form of selective fragility?
Or could it just be that depicting Malaysians, or in particular, Malay Malaysians as a fragile, sensitive lot is just a political tool to ensure that public discourse remains under our politicians’ control?
It’s time we dropped the eggshell, thin-skin metaphor and started focusing on the ability and maturity of Malaysians to engage on and discuss difficult issues. Malaysians can do it, so why can’t our political leaders do so, too?
Constantly emphasising society’s apparent fragility does not help in nation-building. Telling Malaysians that we are fragile just sets the tone for how Malaysians should engage with each other — which is that we need to constantly tread carefully around those who are deemed “sensitive”. Telling Malaysians we are delicate is also one way, perchance, to perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy amongst certain Malaysians and discourage open and honest discourse about our differences.
We know that Malaysians are different. After all, no two people are exactly the same even if they have the same religion, ethnicity and upbringing. There is no need to keep lecturing us on our differences. Far from being dangerous, this difference is in fact what makes Malaysia so unique in the world. We are a mishmash of cultures that we can derive strength from and be proud of.
If there are issues that arise due to our differences, then they should be discussed openly and respectfully, and resolved in the public arena. Pretending that issues don’t exist doesn’t solve anything and just makes matters worse over time. Leaving so-called sensitive issues unresolved also affects lives and has caused grave injustice to citizens.
Yes, it’s true that there have been riots in the past. It’s true that people do get hurt, and unkind, inciteful words and actions have been perpetrated by all sorts of Malaysians.
But it’s also true that Malaysians throughout history and up till today, more often than not, reach out across the divide and learn to work through their differences. Why can’t we focus on those stories instead?
Our community is much stronger than an egg.
We can talk through things respectfully and maturely. We can find common solutions. We can be resilient in the face of difficulties. We can rebuild a nation that is respectful of each other that we would all be proud to call our home.
So stop calling us fragile. And imagine what it would do if politicians start labelling us resilient instead.
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