Syahredzan Johan




Racism and bigotry are not just hurdles to our national unity, but are threats to it. They must not be left unchecked. If allowed to fester, they will lead to greater problems.

Our national unity is far from healthy. There is deep suspicion, distrust and prejudice in our society for other races. Ethnic relations seem to have worsened over the past few years.

Until and unless we achieve true unity, then we cannot realise our full potential as a nation. Our nation-building will remain incomplete without achieving national unity.

Unity does not mean that we disregard our ethnic, cultural and linguistic identities. Unity is not homogeny. Unity means that we accept each other as citizens of this country.

But how do we achieve national unity? How do we deal with racism and bigotry?

It is tempting to do so through the heavy hand of the law. For example, there are those who have called for anti-democratic laws such as the Sedition Act in order to ensure a harmonious Malaysia.

But racism and bigotry are not crimes. Even racist and bigoted expressions must not be curtailed if there is no incitement to harm or violence.

There has also been talk about ‘national harmony’ legislation, to foster national unity amongst Malaysians.

But legislation is not the answer. We cannot force people to love each other or accept each other.

Instead, we need to look at the root causes of racism and bigotry in society. We need to identify the fault lines that prevent us from achieving national unity. Only then can we tackle and deal with the problem.

To achieve this, the role of the Government is crucial. Our Government must realise that national unity is paramount and take all steps and measures to foster national unity.

In other words, national unity must be made the national agenda. National unity must be made a priority.

But national unity must not be used as an excuse to silence opposing voices and dissidents. National unity as a national agenda does not mean that contrary and counter expressions will not be tolerated.

It also should not mean that action will be taken on those who espouse expressions which are contrary to national unity or those which are racist or bigoted. We must never forget that we are a democratic country and people do have rights to express themselves, even though those expressions are racist, bigoted or abhorrent to our own sensibilities.

Right now, we have a cabinet minister in charge of national unity. Our cabinet may be too big, but if we are going to make national unity a priority then national unity should have its own ministry.

At the same time, national unity must be made the responsibility of all those in the administration.

There must be no room for racism and bigotry in Government. No member of the administration must be seen to support or espouse racist or bigoted expressions. These expressions must not be given credence or legitimised by members of the administration.

At all times, the key message coming from the Government must be of unity and acceptance. The message must be clear and consistent. It must not be contradicted.

The message must not be delivered merely by slogans or catchphrases, but by true words backed by actual deeds. The people must actually believe that the Government is serious about national unity.

By making national unity a priority, the Government would be leading by example when it comes to this issue.

With the combined efforts of the State and the people, racism and bigotry can be defeated and we can build a truly united Malaysia.

Originally published on The Star on Monday September 21, 2015 MYT 11:36:00 AM