Monday, September 21, 2009

Diversity is a sign of strength not weakness

Going beyond open houses

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had rightly made racial unity as the focus of his first Hari Raya Aidilfitri message to the nation. He declared that we are 1Malaysia family, a concept that recognizes every citizen as equal regardless of race, creed and political ideology. Whether his 1Malaysia remains just a political slogan, like many others before it, remains to be seen. His most difficult task will be to get his own party, Umno, to back his 1Malaysia.Will he succeed where his predecessor failed miserably? Thecoming months may give the answer but his failure will spell the end of the once invincible Barisan Basional(BN), as many of the components parties in the coalition are now is disarray.

Najib’s message to the Muslims is timely; being the majority they not only have the right but more importantly, the responsibility to carry the torch of unity and progress of all Malaysians. He urged the Muslim majority to not only to open the door of the house to guests but also to open “the door of the heart” to all, including the non-Muslims. The Muslim majority must take the lead to show the path towards moderation and tolerance for others.

Hosting of open houses has become our unique way of celebrating the festivals by the various racial and religious communities in the country. This is indeed a good practice and must be encouraged but we must not stop at just visiting our friends at their open houses but strive to develop a deeper and more genuine relationship with our friends of different race and religion. Such a relationship should be based on mutual love, respect and acceptance, not just tolerance for each other’s cultures.

Unfortunately even the open house concept has become politicized and commercialized. There many these days hosting open houses for political reasons to get support from the people and others for commercial reasons to repay faithful customers. These may be inevitable but what is more important is for ordinary people to host open houses for those around them to promote goodwill towards those of different race or creed. This is vital for cultivating the genuine unity that we need today.

The recent ‘cow-head’ incident is an ugly reminder that all is not well with inter-ethnic relations in the country. It is an indication that after 52 years of staying together there are still those among us who are intolerant to the differences among us. Superficially we may appear to be united but deep down there is a great deal of suspicion, jealousy and even hate for those different from us. We may console ourselves by saying that these extremists are just the minority among us but nevertheless they must be taken seriously and corrected before such ill-feelings become more widespread.

Whether we like it or not Malaysians of all races and creed are here to stay. Instead of cultivating suspicion of each other it will be wiser and more fruitful for us to learn to co-exist in peace and harmony with others around us. We must rid ourselves of the egocentric attitude and accept the facts that we are not always right neither are others always wrong. As such we must adopt the good of others and discard the bad in ours. That is the basic principle of peaceful co-existence that we must instill in the hearts of our children. I am sure this is what God wants and that is what we must do for lasting peace, progress and happiness.

As we celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri as Malaysians, let us not forget how fortunate we are to be blessed with such diverse cultures in our country. These are God given treasures that we must cherish and preserve at all costs for the benefit of our future generations. We must build on our diversity to make the various cultural differences our way of life as Malaysians. Diversity must be seen as a sign of strength not weakness.

As the Prime Minister says it is time for Malaysians to open the “doors of their hearts” to all fellow citizens regardless of race and creed. We must break down the walls of prejudice, hatred and apathy for the sake of the future of our children and the nation. Whether we succeed as a nation depends very much on us not less so on the political leaders.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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