Independent but far from united

By Hafidz Baharom

It is now 10PM on the even of Malaysia’s Independence Day, celebrated tomorrow Aug 31. The celebration marks the 62nd anniversary of us gaining our independence from British rule here on Peninsular Malaysia.

One of the hot topics of discussion right now is the subject of unity – or in our case, the lack of it. For myself, I believe the root cause is us now being divided and segregated throughout our entire lives.

It is one thing to talk about unity from the standpoint of cultural diversity, but when it spreads to the point that some can say they don’t have to speak Bahasa Malaysia at all in a single day, or even say they don’t mingle with Malaysians less than they do foreigners, it becomes somewhat awkward.

We are a nation of 32.8 million Malaysians, and yet you can’t even meet a single person out of your race and speak in the national language or even English with them? This by itself tells me that we have formed conclaves of homogeneity to the point that we are segregating ourselves into silos.

But more disturbing is the idea that there are those comfortable having these silos and that unity can still be achieved if and when it is needed. That won’t work.

The threat of segregation nowadays is no longer simply one that you can achieve without reinforcement and self-segregation, just to suddenly jump up and say we will unite. As people segregate themselves and their exposure to others in any other form, so will the segregation continue to be enforced and fortified.

And as such, people can now have entire days not mingling with anyone, stuck in their own media both online and offline, and lose contact with those who disagree with them or are different than them.

Once those walls go up, it will be hard to bring it back down. This is what we see in Malaysia today. Some Malaysians hold more dearly to their race and religion, rather than the concept of a nation itself.

And this is already happening.

So let us go back to the idea of unity as a nation.

What Malaysia needs more than anything else, is a renegotiation of the social contract. The social contract of yesteryears no longer works in this day and age. Nobody who has been in Malaysia since before Independence should be called a pendatang (Immigrant) anymore.

But at the same time, if we truly want to push forward the concept of “One Nation, One Race” (Satu Negara, Satu Bangsa), then it needs to be said – it should be a Malaysian race.

So a renegotiation of the social contract should start with what such a concept should mean. If it means reintegrating society in schools, pushing for diversity reports in workplaces and levels of employment, or even looking at rebalancing the civil service to show integration, then it needs to happen.

At the same time, we do need to discuss common grounds. If it means that we must also discuss shareholding and even the economy as a whole, so be it. There should be nothing barred from a proper discussion.

Even the basic tenements of Rukunegara need to be rediscussed to find common ground once again.

Once we know where we stand, we can then discuss where we should be heading. Vision 2020 no longer applies, and it will be hard to achieve for the next two generations or so as things stand right now. So while those tenets are postponed, we should look at other things to state where we are headed.

The Malaysia Plans would be a better guide to where we are headed right now, but it needs to include social measures as well as anything else. What are we expecting society to be like for the next decade? What are the milestones that can be set? What do we measure?

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