The time is long overdue to stop looking for progress through racial or ethnic leaders. Such leaders have too many incentives to promote polarising attitudes and actions that are counterproductive for minorities and disastrous for the country.
– Thomas Sowell, American economist and social theorist
Malayans are becoming more polarised by the day, no thanks to divisive policies, parties and politicians.
Just look at the so-called campaign to boycott non-Muslim products.
It all started in social media when some people formed groups and called on Muslims to buy Muslim-made products.
As with most issues posted in FB or WhatsApp, this one also snowballed out of proportion with help, unfortunately, from leaders of this country.
The moment Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said something against it, he was stating the official stand of his government. Once that stand was made, it was as if the PH people were waiting for him to say what they had wanted him to say.
And so the issue snowballed, by Sept 4 it was with the Cabinet.
A report went: Cabinet today unanimously agreed that the call to boycott non-Muslim products was extremely unreasonable, and urged the people to throw their support behind Malaysian products.
The Prime Minister’s Department said Cabinet ministers had rejected such a move and described it as narrow minded and founded on racial sentiments stirred by certain quarters.
“It can harm the country’s harmony and well-being. Instead, the people should support Malaysian made products, which will benefit the nation,” it said in a statement issued after the cabinet meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
If one cares to follow the issue closely, it started as “prioritising Muslim products”. It was never a “don’t buy non-Muslim products” or “boycott Chinese products” campaign.
Unfortunately, leaders such as Lim, were merely adding fuel to the fire.
Lim, the Finance Minister and DAP secretary-general, went as far as saying “the campaign was initiated by a racist and extremist non-governmental organisation that was senseless and expressed his regret that neither PAS nor its new ally Umno were rejecting such calls”.
See how a social media campaign by some dubious groups turned into a PAS-Umno bashing?
The issue snowballed even further, of course!
But before Dr Mahathir or Lim or the rest of the ministers took interest in the social media posts, did anybody in the government do any kind of survey to see the impact of the so-called boycott?
Were non-Bumi companies complaining of declining sales due to the boycott?
It was a campaign to get Muslims to buy Muslim-made products, why was the government reacting in such a manner?
But that’s Malayan politics for you. Everything is being politicised — from a call to Muslims to support Muslim-made products to refusal to wear the songkok; from Unified Examination Certificate to khat; and from Zakir Naik to saying prayers together — anything that’s good to a politician or political party or a coalition of political parties is being politicised.
For Sarawakians, the ‘buy-Muslim product first’ campaign is a non-issue; UEC is recognised by the state government; Zakir Naik is banned from Sarawak; and for Muslims and non-Muslims to say their prayers side by side is never a problem. In fact, it is a common and acceptable practice both at government and personal levels.
The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim)’s latest ruling that Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed to participate in interfaith prayers has been as good as trashed by the state government.
“In Sarawak, this is not an issue,” Islamic Affairs Assistant Minister Abdul Rahman Junaidi was quoted as saying.
“We in Sarawak always prioritise maintaining harmony and unity among races and religions in a multi-cultural society,” he added.
Echoing this sentiment was Communications and Corporate Affairs Assistant Minister Abdullah Saidol: “In all state government functions, we will say a prayer and believers of other faiths are also encouraged to pray in their own way.
“[For] the Ustaz reciting the prayer, I have never heard them say the prayer is only for Muslims,” he said.
Abdullah Saidol went further to say that GPS practises more inclusive values and it will not play politics with the rakyat’s trust.
“This is our identity, inclusive, not exclusive. In Sarawak, there is no room for such things (exclusivity).
“We do not want to get dragged into the political culture of the Peninsula, controlled by political parties there,” he added.
The strongest words came from Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg: “If you are a bigot, don’t come to Sarawak. We are peaceful people.”
Like it or not, as far as living and co-existing harmoniously is concerned, what little is left of the Malaysian sanity is found only in Sarawak.
Unfortunately, even that is under threat because while GPS fights to make sure that Sarawakians will continue to appreciate and accept each other, despite their different racial and religious background, the Malayan political culture is seeping in.
If Sarawakians are not careful, they, too, will be as polarised as the Malayans are today.