Who’s to blame for a divided nation?

There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech.

— Idi Amin, ex-president of Uganda

Recently a Sarawak MP highlighted in Parliament the growing racial divide among Malaysians caused by the constant manipulation of racial and religious issues by political parties.

Stampin MP Chong Chieng Jen pointed out that 58 years after the formation of Malaysia, the country should be more united where people from both East and Malaya would be talking about common prosperity and nation-building.

“There are more Sarawakians now talking about independence of Sarawak or secession of Sarawak from Malaysia,” he said.

For once, I do agree with the Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) chairman, which really doesn’t happen that often.

However, he also said that while the federal government is responsible for this unbalanced situation, the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government, which was previously Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) which had governed the state for the past 58 years uninterrupted, is also to be blamed, to which I disagree.

Sarawak has nothing to do with the polarisation that is occurring in the nation — all this while, rhetoric and religious sentiments have been a party of one — in Malaya itself.

To think about it, we are the opposite of the very ideas they are promoting — an unabashed extreme view on the scheme of things and how to twist it to one side or the other — the conservative and the liberal view.

It is only possible in Sarawak that you mix with friends and family members of different ethnic groups; for a Malay to sip their cup of coffee peacefully at the local Chinese uncle kopitiam and visit each other during festivities or even celebrate together.

That is something that most of our friends in the other side of the South China Sea are not able to do, other than passing their judgements.

So, no, YB — Sarawak is not to blame for Malaya’s political and race-relations failings.

But it would not be quite right if I do not mention that I strongly feel that the polarisation that is happening over there is definitely propagated by the type of politics that they are practising.

Political parties in Malaya over the past few years have leaned towards the race-religion angle a little bit too hard, I might add, in the name of winning political support and getting fence-sitters to back them.

This to the extent of inciting hate among each other, which in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia is bound to involve race and religion. It was going to happen.

In all honesty, the only solution I can see out of this problem is a simple one — we should start being civil to one another. This applies to all, whether you are Malay, Indian or Chinese — and in Sarawak — Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu among others.

We have seen the rise towards a Malay-Muslim narrative especially after GE14, where the elected government at that time, Pakatan Harapan (PH) lacked the very thing that a stable and well-supported government needs — the political support of Malays.

This led to the other side — PH with PKR, DAP, Amanah and Bersatu — portraying themselves to be centrists amid calls for reforms largely originating from left-leaning groups.

While I do not think that the special position of Malays was under threat, at least as alleged by the Malay-Muslim groups during the time, the fact is there was a concern that issues that are deemed sensitive to Malays were becoming fair game for many people.

There was a lot more rhetoric against Islam, the Malay community and this was a real concern. Seemingly today, the effects of the sudden change in government remains to be seen.

A lot of people now celebrate extreme points of view, we now idolise cartoonists and so-called public figures whose work demeans a lot of good people — leaders particularly who we normally have a high regard for.

While I expect to be corrected by some experts who will then explain that Malaysia is experiencing a growth in terms of democratic practices and culture, I would then ask, is this the culture we really want?

We can see the lack of civility on social media. Some good people that I know became increasingly intolerable online.

To end, I think while we celebrate democracy and rights to express opinions, we should be mindful of its effects particularly in race-relations and well as relationships in personal lives. We shouldn’t be obsessed with our political leanings.

We should practise politics of moderation and not politics of division.