Archive for August, 2013
MANY FACES OF UNITY
THE paradox of unity is that it is multifarious, sometimes even contradictory in meaning and interpretation. While the unity of God is absolute in most religions, the unity or oneness of the human species is elusive. At best and in the strictest spiritual sense we are equal before God’s laws. In the strictest societal sense, we must be equal before man’s laws – which is not always the case.
Much as we’d like to believe that God made the human race and therefore the races of the world equal, they are not. This is the reality!
Much as we’d like to believe in the oneness of the human race, we are not alike or uniform. This is a fact!
We have only to look around us to see we are intrinsically and extrinsically multifarious. This is our strength!
The paradox will remain that we are one in God’s eyes but not around the eye of the universe. While it is comforting to know that we shall be equal in eternity, we still have to manage the inequalities in our earthly existence. Let’s manage them well!
The unity of a nation and its people cannot therefore be seen as an absolute. When we talk about the unity of a nation, we are talking about a world where various communities live in a symbiotic relationship – sometimes harmonious but oftentimes not. The challenge to Malaysia and for Malaysians is to create as many beautiful shared realities as we can. These will tide us over our inherent differences and make them easier to handle. We must focus on our common vision which binds us together as a nation.
We must promote the cross-fertilisation of our many strengths.
In the words of Mary Clark “the best hope of humankind is to maintain as rich a diversity of social types as possible, with the expectation that each of these experiments in the human future will cross-fertilise with others, and thus maintain the vital diversity essential for indefinite survival … to ensure a rich source of ideas and techniques for its own future”.
An effective way of promoting the synergy of ideas and techniques, methods and methodologies, strategies and approaches is through dialogue and engagement. It is at such meetings that people from diverse backgrounds can interact in the most rational manner. While the sceptics will insist that talk is cheap and that action speaks louder than words, they must be reminded that action (policies and programmes) is built on the thinking and reasoning that must precede it.
Premised on the belief that by bringing together participants from diverse backgrounds to address the most important aspects of unity, the ASLI-PCORE forum on Aug 29 hopes to arrive at a consensus on how we can chart our future together in the best possible ways.
The forum will explore the need for Malaysians to define a new, fresh approach to multiculturalism viz how to manage our plural society in ways that will bring about unity and a deeper understanding of one another’s differences.
In particular, the forum aims to define the national discourse by:
» constructing a fresh approach to unity and multiculturalism which focuses on the positive notions of co-existence, conciliation, compromise and collaboration
» galvanising the voices of moderation to speak openly and honestly on issues of public concern
» bringing together diverse groups to engage one another and communicate in a balanced and rational manner
» renewing efforts to build a future together for a united Malaysia.
Looking at the rising religious intolerance and racial bigotry among certain sectors of society, we have to agree that national unity and integration has not occurred at a meaningful level. It seems that more and more, citizens are driven apart by their race and religion-based affiliations.
A sense of despondency is enveloping the second half-century of Malaysia’s development as the cracks begin to show in interethnic relations. Racial polarisation is a reality.
With political developments becoming more volatile, there is a real danger that the cracks will widen, creating chasms in the nation’s bid to become a harmonious, multicultural society.
Malaysia’s future lies in its right-thinking citizens who care enough to lend their voices of peace, conscience and reason at forums such as the ASLI-PCORE one. Do not be distracted by cynics who say we are preaching to the converted because if more of the converted speak up in their community and group spaces, a new wave of thinking and a constructive national discourse will be created to counter the poisonous rhetoric surfacing everywhere.
Register for the ASLI-PCORE forum by Aug 24. Email email@example.com
RAYA WISHES FOR SYAWAL
THIS Raya I will not be having an “open house” but our house is open to family and friends who wish to share with us the customary good cheer and goodwill in the Muslim month of Syawal.
Coming after Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to complete their cycle of abstinence with another six days of fasting after the first day when Hari Raya or Aidil Fitri is celebrated.
After observing a Ramadan of gastronomical prudence and sacrifice, Syawal is celebrated with the same modesty and restraint that Islam teaches its adherents to observe in all aspects of their lives.
Some people reason that because of Ramadan’s restrictions, it seems right that family and friends are greeted with a lavish spread of food and drink on Hari Raya. Raya tables often groan with traditional delicacies and convulse with modern culinary delights.
Today it’s not unusual to have an array of local varieties with popular international ones – lemangand rendang with spaghetti bolognaise or cupcakes with dodol.
Another reasoning is that it is easier to entertain everybody at the same time than to have visitors come in twos and threes and run the risk of a diminishing food table.
And so in Malaysia, the culture of big private, corporate and national “open houses” has evolved and become a huge celebration of interethnic food and drink over the whole month of Syawal.
And so, beside the Malay savouries and sweetmeats are the Chinese and Indian favourites in a delicious swirl of coexistence and collaboration. Selamat Hari Raya should rightly become Selamat Bulan Raya and Selamat Kongsi Raya.
Being the killjoy and sceptic that I have become after observing so much decay and disarray in the Malaysian scene of togetherness, I wonder if the time has not come for us to take stock of our way of managing things.
If national open houses have not done much to seal national integration, why waste precious funds feeding people who have no idea what their objectives are in the first place? If all these platforms have done is to promote superficial smiles and handshakes, why waste the rakyat’s money only to encourage overeating and bad eating habits among Malaysians?
Would it not be more meaningful for Malaysians to meet in smaller groups where, over a modest meal, they find time to engage one another with sympathy and empathy? Would not the bond of goodwill and friendship be better promoted among people who truly care to understand one another’s ways?
Multiculturalism should be seen as more than the sharing of food and drink or enjoying one another’s songs and dances. It is more than knowing the festivities, rites and rituals of the communities in a plural society. It is more than celebrating the colours of Malaysia against the cacophony of interethnic drumbeats.
True multiculturalism comes with a genuine understanding of one another’s beliefs and the reasons behind them. It should be accompanied by the willingness to listen and empathise even when they go against one’s own convictions. The thing is we don’t have to believe, but we do need to be compassionate and caring.
It saddens me that in the month of Ramadan, something as trivial as beauty pageants should take up so much space in the media discussion forums. Suddenly, the banning of the four Muslim contestants from taking part in a beauty contest has become an interethnic, religious issue which has the potential of turning into a full-blown national one.
Typically, the more liberal in all faiths and religions are ganging up against their orthodox compatriots via an onslaught of modern arguments with human rights and individual freedoms as their basis.
Typical comments on Facebook include “If Muslim males and females are allowed to participate in sports in skimpy clothing, why not the beauty contestants?” or “If Muslim men are allowed to show off their half-naked, rippling torso in a body-building competition, why can’t Muslim women show off their female form in a beauty contest?”
What is disconcerting is that non-Muslims are also entering the discourse space which is better managed by the affected Muslims.
Perhaps Malaysians would also welcome Roman Catholics and other orthodox religious groups taking their churches and priests to task over formal decrees on issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
The churches and temples would then be obliged to explain why their adherents typically disobey these decrees and the action taken against them.
Only then would the concept of fairness, liberty and freedom of speech be manifested across all faiths and religions.
Only then would the custodians of holy books and holy places be given the opportunity to explain their stand to the rest of us who stand and stare.
My wishes for Syawal may be personal but I hope they have implications at/for higher levels. Meantime, I pray endlessly for the peace and harmony which threaten to elude me at the personal and national levels.