On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

We must draw the line on hot issues

When the various sides have expressed their views, there
has to be a meeting point for the different perspectives to converge.

In Malaysia, the message is clear: no one race can have everything. Politics is
all about accommodation and compromise.

In recent years, issues that were once considered taboo are now being discussed
more openly.

But it is never easy. Last week, an opposition politician lost his cool when he
was asked by a newsman whether his statements on the university quota would
lead to racial unhappiness.

The seasoned politician, who is used to provoking government politicians,
became angry when he found himself at the receiving end.

The reporter's newspaper sadly responded in an emotional manner.

In a democracy, there will always be many perspectives. But we Malaysians,
newspapers included, need to always remind ourselves that we must be sensitive
towards the feelings of all.

Non-Malays today read Bahasa Malaysia newspapers while the views of Chinese
dailies are highlighted in Bahasa and English publications. In the case of the
English press, it has a heavier responsibility as it is read by all

At the same time, we must also bear in mind that the stand of these newspapers,
Bahasa or Chinese, reflects the sentiments of the majority of their readers and
must thus be respected.

The reminder of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his deputy,
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, on national unity is thus timely.

Such reminders are necessary as many of us sometimes become careless or
emotional when discussing national issues.

Dr Mahathir described national unity as “an invaluable gift which cannot be
measured in material gains.''

Malaysians, especially politicians and pressure groups, often do not know where
to stop.

Rational discussion is good but a line must also be drawn, as in a game with
rules and regulations.

Some of us do not understand the difference between making appeals and making
demands. A polemic on a specific topic can degenerate into other issues and,
soon, the original topic is lost as emotions flare.

National unity, as Abdullah said, must never be taken for granted because if we
do, we open our doors to racial intolerance and even ethnic chauvinism.

Speaking at a forum on national unity, Abdullah expressed his concern that the
willingness to compromise may not be shared by the younger generation.

Without the baggage of the May 13 incident, there is always the misguided sense
of bravado.

Abdullah said: “There is now an increasing number of Malay youths who regard
the policies of the New Economic Policy as bunk and outdated.

“They say they are ready for meritocracy and yet they are, as a group, still
mediocre compared to non-Malays.

“There are non-Malays who also question the social contract as Malaysians,
born in Malaysia, educated in Malaysia and feeling every bit as Malaysian as
the Malay.

“Many non-Malay youths demand that they be given the same privileges as
Malays. On the other spectrum, there are still Malay youths caught up in the
nationalism of the 1960s and 70s who, instead of focusing on strategies to
empower the Malays, call for more assistance and more crutches to be

Abdullah has correctly felt the pulse of many Malaysians but, as he said,
national unity and nation-building are painfully slow processes.

However, Malaysians should never underestimate themselves. We have shown the ability
to accommodate each other.

Since independence, the country has accommodated, instead of assimilated, the
cultures of all ethnic groups.

The country's leadership has been tolerant, compromising and open. Although
Umno, MCA and MIC are communal-based parties, they have adopted a non-communal
approach in its politics.

There is a sense of a common purpose, common destiny and a common flag. In the
years to come, it would not be a surprise if the component parties evolve to
become a singular multi-racial party.

So long as we remain committed to the ideals of cultural diversity, it will not
be impossible to attain the goals of national unity.