On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Sense and sensitivity must prevail

STRESS the common values shared by Malaysians and highlight those
similarities in the Ethnic Relations course in all local universities. 

We should spend more time talking about our common values and beliefs instead
of stressing on our differences. 

The Higher Education Ministry had good intentions when it introduced the
Ethnic Relations course in Universiti Putra Malaysia and, subsequently, in all
universities. But whether it is a module, guidebook or textbook, there is
nothing wrong in taking another look at the contents of the course. 

The Cabinet has rightly withdrawn the controversial guidebook. There is
nothing wrong in admitting that there are flaws in our work. Life is not just
about scoring points – whether from a political or communal perspective.  

Regardless of our race, religion and culture, we all believe in the
importance of compassion and truth.  

We can be Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or Christians, but we respect each other
and our faiths – that is the hallmark of Malaysia. 

A temple, a church and a mosque can exist next to each other and that is
wholly acceptable in Malaysia. We don't even think about it. We call our God by
many names and pray differently. But ultimately, we believe in the Almighty.  

And all religions teach us to be moral, charitable, selfless and tolerant.
That is the core of all religions.  

Our religions expect us to be morally upright, and we certainly should not
tolerate corrupt figures even as they work hard at projecting themselves as
pious and God-fearing pillars of society. 

We see no differences when it comes to issues such as social greed, abuse of
power, economic disparity, racial polarisation and democratic rights. But what
have we done?  

Instead of focusing on universal values, which all Malaysians share, some of
us prefer to point fingers at one another. That is not the way to build good
ethnic relations.  

There is nothing wrong in using historical events to remind us of the need to
be sensitive in a plural society, but old wounds are unnecessarily opened when
we start blaming each other for events that are long over. 

It would be more appropriate for our universities to recommend that our
students read books and newspaper reports on the May 13 and the Kampung Medan
incidents as part of their tutorial work.  

Let our students draw their own conclusions based on the various sources
available to them so that they can enrich their minds. Don't force on them our
prejudices and views.  

We must learn from those shameful incidents, especially the younger
generation. But let us not plant seeds of discontent and hatred in the minds of
our young.  

It does not matter who struck the first blow. It is more important that we
accept that violence is wrong. 

We need to remind our young that peace in the country cannot be taken for
granted. We have to work at it.  

Reminders to exercise restraint in our statements may sometimes be regarded
as old-fashioned in this cyber age when nothing is sacred and nothing is
censored. But the price of democracy can be costly if we only choose to see an
issue from our own perspective or, even, prejudice.  

Tolerance and compromise are strengths, not weaknesses. Common sense, in the
larger interest of all Malaysians, must never be under-estimated. 

It is bad enough that many of our prejudices, which are stumbling blocks to
nation-building, are being perpetuated by some quarters. 

We cannot expect our young to listen to politicians preaching national unity
the whole year round but churning out racial remarks at their annual party
assemblies. That is hypocrisy. 

As we debate this issue, it may be timely for the Cabinet to also direct the
Education Ministry to look at the contents of our school history books or the
textbook for new civil servants. 

Is it true that Sybil Kathigesu, the heroic woman who lost her doctor husband
and child while providing help to the people during the Japanese Occupation, has
vanished from our books as claimed? 

Can the ministry verify a news report that Yap Ah Loy, the Kapitan China,
too, has lost his place in the development of Kuala Lumpur? 

Is Malaysian history being re-written by textbook writers without the
knowledge of our Government? 

Similarly, religion should not be used to emphasise ethnic differences. No
one should attempt to use religion to keep Malaysians apart, as this is against
the spirit and philosophy of every religion. 

I remember having to sit for the Islamic Civilisation course in Universiti
Kebangsaan Malaysia, or ZI, as it was called. Some of my non-Muslim course mates
felt uneasy, assuming that it was a subtle attempt to convert us. But there was
little reason to fear.  

If one's faith is strong, why should it be shaken when one learns about
another religion? 

Comparative religions is not a subject encouraged in Malaysia. But if
properly handled, it can help all of us know each other's religion better.  

The problem, however, starts when we grow suspicious, believing it is an
attempt to convert us. Sometimes it is real but sometimes it is imagined, due to

Unfortunately, the quest for knowledge is lost when we shut our minds. As a
result, we lose the opportunity to know more about the religions of our fellow

I enjoyed the lectures of the late Datuk Dr Fadzil Noor, who later became PAS
president, and Datuk Dr Harun Din in UKM. I did not convert but learnt to
appreciate Islam more. 

But in courses like this, great care must be accorded to the sensitivities of
students of other faiths.  

As an example, Jesus is a prophet to Muslims but to Christians, he is also
God. No attempt must be made to ask a student whether Jesus is God or merely a
Prophet in an examination, as that would put a Christian student in an awkward

We celebrate 50 years of independence next year. Despite the complexities of
our country, we have been able to come this far because of our high level of

Our politics of consensus, despite being communal-based, has worked well for
us. If the three main races – Malays, Chinese and Indians – had not worked
together, we would not have been able to achieve independence.  

We needed each other then and we need each other still today. This is our
only country. This is where we were born, where we live and where we are likely
to die.  

I looked up the book The May 13 Tragedy by the National Operations
Council, published on Oct 9, 1969, to refresh my memory of the tragedy. 

There are enough details in the report for those interested in finding out
more, including the names of the political parties and main politicians
involved. Of course, there are other versions of what happened. 

But more importantly, it was the foreword by the then Director of Operations,
Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, which struck me. 

He wrote: "If the events of May 13 are not to occur again, if this nation is
to survive, we must make sure that subjects which are likely to engender racial
tensions are not exploited by irresponsible opportunists." 

His advice remains relevant.  

Inter-religious and inter-ethnic harmony can be cultivated if we identify and
stress the common values that exist, in one form or another, in all religions
and races.