On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

We have to stress on the common ground

There are some issues that cannot be resolved in the short term and one of them is religious dispute. For that matter, human beings have been quarrelling over religion, in one form or another, for centuries and without satisfactory answers. 

The line has been stretched a little thin over the past six months. From calls for individual constitutional rights to claims of the big number of apostates to suggestions that Kongsi Raya should be discontinued, I think we have heard enough. 

Be it in organised forums, newspaper reports and commentaries, letters to the editor, postings on the Internet, or even idle chatter at the neighbourhood mamak shops, there is a sense of uncertainty over where all this will eventually lead to. We have to move on. 

Just take a look at the comments posted on certain websites. While some bloggers have taken pains to remove remarks deemed seditious, many have slipped through and not only remained on these sites but taken a life of their own as they are circulated all over the Internet. 

These reckless online comments, often racist, have been allowed to appear without a thought that people of all races and religions read them. It leads to a lot of unnecessary damage and strong reactions. 

In the name of free expression, we have allowed people to make hurtful remarks without giving a thought to the implications. 

When the right to speak is abused, the issue takes on a different perspective. The right of expression does not mean the right to hurt others. 

We take a stand without realising that there would also be opposing views, whether liberal, secular or conservative.  

When a statement is made by any individual or group, it leads to a reaction. If this goes on, it will never end. But it has to come to an end. 

While some of us are able to take part in an intellectual discourse in a mature manner, many others are unable to do so. That is a fact, unfortunately. 

There is a need for Malaysia to stress on our common ground. That must be our national mission. Haven't we wasted enough time on inconsequential issues that have bogged us down and drained our energy? 

Malaysia is in the news for the wrong reasons. The political spat and religious tangle have made good news reading for our neighbours and in a competitive regional economy, I am sure they would want us to remain that way. 

But we are in a race. There is this distinct frustration among many Malaysians that we are losing our strides. There is this fear that if we do not get our act together, we will fall behind and, if that happens, it would be difficult to catch up. 

They are right to have such anxieties because time waits for no one. Malaysia has a good thing going. We should be putting our talents and strengths together to compete with our economic rivals, not looking for differences among ourselves. 

There has to be a wake-up call, at some point. It would not be wrong to believe that the Prime Minister is losing his patience, even tolerance, on elements who want to disrupt the country's political and economic stability. 

There is excessive politicking in this country. We keep going back to the past, seemingly obsessed in digging out issues which Malaysians are simply no longer interested in. 

What Malaysians would like to know is how the Government can make it easier for them to cope with the increasing cost of living. For many middle-class Malaysians with housing and car loans, speculation of another interest rate hike is worrisome. 

Yes, we do sympathise with the attacks by the Israelis on Lebanon but we are equally concerned that the price of oil will go up again, given the uncertainties in the region.  

The Government has given us an assurance that there would no petrol price hike for this year but the war has serious bearing on the economy in other ways. 

But much more that, for many older Malaysians, we are sad that the word "muhibbah" has lost its meaning. The word isn't even used any more. 

We take great pride in telling the world that Malaysia is truly Asia. That we are multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural. That means pluralism has to be re-affirmed. 

Pluralism is not a word to be used only during annual festivals or in brochures for tourists. It is about Malaysians of different races coming together. No one, especially in government, should tolerate attempts by anyone to remove the multi-racial facet of this land. And that means safeguarding the rights of all Malaysians. 

We celebrate our National Day next month. It is time we remind ourselves how and what the three main major races have achieved because they worked together for Malaysia. 

We are Malaysians at home, not just when we are overseas. 

If we wish to show sensitivity and sensibility to one another, let the same be done by our politicians. Be leaders of Malaysians, not just one race.