On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

First serious steps

According to National Unity and Integration Department director-general Datuk Azman Amin Hassan, the programme would be held during school holidays. 

This is similar to Singapore’s Community Engagement Programme and the National Youth Forum, both of which promote racial interaction at various levels. 

For a start, the department, with the support of the Education Ministry, should consider carrying out small-scale camps at district or even neighbourhood level. 

A few schools in a selected area could send students for a field trip on Saturday to places of worship.  

There is no reason why young Malaysians should not be encouraged to visit mosques, temples and churches. 

Some Malaysians who have an inclusive concept of religion find it sensitive to visit places of worship other than their own.  

This is sad because we live in a plural society and no one should feel uncomfortable visiting these places of worship. 

For reasons best known to these people, they have no qualms visiting a mosque, church or temple overseas but they seem reluctant to do so in their own homeland.  

Often, it is nothing more than just a remark from a peer that puts pressure on them. 

These young minds should also visit cultural organisations. Show them the beauty of dikir barat, dondang sayang, and the lion and peacock dances. 

The unity camp idea will not work if there is a perceived biasness towards one particular religion and community. 

Youngsters should be taught to express simple greetings and thanks in Malay, Chinese and Tamil.  

Our politicians do that when campaigning during elections but seem to forget the practice once the polls are over. 

Films made by Malaysians, not necessarily Bahasa Malaysia movies, should be screened to participants of these camps. 

It has long been a sore point, for example, that Malay films get government grants but non-Bahasa Malaysia movies made in Malaysia by local directors do not, even if they win awards overseas. 

Movies such as Sepet and Gol dan Gincu, which have broad multi-cultural themes, should be encouraged. 

The Unity Camp and National Service programmes are serious steps taken by the Government to promote national integration.  

The signs are staring at us: Malay students at national schools and a majority of non-Malays, especially Chinese, at vernacular schools. 

There is little racial mixing that many older Malaysians had the privilege of enjoying in English-medium schools, which were regarded as neutral grounds. 

Sadly, there is no political will to revive English-medium schools even as our leaders know that our proficiency in English, especially among the young, is very low.  

And while the slide continues in national schools, we find that our leaders are sending their children to international schools or overseas. 

Those of us who attended English-medium schools made friends with children of other races, and this friendship has lasted until today. 

We attended Catholic missionary schools and never in our hearts believed that we would be converted to Christianity.  

But today, narrow-minded educationists and bureaucrats even attempt to stop churches from putting up the cross outside church buildings, let alone schools. 

Imposing their prejudices because of their authority, they have made it harder for Christians to obtain approval for church buildings. 

I can sympathise with Chinese-Muslims who express their frustrations in getting approval from state governments to build a Chinese-Muslim-styled mosque although they have their own land and money. 

Their plight has been highlighted by the New Straits Times and certainly deserves the support of Malaysians of other faiths.  

It is outright unreasonable to reject their application by suggesting that they use only Mandarin and not Bahasa Malaysia at their sermons. 

Unity camps can help promote racial interaction only if government policies are seen to be fair to all communities. 

Young Malaysians will feel further alienated if affirmative action programmes aimed at helping the poor end up benefiting the wealthy and those with political connections. 

Our government leaders tell us that all Malaysians are equal and their rights are guaranteed under the Federal Constitution but they must make sure that bureaucrats do not push their agenda unfairly. 

Our leaders must be brave enough, whether at Cabinet or Barisan Nasional supreme council level, to point out any unfairness and review the implementation of unjust policies. 

National unity does not end at camps and schools. Our young will continue to ask whether there is true national unity when they apply for entrance into universities, scholarships, their first job and possibly their first pitch at a contract.