On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Why harp on a non-issue?

So, like many people, I am finding it hard to understand why we feel the need to avoid answering plainly if we are Malaysian first, or Malay, Chinese or Indian first.

In fact, none of our politicians, who are worried about how their party members or constituents would feel, should even bother to respond if challenged with that question. The question should not even have cropped up in the first place.

Some politicians seem to find it necessary to wriggle themselves out of what they perceive to be a politically sticky situation.

I am now in Beijing attending a meeting of the Asia News Network, a media alliance of 21 news organisations from 18 countries.

I have been referred to as a representative from Malaysia and certainly I cannot imagine telling the Chinese nationals here that I am a Chinese first and Malaysian second. I would feel a sense of betrayal to my country if I do that.

I may be of Chinese origin but as a third generation Malaysian Chinese, I cannot write Chinese. Instead, I studied Malay literature in school and went on to enrol in the Malay Letters Department at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in my first year.

Like all UKM students, I was also required to pass a compulsory course in Islamic Under­standing to graduate. So, I would like to think that my appreciation of the national language and Islam is well grounded.

I enjoy Malay music, growing up in the era of the Alleycats and Revolvers where non-Malays hit the local music charts. And many like me think the world of Sheila Majid, whose music transcends all races.

And when we cheer our sports heroes, notably Nicol David and Lee Chong Wei, I am sure we regard them as Malaysian heroes. We would never look at them as Eurasian or Chinese first. That would be unforgivable, and if they were to say that to the world in any interview, it would not be unacceptable too.

Yes, it is a fact that my grandparents came from Guangdong, China, but my father was born in Langkawi. He speaks excellent Malay and would put many Malaysians to shame with his command of the language and his adoption of the Malay culture.

Yes, we are aware that the first generation Chinese were accorded citizenship and certainly the early settlers were grateful and they appreciated the understanding struck by the Alliance leaders. That is a fact; but it is also a fact, in case some of us choose to forget or ignore, that this country was built on the sacrifices of these Chinese and Indians settlers too.

Their enormous economic contribution, in addition to the blood, sweat and tears of the Malay civil servants, policemen, soldiers, teachers and padi farmers, helped make Malay­sia what it is today.

Malaysia would not have been formed either without the blessing of the people of Sabah and Sarawak, which comprises many ethnic groups.

So, I find it very hard to understand why it should be a controversy at all. It’s a non-issue and most Malaysians wish our politicians would come clean on this. All this is not going to lift the national spirit.

If there is one commonality in this plural society, it is our nationality. No one can take that away because this is our country of origin.

Stressing on our common grounds and universal values is certainly more meaningful and unifying than outlining our differences.

Yes, it’s true that even in Indonesia, there are people who talk about the origin of their provinces with strong parochial sentiments, but nationality will always prevail in the end. Likewise, the Irish and the Latinos in the United States are proud of their heritage but they are Americans first and they certainly won’t be apologetic about it.

Many of us may insist on placing our status as a follower of a faith first. No one would argue over that because many regard placing one’s faith before any national or racial boundaries as a priority. It’s not even a matter of choice.

Leaders must lead and not allow themselves to be led. They have to do what is right and not only try to say what is right.

It’s better that we focus our minds on building the togetherness of Malaysia: that we are one nation, one people and, certainly, one Malaysia.