On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Look east, to boost racial unity

This year, it is even more special: With divine intervention, National Day and Malay­sia Day will be celebrated together for the first time.

This has been made possible by the fact that with Hari Raya Aidil Fitri falling on the last two days of August, it would not have been practical to hold the national day parade on the 31st.

A dual celebration would bring even greater meaning. It would also emphasise the point that there would have been no Federation of Malaysia if Sabah and Sarawak had not helped to form it on Sept 16, 1963.

Let’s get it right, Sabah and Sarawak did not join Malaysia, they helped to make Malaysia a reality.

Many young Malaysians in the peninsula wonder why they have to bring along their identity cards or passports when they travel to these two states or, worse, why they need to apply for work permits if they wish to work there.

This is a case of our history being badly taught in schools. Until today, our students are not properly told why these two states are different when it comes to control over their immigration, and their state administrative systems.

In the peninsula, state leaders are known as state executive councillors. In Sabah and Sarawak, they are known as state ministers. Both states, however, are led by chief ministers.

In the administration of justice, the courts in Sabah and Sarawak are part of the Federal court system but the Federal Constitution provides that there shall be two High Courts of coordinate jurisdiction – the High Court in Malaya and the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak, formerly called the High Court in Borneo.

But the most important focus of this year’s joint celebration should be this reminder that Malaysia does not comprise only Malays, Chinese and Indians.

Let us drive this point that in Sarawak, there are 27 distinct indigenous groups speaking 45 different languages and dialects while Sabah has 32 officially recognised ethnic groups with over 80 languages and dialects. Despite the diversity, there is racial harmony.

In many ways, those of us in the peninsula have fared badly in the area of race relations, no thanks to self-appointed guardians of our communities and morality too, in some cases.

The people of Sabah and Sarawak do not have any hang-ups about race. Take, for example, Datuk Seri Idris Jala, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. A Kelabit from Sarawak, and a Christian, he has a Malay name. But this does not raise any eyebrow in the state. It is perfectly normal.

Another is Datuk Anthony Bujang, chief executive officer of the New Straits Times Bhd. He is a Malay from Sarawak but has a Christian first name. The accountant turned media boss’ name would not earn him any glance in his home state either.

It is well known that Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud has no qualms about opening churches, and he does this even in the middle of election campaigns. He has openly declared that he studied the Bible in school and his family has donated money to churches.

No Malay leader in the peninsula, in his right mind, would have dared to make such a statement unless he wished to commit political suicide.

It is in these two states that the spirit of 1Malaysia truly lives.

It is a joy to see people of all races sitting down together and enjoying their coffee in the old kopi tiam in these two states.

We need to see each other as Malaysians and nothing more. We need to remove racial prejudices and ignorance if we are serious about being 1Malaysia. Let’s make it a reality and not just a slogan.