On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Our diversity, our asset

THERE was a time when to brand a fellow Malaysian as a communist would mean a kiss of death. There were some Malay politicians and journalists who were given this label, and it ruined their political career and probably their lives.

The late Samad Ismail, a veteran journalist, was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act, together with Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad, allegedly, without proof, to be either ‘communists’ or ‘communist sympathisers’.

The late Abdullah Ahmad, former political secretary of Tun Razak, was then said to be “very close to the Soviet Union”.

They had to confess for their purported crimes over RTM in a manner that Pyongyang would be proud of even to this day.

Later on, in the early 1980s, Sidiq Ghouse, a political secretary of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was also detained under the ISA for allegedly being ‘a Soviet spy’.

To many political observers, they were victims of a political play, with the late Tun Muhammad Ghazali Shafie, whom, to many, was a ruthless Home Minister, being the one to blame.

Fast forward to 2016. Communism is as good as dead. China is only a communist state by name as it is more capitalist than many countries which advocate free trade.

Communism icons like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels remain mere dead philosophers, who got their theories awfully wrong, as they didn’t see the emergence of the middle class.

They wrongly believed the world was divided between the “exploitative capitalists and the oppressed working class.”

Mao Zedong also could not imagine that human beings, by nature, wanted to be recognised, rewarded and praised, and that collective rewards did not promote initiative and only helped the lazy ones.

Like most political science students in the 1980s, I was required to study communism but I cannot imagine why anyone would want to learn or teach this totally irrelevant subject today. Maybe in the history department.

This was the pre-Internet age and the “Communist Manifesto” was kept under lock and key in the university library.

The curious young mind of mine wanted to read it badly, like the lure of all forbidden fruits, but only to find it was the ideal cure for insomnia after just a few chapters.

Fast forward – the present relevant subjects revolve around religious radicalism, especially politics and in particular, the Islamic State. Nobody cares about communism as they belong to a long lost era. Even al-Qaeda is regarded as irreleĀ­vant now.

So in the year 2016, it was mind boggling, if not laughable, when a newspaper accused communists of being involved in the Bersih 2.0 rally in November, alleging links between the organisers, Filipino armed terrorists and an American pro-democracy NGO.

Again, no evidence is needed. Malaysian politicians and the public, after all, like conspiracy theories, rumours and they see shadows everywhere.

The Jews and Christians are often blamed for many things, and it doesn’t help that many Malaysians cannot differentiate between Zionist Jews and secular Jews, or Protestants and Catholics.

Anyone circulating copies of the printed Bible in Bahasa Malaysia run the risk of setting off a riot but in the same breath, anyone can just download the same Bible, with a click of the mouse. That’s the irony.

Among Muslims, to be labelled murtad or person born to a Muslim parent, who later rejects Islam and a person who converted to Islam and later rejects the religion, is a very serious and sensitive matter.

In Malaysia, non-Muslims have often being called kafir – an Arabic term for an unbeliever or disbeliever. Umno members used to be called that term in the 1980s and 1990s, until now, with the new political understanding between PAS and Umno.

Suddenly, Ummo leaders are no longer kafir. In fact, just before the 2013 general election, DAP leaders were also suddenly not kafir. It depends entirely on the whims and fancies of PAS.

That is why PAS is not an Islamic party but an Islamist party which interprets religious laws and practices according to the belief of its politician leaders.

And now, non-Malays are learning another term – dhimm – which is a historical term referring to non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state, which is the ultimate goal of PAS.

It seems that the most dangerous political label to be associated with in Malaysia now is LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

It has to be discussed in hushed tones. We are supposed to pretend that these people do not exist in conservative Malaysia.

They are supposed to only exist in “immoral, hedonistic and decaying western countries” – and anyone with non-conformist preferences must be shunned and punished.

There are not many Siti Kasim, the fiery orange-haired lawyer, who dared to stop moral guardians from stopping a private function, claiming that it was a beauty pageant. The intruders obviously couldn’t tell the difference between a show and a beauty contest.

Not many dare to lecture our moral policemen that compassion, tolerance and understanding are more important values than humiliating, embarrassing and intimating fellow human beings. LGBT is almost regarded as hysterical in Malaysia.

And of course, the latest undesirables are liberals and secular. Malaysians who uphold these principles are treated with contempt now, especially Muslims who dare to declare themselves as such. The advice from the Government is this – you can be “slightly liberal but not overly liberal.”

Even a few Cabinet ministers, who want to play the religious card, are openly offended by the stand taken by liberals. At the rate we are going, we hope Malaysians do not have to become closet liberals.

Not to forget, the remark of Pahang mufti Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Rahman Osman that non-Muslims who disagreed with PAS’ Private Member’s Bill on Syariah court amendments were classified as kafir harbi (those at war with Islam). He later clarified that he never called on Muslims in Malaysia to go to war with those who opposed Islam.

The rise of supremacist non-governĀ­mental organisations, mostly with questionable membership, which accuse others who do not share their mono-ethnic and mono-religious stand, as anti-Islam, anti-Malay and anti-monarchy, is most disturbing.

These individuals and groups intentionally appear irrational, racist and worse, the perception is that they appear to be “untouchable”.

As the Group of 25 rightly puts it, “these developments undermine Malaysia’s commitment to democratic principles and rule of law, breed intolerance and bigotry, and have heightened anxieties over national peace and stability.”

It makes some of us wonder if some of these political-religious figures are aware that the Rukun Negara is still in existence.

I have learned by heart the five principles – belief in God, loyalty to King and country, upholding the Constitution, rule of law and good behaviour and morality.

There are also the objectives of the Rukun Negara – to achieve a greater unity of all her peoples, maintain a democratic way of life, create a just society where the nation’s wealth shall be equitably shared, to ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions and building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.

The key words are democratic, just, liberal, progressive and diverse cultural traditions – that’s the value and vision that Malaysia has all along.

We don’t have to listen nor oblige the religious and racial bigots, who want to impose their mono-ethnic and mono-religious agenda on us, and to violate these values.

We have just celebrated Malaysia Day but let us not forget the lyrics of the patriotic song, Malaysia Berjaya, which was first played in the 1960s after the Confrontation era with Indonesia (see box below).

We celebrated 53 years of nationhood on Friday and we are reminded that there are still those who seek to tear this nation apart with their divisive moves. We must be careful that their tactics do not take root.

For us to progress as a nation, we must share in a single purpose.

And we cannot allow, in particular, religious and racial disruptions to derail our country’s economic growth in these challenging times. Yes, Malaysia Berjaya, because we are in one accord to succeed. Our diversity is our strength.

Together, let us build bridges that unite, not walls that divide.