February 9, 2008
This is Our Country.
Article in The Sun on Wednesday 6th February 08
This is not my country or your country. This is our country.Wan Saiful Wan Jan & Tricia Yeoh Despite living thousands of miles apart, and the racial and ethnic differences, the two authors of this article share the same experience of being an ethnic minority. Wan Saiful Wan Jan is a Malay Muslim who has been living in Britain as an ethnic minority since 1993. As a Muslim, he feels the need to contribute to the British society that he is now part of, although he still feels a strong attachment to Malaysia. Tricia Yeoh has been living in Malaysia her whole life. A Chinese Christian, she too is an ethnic minority. Like many other minority groups in Malaysia, she considers Malaysia to be the only home she knows and loves. In Britain, the Muslim minority is demanding that they are treated as equals. Things are not much different for ethnic minorities in Malaysia. Just like minority Muslims in Britain, the minority non-Muslims in Malaysia too are asking to be treated as equals. The reactions they get are also more or less the same. In Britain, some among the majority, say “Don’t challenge us, this is our country!”. In Malaysia, once again, some among the majority Malay Muslims also say “Don’t challenge us, this is our country!”.
It is not easy being a minority, is it?
Speaking in London on 15 November 2007, Professor Tariq Ramadan called for the Muslim minority in Britain to speak up. He said that, although their parents may have come from other countries, for the younger generation of Muslim minority, Britain is their home. Speaking up therefore is not an option, but an obligation. Everyone, minorities included, is obliged to speak up to improve the country – our country. We believe that the same arguments can be applied to minorities in Malaysia. What we need to do now is to accept that everyone, Muslim or not, is part and parcel of the fabric of the Malaysian society. We have to move away from the emotional debates on issues like race and religion. Why is it that, every time we talk about Islam, we must discuss apostasy? Why is it that when we talk about Hinduism, it is as if Hindus are trying to destroy the country? Why is it that when we talk about Malaysian Chinese, it is as if they are trying to rob the country’s wealth from the Malays? Why is it that when we talk about Malaysian Christians, it is as if all Muslims must always be suspicious of them? The two of us are of different race and religion. But we are proud to say that Malaysia is our country and we both equally love this country. Rather than debating our religions – in our case, Islam and Christianity – we believe it is better to use the values derived from these great religions to find ways to improve the country. The common set of values includes principles of justice and integrity that should be strongly emphasised and equally translated into policies in the interest of all Malaysians. As Muslim and Christian respectively, there is a plethora of ways in which we can agree on to create a better, developed and more matured Malaysia. One of the best ways of demonstrating justice is to ensure equal opportunity for all. Eradication of poverty irrespective of race should not just be rhetoric. Instead, this principle should be strictly implemented through corresponding plans and policies. Only then can we satisfy our consciences on respecting human dignity at its very core. Fifty years after independence, it is time we grow up. Racial and religious politics still permeate our ’kedai kopi’ talk and even some intellectual discourse. We inherit a historical baggage of compromise and conflict based on ethnicity. As a result, Malaysia is trapped in a vicious cycle she is struggling to get out of, at both political and community levels. We both believe that if this continues, it will cripple any hope of developing into a truly harmonious society in the long run. New views and ideals have begun to emerge amongst the young. New visions for the future of our country have been shared. Inheriting prejudice is not a part of this. Malaysia is not a country for just one group of people. You can see the diversity of our population as soon as you venture outside your own house. You experience the richness of the varied cultures through friendships, food and fashion throughout your day. This is not my country or your country. This is our country. No one community should be made to feel unwelcome in a country of their own. In taking ownership of Malaysia, minorities have an equal responsibility to shape and craft a nation that all our children and grandchildren will be proud to inherit. Together with their neighbours in the majority community, they must play an important participatory role in contributing to the country’s welfare as a whole. As concerned citizens, if minorities express displeasure at weaknesses in Malaysia it is only because they want the country to improve. Muslim or non-Muslim, we all belong to the same country that is Malaysia. It is time that we remove the old shackles of debates along racial and religious lines. It is time that we recognise minority groups as equal Malaysians. It is time to realise that each person is himself endowed with special rights – that of being Malaysian. Justice, fairness, liberty and equality: these are what minority Muslims are calling for not only in Britain, but around the world. These are also what minority non-Muslims in Malaysia are calling for, and they should be given no reason to expect otherwise. While Muslims in Britain are working hard to be treated as equals, Muslims in Malaysia must lead the way and prove to the world that Islam is a religion of fairness. Muslims must be the first to treat others as equals. In Britain, the minority Muslims are speaking up because they love Britain as their country. When the minority non-Muslims in Malaysia speak up, that too is because they love this country. ————- For more information on our respective organisations, please log onto www.malaysiathinktank.org and www.cpps.org.my
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