A return to Malaysia's guiding principle

A return to Malaysia's guiding principle
Instilling love for the country: Pupils reciting the Rukun Negara (constitution) during the school's National Day celebration. Proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970, Rukunegara was drawn up to unite the people after the fateful race riots of May 13, 1969.

Ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural tradition" - full marks to anyone who can remember this pledge from our Rukunegara.

"Although we grew up reciting it every week in school, many have forgotten about Rukunegara, especially the beginning, which states that our nation is committed to creating a country that is united, democratic, just and progressive," says Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

Proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970, Rukunegara was drawn up to unite the people after the fateful race riots of May 13, 1969.

With the current escalation of racial and religious extremism in the country, Wan Saiful believes the time has come to evoke the national ideology again.

"It is time to remind people of Malaysia's pledge for inter-racial tolerance and unity, as proclaimed in the Rukunegara. Crucially, we want to remind people of their commitment to those ideals."

This is what prompted IDEAS to initiate Malaysia Kita, a network of "like-minded individuals and organisations who are committed to foster a more harmonious and progressive Malaysia".

Wan Saiful is quick to stress that Malaysia Kita hopes not to supersede the Government's National Unity Consultative Council but to complement it by organising activities that can bring Malaysians together.

"We want to be their eyes and mouths on the ground by talking to and getting feedback from people at the grassroots level."

Although its main task has been to build its network, Malaysia Kita has also started engaging stakeholders and policymakers to advocate better policies for the promotion of national unity.

This includes bringing in experts from other countries to share their knowledge and experience.

"This is especially vital now that we are looking at creating a law to manage diversity such as the National Harmony Bill.

"It is an important law and we need to get it right, what more with evidence from around the world indicating that drawing up a specific legislation is not necessarily the right action to take to foster unity," Wan Saiful notes.

Recently, they hosted American diversity experts Dr Timothy Shah, associate director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Centre for Religion, Peace and World Affairs in Georgetown University, and Eric Treene, special counsel for religious discrimination at the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice.

Wan Saiful believes the exchange has been successful in providing insight into the pros and cons of legislating unity to both government and non-governmental stakeholders here.

"But I think there needs to be more conversations around this - maybe we don't need heavy-handed government intervention to create unity as the unintended consequences of goodwill regulation cannot be predicted. If we take the wrong approach to manage diversity, it will create more divisions," he notes.

Ultimately, Malaysia Kita wants to reclaim Malaysia from the "extremists" by reviving the Proclamation of Independence and Proclamation of Malaysia that are based on the principle of inclusivity.

"The proclamations - founded on the belief of the need for tolerance and a liberal approach to diversity - define the country, and it is important that we remember what the founding principle is.

"Malaysia belongs to the majority of us who want to see harmony and unity in the country, not the vocal minorities who keep calling fellow Malaysians pendatang and demanding that those who speak up migrate. It is those who disagree with these ideals who should migrate," he says.

After all, as our Father of Independence Tunku Abdul Rahman said during the drafting of the Federal Constitution as the country approached Independence in 1957: "For those who love and feel they owe undivided loyalty to this country, we will welcome them as Malayans. They must truly be Malayans, and they will have the same rights and privileges as the Malays".

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