Diversity has always been an advantage of Malaysia in global competition. Unfortunately such an advantage is being suppressed as the nation is progressively steered towards monoculturalism.
A classic example: The Fabulous Food 1Malaysia carnival organised by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture will only sell halal food from now on.
The food carnival is meant to attract more foreign visitors to Malaysia and should not be seen as an internal event organised by some government agency. Since the target audience is foreigners, why control the sale of non-halal food?
The food carnival has been held for five years now without controversy, so why did the Auditor-General's Office suddenly question the ratio of non-halal food at this year's carnival? The Auditor-General's Office's job is to look at the accounts of this carnival, not the types of food featured.
As one of the most open-minded government departments, the tourism ministry should insist on the festival being allowed to showcase the best ethnic delicacies of Malaysia to foreigners, promoting the country's diverse culture through its culinary heritage, and not give in to external pressure.
Worryingly, more and more government officials are seeing things from racial and religious perspectives and not national interest. The Auditor- General's Office is one of the most professional agencies and such an illogical decision shouldn't have come from it.
This reminds me of the recent written statement by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nancy Shukri that the government will not prosecute Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali, who allegedly threatened to burn Malay-language Bibles.
In addition to this year's food carnival, other recent incidents that do not augur well for the country's tolerance of diversity include the prohibition of cross-dressing among Muslim transgenders and transsexuals, and a Malay organisation calling for the boycott of AmBank for cooperating with an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender)-friendly company in the US.
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has described the boycott call as a foolish action. He also asked whether Malaysians should stop using iPhones now that Apple CEO Tim Cook had declared he is homosexual. In a similar manner, as more and more US states have legalised homosexual marriages, are we going to sever our diplomatic and trade relationships with the US?
To many outsiders, the way some Malaysians reject diversity has also gone to "illogical" levels. The international community will look at Malaysia in a totally different way and foreign tourists, students and potential new migrants will try to shun the country. This will invariably affect the national economy.
During former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's time, he was bold enough to reprimand people who made such brainless statements. Unfortunately, we do not have a leader bold enough to do so today.
Such xenophobia could be traced back to a political phobia of losing grip of the administration, and later evolved into a conservative social ideology.
Thanks to the encouragement by some irresponsible quarters, government officials find themselves dancing to their tune in a show of anxiety and severe lack of self-confidence.
Many race-driven statements and policies have surfaced in recent weeks, including the new bumiputera housing quota in Negeri Sembilan, and the proposal by Umno supreme council member Puad Zarkashi for Umno to be fielded in all Malay-majority state and parliamentary constituencies.
The upcoming Umno general assembly next Tuesday will debate the issue of Chinese education. Petaling Jaya Utara Umno deputy division chief Mohamad Azli Mohemed Saad asked that the assembly discuss abolishing the Chinese school system, claiming the schools are hotbeds for racism and anti-establishment sentiment.
If the Umno leadership does not rectify this wayward idea from the grassroots, national unity and our multilingual education policy will be at risk.
Sabah Umno has been defending Chinese and Tamil education. If the State Assembly Speaker Salleh Said Keruak can call the proposal of shutting down Chinese and Tamil schools excessive, why can't our Umno leaders in West Malaysia do the same thing?
Bad news to do with Malaysian politics keeps streaming in. Fortunately, we have one piece of reassuring news. At a ceremony witnessed by Sultan Salahuddin, the Selangor state government returned a confiscated Malay and Iban Bible to the Association of Churches Sarawak at Istana Alam Shah, Klang.
Menteri Besar Azmin Ali said openly that we are not living in Saudi Arabia or Sudan but Malaysia, adding that we all had to respect other people. Muslim leaders from Pakatan Rakyat have shown a high level of tolerance. If Umno does not do anything, Pakatan is poised to win more non-Malay seats in the next general election.
Monoculturalism could be a dangerous trend and the ruling coalition must do everything to check it, or risk ruining our social contract and multicultural society.
Translated by Dominic Loh.
This article was first published on November 20, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.