MALAYSIA - Malaysians are increasingly polarised - especially over race and religion.
At the same time we've also lost our sense of humour. We've become dour, over-sensitive killjoys. The spirit of Lat, Harith Iskandar and Jo Kukuthas has disappeared.
Now, everyone has the right to be proud of their culture and identity.
But we're suffering today because we all think of ourselves as being "Malay", "Chinese" or "Indian" before being Malaysian. So how do we move forward?
To me, "national reconciliation" must begin with my own community, the Malays.
Now, many Malays would say that I'm a liberal, English-speaking, half-breed and that I don't have the locus standi to speak for and/or about the community. But if the purists seek to disregard people who are different, then we'd be left with a much smaller and infinitely more impoverished community. Still, goodwill cannot be restored as long as the Malays feel insecure.
As I've argued many times before - the irony is that the community has never had more reason to feel "safe" than today. We constitute 65 per cent of Malaysia's population. We dominate political life, the civil service and the military besides which we are steadily increasing our representation in the private sector, thanks to the New Economic Policy.
Why the Malays still feel embattled is beyond the scope of this article. But like it or not, change in Malaysia cannot come without the Malay community spearheading it. This is the reality by virtue of the community's sheer size - a factor that also means that we must lead as well.
But leadership has its responsibilities - responsibilities that force us to take care not only of ourselves but also of our fellow citizens. Leaders also have to show courage and magnanimity which sometimes means being willing to let bygones be bygones. Of course, this may not please people who hold on to Malaysia's age-old "social contract".
But let's be honest: the "social contract" no longer holds sway amongst most younger generation Malaysians. We live in a globalised world.
It is no longer reasonable for anyone to be held back in life simply because of his or her ethnicity or religion. The other races will no longer defer to us simply because we are Malays or out of fear.
Respect must be earned by respect; as well as achievement. Furthermore, we must also learn to be at peace with ourselves.
The Malay community has never been monolithic or uniform - speaking, thinking and feeling the same thing - especially when it comes to politics or social issues. But this is not a source of weakness. Indeed, it is a source of strength.
Every community in the world needs diversity. Besides rebels and contrarians help cultures to remain dynamic and relevant.
People should be allowed to express different views without the fear of being branded a traitor to the race. Indeed, reconciliation and a willingness to live with diversity must begin within the Malay community itself.
I am not calling for the end to political competition. Again, this is inevitable and is a good thing - because it gives people choices as well as keeps politicians honest. However, there are also times when bipartisanship is not a bad idea.
But the pettiness, small-mindedness and threats of violence must stop. Such ignorant behaviour insults the intelligence and dignity of all Malaysians. A just country is a happy one. Which leader or party will stand up for this?
Maybe change needs to come from the grassroots just as much as from the top.
If the last six years has taught us anything, it's that power is diffused in Malaysia. The people are ultimately the boss. What happens to Malaysia depends on us.
What country it becomes is up to us - the politicians are our representatives and if they steal, act like goons or disappoint us, we should vote them out of office. Nonetheless, we have proven that political change - however gradual and piecemeal - can occur peacefully.
Now we must seek to realise a shared sense of nationhood that all Malaysians can accept. The key is to embrace our people's diversity in all its hues.
Only courage and wisdom can bring Malaysia together again and move it onwards.