A single identity could be the key to unity

Late last year when one of the structures at the Lembah Bujang temple complex in Kedah was found to have been destroyed, Malaysians of all races were quick to protest, pointing out that it was an "affront to the Indian community in the country."

Noting this divided attitude towards our history and heritage, political scientist and historian Dr Farish A. Noor lamented that this is making us culturally poor. "The loss of our national heritage is a loss for all of us. If only Malaysians could begin to think as Malaysians," he said.

Dr Farish might be heartened by some Malaysians, especially the young, who attended the Unity Dialogue organised by the National Unity Consultative Council recently.

Among them was Daryl Leong, assistant secretary-general of the Young Malaysians Movement, who said that many of today's youths want Malaysia to use one Malaysian identity and one language as this will unite all the races in the country.

"Based on my experience when I was abroad, we are referred to as Malaysians, not as Chinese Malaysians or others. It's time to only have one category on our identity card (Mycard) - bangsa Malaysia.

"We should also use one language and every Malaysian must also try to understand each other's cultures," he said.

The ardent Chinese Opera practitioner believes strongly that learning the traditional arts and cultures of the different races can foster unity in the country.

"How much do the young know about each other's cultures and traditions?

"Before we can respect each other, we need to know about each other's cultures," said Leong who is urging the Government to introduce and support more arts and culture programmes for youths and in schools.

As he pointed out, "How much does a young Chinese appreciate Kuda Kepang or Malay literary works like the Hikayat Awang Sulung Merah Muda? How much does a Malay youth know about the Bharatanatyam? How much does a young orang asli know about Chinese Opera and so forth?"

At the dialogue, Angela Kuga Thas, co-founder of Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS), highlighted the need to treasure the country's diversity.

"The diversity of our country should be our national identity," she said.

Echoing her words, Alias Steven Nah describes Malaysia as a "mini UN".

"If we utilise our diversity together, we can be very strong," he said.

Jerald Joseph, a member of the Board of Directors of Pusat Komas, pushed for a review of the history syllabus in schools to include the diversity of the country.

"Lately, there have been many extremist groups criticising the critics of racism in Malaysia, asking them to 'go back to their own country'. It is an error if you look at our history.

"So, we should re-look our history because Malaysia's history shows that we have all travelled here - some from thousands of years ago, some in the last century. No one can really claim that they are the natives of Malaysia except for orang asli and some ethnic Malay groups.

"Similarly, we need to acknowledge that before Islam came to Malaysia, we had other religions including Hinduism, as we can see at the Lembah Bujang site," he said.

Abu Samah Hamid from Sungai Buloh, Selangor, agreed, saying that we need to go back to the basics to foster unity.

"We need to start from the young in schools as well as teachers who have a big role to play in shaping their minds."

However, Abu Samah feels there is no need to review our history texts.

"I think the Government has done a good job in presenting a rational account of the country's history. Even if it does not meet the wishes of many races in the country, I think it is good enough and we should share ways to improve it."

Race-based policies were also brought up, with some saying they might already have run their course.

For one, affirmative action must be based on needs and not race, said Ng Yeen Seen, senior vice-president at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) and director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS).

"The silent Malaysians will feel the country is fair if they can compete fairly. We believe all Malaysians, regardless of race, want a fair and just society. All of us belong to this country."

Public confidence can only be gained if people can feel that the Government is genuine and sincere about moving the country forward, she said.

"They need to feel real political will from the leaders for change."