Many peoples, one nation

UNITY is the life of a nation and gives life to it. The unity of a nation is the sum total of the unity in the different aspects of the nation's life – which occurs synchronically or simultaneously, across different areas and at different levels and diachronically or chronologically, at different times in the nation's existence.

Aug 31, 1957 was a historic and an exceptionally auspicious day when Malayans were united as a nation, a day when the people stood together as one. Our forefathers were filled with a sense of pride, honour and dignity as Malaya was liberated from British rule and granted the status of an autonomous, independent nation. We became a free people, unshackled from our colonial ties. It was indeed an uplifting feeling to be at par with the other independent nations and to be recognised as equals.

Merdeka Day therefore remains in the nation's collective memory as a day of unity when we came together as one people in celebration of our new freedom. Merdeka Day continues to be celebrated for the peace and harmony that the nation has achieved to enable it to develop in all aspects of its relatively young life. Malaysians are reminded that we have progressed this far and continue to enjoy the peace and prosperity because we have remained united as a people.

If you ask Malaysians what are some of the things they are proud of about their country, many will not hesitate to say it's the multicultural society and its diversity. We are multiethnic and multicultural. In fact, it can be said that Malaysians are truly a mix of many different racial groups and ethnicities – as many as the groups that travelled along our trade routes by land and by sea from as long ago as the third century.

Many of us can claim to have Chinese, Indian, Arab, Turkish, Dutch, British ancestry as well that of the peoples of Southeast Asia and the Indonesian islands. As a result of Malaysia's post-independence developments in education, economics, commerce and industry with and in foreign countries, there have been intermarriages producing offspring of mixed ethnicities.

At a deeper level, we are united in having similar cultural and religious values outstanding among which are belief in God, respect for other religions and their rites and rituals, customs and traditions. Among the shared family values are respect for elders, responsibility to the family and community, commitment to education and knowledge and discipline in the home and outside. These universal values are shared by Malaysians of all religions and cultures.

It appears then that there are more things which unite us than divide us. Why then do we need to reinforce unity?

Why is there a need for us to have reaffirmations of unity if all is well in the state of Malaysia? It seems that like Shakespeare's Hamlet who worried about what was happening in his beloved Denmark, we worry that some things are "not well" in beloved Malaysia.

It appears that we need to revitalise the notion of "Unity in Diversity" and inject new life into it. It has become necessary to remove some of the clichés, jargons and slogans that Malaysians are so good at creating and believing and search for new substantive meanings in unity.

This was the objective of the ASLI-PCORE forum on the theme "Unity & Multiculturalism: Building A Future Together" on Aug 29, where Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin delivered the closing keynote address entitled "Reinforcing The Building Blocks Of National Unity".

The minister succinctly observed that in carrying out their socio-cultural obligations and routines Malaysians lead "parallel lives" rather than one that converges into one shared reality.

Indeed, we are defined in substantive ways by our ethnicity, culture and religion. There is no denying this. The sooner we accept this reality the better for us as a nation.

We must accept that there is no absolute unity except God's unity, no absolute truth except God's truth. This we must believe and understand. Unity is not an absolute that can be achieved absolutely. It is the journey towards it that matters.

The point of convergence lies in our different strengths as Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, Dayak or Bidayuh.

We are united in our search for peace and harmony.

Toward this end the forum participants joined the minister in pledging a Declaration of Unity:

We, the voices of moderation, pledge to uphold the unity of our beloved Malaysia by:
-Promoting a culture of peace and harmony
-Spreading mutual goodwill and understanding
-Building upon our shared realities
-Consolidating our common strengths
-Engaging one another sincerely and honestly
-Resolving conflict in constructive ways.
We declare that through our voices of peace, conscience and reason we will reinforce national unity in sensible and rational ways.

The writer keenly follows developments in politics, culture and education. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com