A FEW years ago, I wrote a letter to a now defunct news portal in Bahasa Malaysia literally telling the Malay population not to be stupid and reactive.
It was a rather angry letter in which I accused the population of being paranoid of anything and everything around them. At that time, it was the cross.
And now, the same paranoid reaction. A PAS politician criticised a building lit in the shape of a cross in Penang. Apparently this led to some complaints by local residents, which has now led to the building management only lighting up their carpark.
Having grown up in Shah Alam, I do have a love for roundabouts – but having this issue crop up time and again can get annoying.
Honestly, does looking at a cross somehow stimulate something in a Muslim to the point that it causes violent internal reactions that will cause them to convert? What is the paranoia of seeing a cross that can be so unsettling that it is considered to be offensive?
I am just waiting for a news article that says we should not be celebrating Chinese New Year with pictures of an animal that characterises the coming lunar year because it might offend some people.
We seem to be walking on eggshells when it comes to the multicultural, multireligious hues of Malaysia that it becomes hypocritical. Some Malaysians get offended by advertisements of the lunar year of the boar or pig, and yet allow their child to watch Peppa Pig on YouTube to keep them occupied.
But more importantly, these thoughts are the problem when we talk of unity in general.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad lamented that we are still not a united people. This much is true.
However, unity is not necessarily seen all the time just because you want it as part of a political agenda. Malaysians can become a united population when there is cause for it – be it an international football match like the AFF Suzuki Football Championship, or even in the light of tragedies.
And after such instances of unity, some of us descend to yelling at buildings lit like a cross, or protest against a United Nations convention over fears it will lead to an erosion of bumiputra rights and how campaign funds can be spent on petrol money, or not.
Mahathir pointed out that there was a need for other races to understand the Malays – I would like to point out that there is a need for the Malays to understand everyone else as well.
There is a need for Muslims to understand Christians and Hindus, just as much as there is a need for everyone else to understand Islam.
On top of all that, of course, there is a need to point out that understanding does not mean support. Or in this case, a Muslim knowing that the Chinese will in fact be celebrating the lunar year of the Boar or Pig next month, does not mean that particular Muslim necessarily indulges in pork or wears pig skin leather shoes.
It just means that he or she is aware and is comfortable with how his or her Chinese friends choose to celebrate the new year.
Similarly, it also means that the Christians can show the cross as they see fit, while Muslims continue on their religious ways without batting an eye because they are secure in their faith and knowledge that Malaysia is a multireligious society that allows it.
And all of us will respectively jam the roads by parking illegally on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons and nights for trips to the mosque, church and temple, which will have others passing through cursing it for causing traffic congestion – perhaps a warped example of unity in a distressing situations.
So with all this in mind, it is perhaps time for some recommendations. Primarily, to have people understand Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Christianity, requires that everyone has the same platform to speak to one another.
Former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi tried to start interfaith talks for this specific purpose.
It is my belief that to push through an agenda of unity through promoted understanding among all communities, would require such a platform.
And this can only start through one media channel – Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM).
Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org