Surely any right-minded Malaysian will find it impossible to disagree with the prime minister that we cannot allow racism to destroy us. And surely all of us who cherish the virtues of moderation must find ourselves whole-heartedly agreeing with the prime minister that we cannot allow extreme attitudes on racial and religious issues to compromise national unity.
As such, it is precisely for these reasons, Mr. Prime Minister that moderates such as myself continue to remain perplexed and puzzled about the glaring discrepancy that continues to persist between the messages you espouse and the reality that persists in the manner your government conducts itself.
I must admit, I was struck by your re-affirmation of the principles of the Rukun Negara; something that merely one month ago, I noted in one of my articles should be given far greater prominence in our national culture, especially in place of the religious one-upmanship.
To be precise, I stated that,
In place of such religious invocations, might we not be better off – and would it not be more consistent with our desire for more national unity – if it became more commonplace instead to recite the Rukun Negara or the national anthem.
In a multi-religious country, specific religious invocations are by definition not universal; however, on the other hand, inclusive invocations such as the much-neglected Rukun Negara may well be a nationally universal and valuable unifying force.
But surely you will understand why most moderates such as myself will continue to be puzzled at the lack of practical commitment to the virtues of moderation, and instead at the continued pandering to the religious and racial extremists who insist not on dialogue but demagoguery and intimidation.
And you will also understand why most moderates continue to be skeptical that you want to promote unity and mutual respect, and not imposed control on minorities, when genuine minority voices – irrespective of their political affiliation – continue to be drummed out by the entrenched and vested interests who have come to lack credibility in the eyes of the man on the street.
You will surely understand as well, why moderates struggle to genuinely rally around your clarion calls for moderation when extremist and racist propaganda emanating from some mainstream media are persistently and consistently allowed to be liberally disseminated – and without repercussions - while we find the Home Ministry being overly sensitive and inflexible with independent media.
You will, of course, appreciate the difficulty moderates in the country will continue to have with your apparent commitment to moderation and diversity, when in fact, credible alternative voices in the media are curtailed and marginalised by such seemingly prejudiced regulatory measures.
How, Mr. Prime Minister, moderates such as myself are left asking, should we not continue to have reservations about your government’s commitment to religious acceptance and harmony when your own minister seeks to fan the flames of religious animosity by crassly and blatantly exploiting the case of Teo Nie Ching’s visit to a surau.
To be frank, Mr. Prime Minster, far from reflecting well on your stated claim to moderation and unity, such episodes merely smack of nothing less than blatant hypocrisy and short-sighted opportunism.
These are just an obvious handful of items that speak volumes about what I have called the glaring inconsistency between the rhetoric and practice that persists.
Moderation and unity can only be built with mutual trust and mutual respect. Sadly, these are two traits absent from the tenor, tone and posturing of those espousing an even deeper racialisation of our society.
Such vocabulary – let alone practices associated with mutual respect and trust – seems glaringly absent from the worldview of religious extremists and hate-mongers, the very kind, for example, who have indulged in the intimidation of Teo Nie Ching.
So, Mr. Prime Minister, it is obvious to us moderates, that unless you can better reconcile the glaring inconsistencies between the rhetoric and practice – which have, incidentally, also plagued your predecessor, moderates will remain deeply skeptical and reluctant to come on board. Quite the contrary – they will continue to in fact abandon your ship.
Every August 31 we should remind ourselves not just of our potential, which, as you have rightly noted, is immense, but also of the sacrifices we have all made individually and collectively – irrespective of our race or religion – for each other.
But such mutual coexistence and cooperation cannot be maintained with continued political intimidation that some quarters are prone to indulge in.
I submit that it would indeed be very reassuring and compelling to moderates across the political spectrum if your leadership and government is defined increasingly by its deeds with regards to nurturing moderation and unity rather than by its mere rhetoric.
Moderation and mutual accommodation are, after all, only genuine, when practiced.