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The Malaysia that we should have
Published on: Saturday, January 06, 2018

By Datuk Dr Johan Arriffin
Christmas and New Year celebrations are over, and we are back to the daily grind.

It’s now 2018, and GE14 is around the corner. Some wish for a new prime minister and others, a clean and fair government.

During the festive season, I took a break from writing and had time to reflect on things that affect our daily lives and where we are heading as a country. Racial harmony is uppermost in my mind as I contemplate the mixed racial background and intermarriages in my family. The West Malaysia narrative is all about Malay, Chinese and Indians and in that pecking order.

It becomes part of their language and daily discourse – yang cuci kereta, budak Melayu; yang kena rompak, perempuan Cina; yang potong rambut, orang India.

In Sabah we have more than 30 ethnic races. Unable to fit into the government forms, Sabahan were left with the “lain-lain” column to tick. This has upset a lot of Sabahans as nobody likes to be ticked as “others” in whatever forms. Imagine when someone asks you your race, and you reply “lain lain”.

I was introduced to the racial divide in the 1990s when I was transferred by my employer to take up a new managerial position at the Kuala Lumpur HQ. When we hired a real estate agent to find a house, I was stumped by the agent’s question. He asked whether I wanted to live in a Malay area or Chinese area.

It took me a while to reply to the alien question. I just want to live in a good area, I said, and we picked a house in Taman Tun Dr. Ismail.

Thank God the situation is different in Sabah.

In Kalimullah Hassan’s book “The Malaysia that could be”, he wrote, “Sabah reflects the Malaysia we dream of”.

I am not plugging his book or writing a book review but I can’t help quoting his generous words, “We all dream.

Some dream of riches, some dream of power. Maybe, one day, in our lifetime, the rest of Malaysia will be more like Sabah – a melting pot that nurtures mutual respect and love; that diminishes the natural suspicions and primitive tribal instincts that a man has. That would be the dream of many Malaysians.

That would be my dream”.

This is a generous compliment, but true of Sabahan nature and culture. Kalimullah has been able to observe his dream as a former journalist, Editor-in- Chief of NST, a member of National Unity panel, and as a businessman.

I know Kalimullah personally and his kind generosity. When I was at Yayasan Sabah, he donated RM1.5 million to the hard core poor Sabah students – children of fishermen and farmers, students that don’t fit into the foundation’s normal criteria for assistance. We ran a special programme using his donation and put many children to school. I can’t thank him enough for his kindness and his charity.

My family comes from the Kadazandusun stock, with Chinese, Filipino, Bugis bloodlines and intermarriages, with English, Welsh and Irish bloodlines. It takes a bit of time to explain our background, probably a whole day.

In West Malaysia it’s a bit easier, Bugis dari Banting, Ipoh mari, orang Kelenteh etc.

Examples of harmonious East are abundant. Although my family is Muslim, we respect the Christian heritage of our relatives and friends and join them in the Christmas celebrations every year.

Any excuses to have a party, I always say.

Christmas, like any celebration, is the time to bond with the family, catch up with what has been happening since we last met, and enjoy the sumptuous turkey lunch cooked by my sister-in- laws and exchange of presents.

It’s not about religion, it’s about merry making, laughter and good memories. In West Malaysia, these kind of activities will be frowned upon and probably considered haram by hardline Islamists. We will be labelled as liberal Muslims with decadent morals or reported to the religious authorities for deviating from the teachings of Islam.

There are lessons to be learnt here. In April 2017, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang says Malaysians can learn from Sabah and Sarawak, where the two states’ diverse peoples have lived in harmony for so long.

Hadi said PAS recognised the advantages of a multi-cultural and multi-racial society, and that there were lessons to be learnt from the diverse peoples of Sabah and Sarawak on managing relations.

Things have changed since then. Spoken like a true politician, Hadi has gone back on his words.

Last month, it was reported that Pas has envisioned a Malaysian Cabinet line-up consisting of only Malays as they are the majority race. He said Islam had outlined that a national leader and his Cabinet members must profess the Islamic faith and must be from the most influential race.

Having said nice things about East Malaysians’ unity and harmony and how it should be emulated, he has revealed his bigoted side once again and proposed to exclude non-Malays in the Federal Cabinet.

This means Christians from Sabah like Maximus Ongkili, Joseph Kurup and Wilfred Tangau cannot be ministers.

Has Hadi lost his marbles? Perhaps fighting to get his RUU355 passed in parliament, being accused of corruption by Claire Brown of Sarawak Report in the London Courts, and trying to be the bridesmaid to Umno had taken the toll on his mental health. This kind of statement makes no sense and will only hurt Barisan Nasional’s chances in GE14.

Umno Sabah should declare their stand on this matter. Keeping quiet means that you support Hadi’s proposal.

By Hadi’s decree, BN component parties like PBS, Upko, PBRS, LDP have no role to play if BN wins the next election.

Hadi is playing the racial card and should be condemned for his bigoted statements.

Like what Kalimullah wrote, some people may dream of power and riches, but the majority of Malaysians I believe, want to be like Sabah, a melting pot of mutual respect and love.

I recall the famous speech “I have a dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963 in which he called for civil and economic rights. We all have a dream.

One day Kalimullah’s dream and our dream as Malaysians will come true. In the meantime, we have to decide which government can create the right environment for that dream to happen.

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