The issue of racism is in the limelight at present and much has been written and discussed about it in both the print and electronic media.
On this topic our new Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said that “at the top level there’s less racism in this government, but at the ground level the racial feeling is still very strong” and has committed the Pakatan Harapan government to redressing the issue.
This is an urgent task, not just for the government, and requires the effort of every citizen as well.
Racism is defined as any programme or practice of discrimination, segregation, persecution and domination, based on race or ethnicity.
This situation has been prevalent in Malaysia for a good many years now, shifting into top gear as the GE14 approached and reaching culmination during the period of campaigning.
The symptoms of racism in our case are hate politics, fear mongering, toxic rhetoric, character assassination, religious extremism and intolerance and an attitude of racial denigration and disparagement.
The results are divisiveness, polarisation, segregation, lack of empathy, civility and compassion and the erosion of the spirit of muhibah and neighbourliness at the ground level, the antithesis to the principles of “kongsi, toleransi, integrasi”, which were the foundation on which our nation was established by our founding fathers.
It was the concern about the pernicious impact of the symptoms of racism that leaders of nine civil society organisations (Asli, PCORE, PAGE, MINDS, National Building School, G25, Insaf, Yayasn 1Malaysia and NCWO) came together in 2016 to explore what we can do as individuals and as a group to counter the unhealthy development.
A decision was made to convene in December 2016 a “Dialog Rakyat for National Cohesion and Unity” to bring together like-minded people and establish a platform for discussion and action, based on an acceptable set of principles, to deal with the issue.
The set of principles chosen was smart partnership that Malaysia introduced to the world at the first Langkawi International Dialogue (LID) in 1995, hosted by the then prime minister and deputy prime minister, Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, respectively.
After nine Smart Partnership Dialogues in Malaysia, 10 in East and Southern Africa and two in the Caribbean, smart partnership is established as both a philosophy and a framework for relationship among all players in any form of human relationship.
It is about cooperation, collaboration and partnership, based on shared vision, long-term commitment based on evolving common objectives that go beyond strategic alliance, fair and equitable outcome for all partners and ethical values founded on respect, trust, transparency, tolerance and accommodation.
Smart partnership is engendered through continuous smart engagement of stakeholders which allows for synergising commonalities, recognising, respecting and accommodating differences, sharing experiences, voicing concerns and encouraging informed decisions at personal and institutional, national and international levels.
The concerns at national level, in our present case, are countering racism and promoting national cohesion and unity.
The outcome of the first “Dialog Rakyat” is the Code of Ethical Conduct, built on the principles of smart partnership, a set of guidelines of behaviour for ourselves, individually and collectively, to counter racism and promote integration, cohesion and unity:
“We, the concerned and responsible citizens of Malaysia undertake therefore to adopt a set of behavioural patterns that embodies moderation, respect, understanding, trust, transparency, tolerance and accommodation that reflects:
• respect for one another, regardless of ethnicity, religion, geographical region, status or political leaning; and,
• recognition of our similarities and acceptance of our differences.
“We, the concerned and responsible citizens of Malaysia agree to:
• respect the Federal Constitution and uphold the Rukun Negara so as to preserve the independence and sovereignty of our nation;
• promote activities that nurture civic consciousness, civic nationalism, patriotism, national cohesiveness, harmony, and unity at all levels of society;
• advocate justice and fairness, transparency and integrity in all aspects of management and governance;
• resolve contentions and differences through constructive engagement, always seeking for equitable, mutually beneficial outcomes;
• refrain from actions that offend, insult, humiliate, or intimidate others;
• reject any form of discrimination, bigotry, extremism, unjustified acts causing harm to any individual or group, including any actions that can disrupt harmony and cohesion; and,
• fight corruption and kleptocracy at all levels and in all its manifestations.
“We, the concerned and responsible citizens of Malaysia, resolve to:
• adhere to and promote the Code of Ethical Conduct;
• mobilise citizens towards a ‘Citizen Movement for National Cohesion and Unity.”
During 2017, three other “Dialog Rakyat” were convened for the purpose of translating the Code of Ethical Conduct into “Actionable Practices” by individuals, universities and neighbourhood communities (residents’ associations and Rukun Tetangga) respectively.
The agreed actionable practices at individual level are as follows:
“I undertake to abide by the Dialog Rakyat Code of Ethical Conduct, and be guided by its set of behavioural patterns that embody moderation, respect, understanding, trust, transparency, tolerance and accommodation, which reflect respect for other persons, regardless of ethnicity, religion, geographical region, status and political leaning.
“I will refrain from actions that offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate others, and uphold justice, fairness, transparency and integrity in my dealings with others.
“I will promote, to the best of my ability, the ‘Code of Ethical Conduct’ to members of my family, my community and to my colleagues and associates.
“In particular, I will:
• Inculcate democratic values that promote fairness, justice and equality by allowing family members to talk about their individual needs and problems openly, without fear of harsh reprimands;
• Espouse values of freedom of expression within the constraints of societal and cultural norms, which stress the importance of polite language, proper communication and good behaviour;
• Relate the teachings and practices of the family religion, faith or universal spirituality to the moral values, ethical conduct and good manners, giving examples of past and present role models in the family and community;
• Raise children to show respect for and understanding of Malaysia’s multicultural diversity by encouraging family discussions on the religious and cultural practices of other ethnic communities to raise curiosity, awareness and appreciation;
• Discuss the socio-cultural sensitivities and taboos of the various ethnic groups to understand why they have emerged and why they must be respected;
• Encourage the family to have friends from other groups and communities and invite them home to share recreational activities, celebrations and festivities;
• Have family discussions on current and national issues against the foundations of Malaysian society, as embodied in the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara.
• Understand the role and significance of Rukun Tetangga by participating in activities that promote security, goodwill and neighbourliness among the various ethnic groups in the person’s area;
• Promote the principles of Rukun Negara among target groups such as school children, youth groups and resident associations through camps and workshops; poster, logo, writing and art competitions; as well as other modes of information dissemination;
• Organise readings, talks and discussions on good conduct and behaviour by community and religious leaders and celebrity role models;
• Collaborate with neighbours to hold activities such as neighbourhood tea parties, picnics and sports where goodwill and good manners are displayed;
• Hold joint celebrations with people from other religious groups where various cultural elements such as food, dress, dance and music are mutually enjoyed;
• Cultivate friendships and cordial relationships with members of other ethnic communities to build trust, respect and understanding and to encourage camaraderie;
• Empower the RT and RA committees to mediate not only security matters but also other issues of national concern that the higher authorities should be made aware of.”
Spirit of muhibah
We strongly urge concerned citizens to seriously consider and abide by the above Code of Ethical Conduct and implement the above actionable practices. This will promote empathy, civility and the spirit of muhibah, much needed for sustained harmony in new Malaysia.
Four universities (UKM,UPM, UCSI and Mahsa) were our joint conveners for the Dialog Rakyat on the role of universities in promoting national cohesion and unity. The agreed Actionable Practices that our universities should consider, adopt and implement can be summarised as follows:
• Embedding positive values and relevant soft skills that encourage cohesion and unity into teaching and learning activities;
• Incorporate positive values and relevant soft skills through courses or curricular activities, through student activities, through personal conduct and interactions, through community interaction and engagement, and through the educators themselves.
Another Dialog Rakyat to secure involvement and buy-in from more private and public universities is planned for September this year.
The Dialog Rakyat, on the role of neighbourhood communities in promoting national cohesion and unity, was organised jointly by the Bukit Bandaraya Residents Association and the Actionable Practices agreed for dissemination are as follows:
“We undertake to promote and foster national integration, cohesion, unity and harmony as well as patriotism, civic nationalism and civic consciousness as part of our responsibility through programmes such as:
* Activities that bring members together to interact, socialise, break down barriers, exchange experiences, establish friendship and rekindle the spirit of muhibah and the practices of neighbourliness, leveraging technology to achieve the objectives; and,
* Meetings and discussions to promote understanding of our national heritage, cultures and values and national aspirations.
“We encourage neighbourhood communities to discuss issues of security, welfare and lifestyle and to resolve differences through constructive engagement, always seeking equitable and mutually beneficial outcome.
“Realising the important role women play in our families, we undertake to give special support to women activities, and to do likewise for activities involving the young in the community.
“We undertake also to promote these actionable practices to other neighbourhood communities in Malaysia.”
Again, we are committed to get involvement and commitment from neighbourhood communities across the country through more dialogues in the coming months.
We are looking forward to working with other groups to promote the Dialog Rakyat Code of Ethical Conduct and to translate it into actionable practices, for example at the school level.
We urge our new education minister to give this due consideration. The corporate sector can do likewise, adopting the code and translating it into practices within their organisations as part of their corporate social responsibility.
Everyone has a role to play and all of us must do our part to banish racism and its pernicious symptoms from our new Malaysia.
Omar Abdul Rahman is writing on behalf of the Organising Committee of the Dialog Rakyat for National Cohesion and Unity.