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Monday, 7 July 2014

Defusing hostilities through reasonable talks

By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria

The recent warning issued by DPM of a bloody incident if racial tensions left is unchecked, deeply troubled me as the statement was coming from someone very senior in the Federal Government. Some politicians have come in defence of the DPM while others are further accusing him.
Is the situation so critical? Are people feeling a sense of tension and fear to leave their homes or go to the Ramadan baazar? This is not really so and therefore we need to reflect where the tensions lie today in Malaysian society and what solutions are at hand

Understanding the current dynamics
First, there is clearly a political divide. Politicians from both sides of the political divide are attacking each other on various issues. This is especially so after GE 13 where there is a greater call to public accountability. This is part of the changed political environment where politicians of which ever political party especially those holding office are called to account. We must encourage politicians to speak up and stand up for their policies and actions.

Second, there is a very vibrant civil society action. One can brand them as right wing or Federal Government linked and others as critical of Federal Government. Many groups and individuals are speaking up and therefore they are finding the space in the traditional or social media to share their views in public. This too is healthy within a democratic tradition and since GE 13 many more groups are speaking up.
Three, there are some groups who use words or ideas which are very exclusive and offensive to others. They could be using intimidation and even threats of violence in expressing their views or warning others to not voice out. Non peaceful ways are not acceptable in democracy or even threats of violence or intimidation. Objective, rational and alternative views can be expressed within a democratic society.

Four, there are times when Federal agencies especially enforcement have not acted neutrally by warning groups or taking appropriate action especially of threat to violence or even doing an act which is clearly outside the realm of reason and socially unacceptable.
Fifth, there seems to be a heighten discussion on race and religion. Both Federal and State public officials are not providing the leadership to neutralise the public discussion but often a majority of politicians are taking advantage of politicising the situation further. There are some unresolved issues due to Article 121 1A over jurisdiction of the civil and sharia courts. There are practical issues to resolve when one party is Muslim and another not.   

Identity & Violence
This morning I was reading Amartya Sen’s “Identity and Violence, the Illusion of Destiny” (2006). In this he writes of the racial and religious riots which he witnessed in Calcutta in the 1940s between Hindus and Muslims during the partition of India and Pakistan. He also writes of the resentment in East Pakistan of the alienation of Bengalis and the violent suppression of the Bengali rebellion and the eventual formation of Bangladesh.

Amarty Sen identifies the core issue which is the way people think of human beings via the “illusion of singular identity” (race or religion) and “the illusion of unique identity”. The danger here is turning “multi-dimensional human being into one dimensional creatures”.
In a similar way we need to ensure that as Malaysians we all have multiple identities which are beyond race and religion including age, class, gender, language, professions and locations. We must strengthen our commonalities as Malaysians and not be in an illusion.

Some ways to find resolution
We therefore must learn the lesson from history and contemporary global situation. We must not allow certain individuals and groups to highjack democracy. We must provide the space for democratic exchange but not incitement to violence or even threats. A number of practical possibilities could be instituted to defuse the situation and provide political leadership to steer the nation forward.

First, there must be greater By-partisan cooperation among the political parties. We must ensure both sides of the political divide are held accountable for their actions. Engaging the opposition and cooperating together between the political divide is of utmost importance rather than trying to point fingers. A parliamentary select committee on public grievances will be able to address the contestations and seek joint remedy.
Second, there is a need for objective and rational analysis of the situation. Some sections are making unfounded claims and accusations pertaining to the core constitutional aspects such as religion, monarchy, special position & national language.  These are not under attack as claimed by some. These aspects of the Federal Constitutions cannot be removed just like that. We must rise above contemporary politics to ensure the Constitution is respected.

Third, the current Mediation Act 2012 could be amended to make it mandatory for differing groups to sit down with a mediator to enable them to resolve the conflicts. We need constructive mechanisms to resolve contestation and potential conflicts. Grievance mechanisms must be effective. Some of the issues now before the court could be better managed in a mediation context especially matters pertaining to ethnicity, culture and religion.
Fourth, the authorities must stop the distortions and provocations. Federal agencies and officials must be just and fair but must act in the best interest of the nation, not just for a particular political party, race or even religion. One must be transparent and accountable especially public officials. They duty and loyalty is to the nation and King.

Fifth, Federal agencies must ensure greater engagement with all parties especially the civil society. Some might categorise some organisations as Right wing or Left and some as conservative or liberal. But what is important is that most of the contestation is coming from civil society. There is therefore the need for more face to face discussion with of all the various groups.
There is now the feeling that some federal agencies are only in dialogue and discussion with certain groups and not in an open and transparent way as reflected in the Universal Periodical Review matter pertaining to human rights.  Some were even banned locally but have high access with the United National process internationally. It is therefore, imperative for all Federal agencies and groups to dialog and chart a way forward for nation building. We must trust that we are rational human being and that we will be able to come to a consensus position in the best interest of the nation.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 We are all Malaysians and this is our home. We must work together and ensure that this land will progress for all the people of Malaysia. We must encourage a more inclusive society and all Federal agencies must establish mechanisms and measures which can enhance this and become a show case of fostering greater unity, cohesion and solidarity among all the people of Malaysia.

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