Tuesday, September 9, 2008

We Must Go beyond Tolerance to Acceptance

Commentary by Thomas Soon, TheEdgeAsia, 08/09/08

The country has just marked its 51st year of independence, sadly, still divided and emotionally scarred. The multi-faceted nature of the country was not so long ago its pride in the world. Or had Malaysians, as author Michael Backman once suggested, deluded themselves all these while on a grand scale?

Perhaps things are not as bad as it may seem. Perhaps things that are happening because of the current heightened political tension have amplified every discord. Perhaps it is just politicians playing a dangerous tune to divert attention. Perhaps the stakes have become too high for some.
Or is it a case of economic hardship squeezing out all the moaning and groaning? Maybe what we are seeing and hearing today is actually a latent force that has been brewing beneath the surface but has now boiled over.
The fact that these questions abound may mean the people are aware of the urgency and are determined to have a say in how they want the country to be governed.

In that sense, every individual has the right to voice his or her stance and opinions in a democratic and free society.

It is appropriate for all political parties to always clearly state their stance, their intentions, their motives, their vision if any, putting things into perspective.

Still, the racial discord that is happening in the country is disturbing and sad. Politicians appear to be grappling with issues of identities and how such identities play a part in nation building.
Many will now be wondering and pondering how the country has arrived at where it is now. After five decades, the country is as divided as the days of yore. We are still talking about the importance of national unity, we are still quarrelling over language and religion, and over who are immigrants and who are not.

It is time for the country to wake up from the “delusion” and seriously work towards national conciliation.

Politicians, NGOs, religious institutions, academics and the people must rally behind just causes, now more than ever. It is time for all to undertake civilised and intellectual discourse towards enabling and helping the people to discard prejudices and bigotry, and not just stop at “tolerating” one another.

That has always been the weakness of “tolerance,” an overrated trait that politicians have trumpeted about. Tolerance could mean “I can’t stand you but I tolerate you”. Instead, we must learn to accept that we are different and accept each other’s beliefs and culture. Not just tolerate.
People must learn to rid themselves of entrenched bigotry and prejudices. A good start will be to treat one another with respect and that includes respect for everyone, whatever the racial, religious, social, economic or political status, including those holding menial jobs.

The people’s yearning for some semblance of national unity is an emotional one, and a plea for politicians to heed, to lead and to inspire.

The day of reckoning for this country called Malaysia will come, how or when, in what form is anybody’s guess. Who will stand up to the plate to make that day a proud day for the nation?

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