Krishen Jit (© kyotoreviewsea.com)
ON the Sunday morning of 25 April 2010, when Hulu Selangor voters were going to the polls, I was sitting in a Sikh gurdwara in Kuala Lumpur. It was the fifth death anniversary of a dear friend, Datuk Krishen Jit. His spouse, Datin Marion D’Cruz, had organised for prayers to be said for him and had invited family and friends to be part of the ceremony.
I’m not Sikh but neither is D’Cruz or the dozen or so other friends who turned up that morning. In fact, among the friends who were seated in the gurdwara that morning were definitely Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists and the non-religious. So, there we were, fellow Malaysians, united in our love for a friend who had gone before us, seated in a house of worship that was not of our respective faiths. We were not only respectful of the ceremony, we also stayed back together to eat a vegetarian lunch that had been cooked by the gurdwara. It was a 1Malaysia moment for me, if ever there was such a thing.
Which got me thinking: we already have 1Malaysia. In fact, we had it long before the administration of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched 1Malaysia. So, what really is the 1Malaysia campaign all about? And what does it mean that our government has to pay millions of precious tax money in order to ensure 1Malaysia is a reality?
Before there was Najib and slick communications and public relations from Apco Worldwide, there was, for me, Bunga Manggar Bunga Raya (BMBR). BMBR was a dance theatre production directed by D’Cruz in 2007 to commemorate our 50th year of independence.
Bunga Manggar Bunga Raya (pic courtesy of Five Arts Centre)
It celebrated Malaysians and Malaysian stories with equal amounts of dignity and respect for each other. Hence, it should not have been surprising at all that the promotional posters for BMBR were so organically multiracial. Twenty two Malaysian performers of different ages, colours, sizes, and sexual and racial identities all grouped under a solid wooden table that was our country. All proud that we were Malaysians performing Malaysian stories.
It is a poster to kill and die for if I were part of 1Malaysia’s slick public relations campaign. And guess what, instead of millions, Five Arts Centre only spent RM35,000 for the entire production. As performers, we didn’t get paid but money wasn’t the point for any one of us. I doubt the same can be said of the people working on the official 1Malaysia campaign.
For certain, even before and apart from BMBR, there are countless lived experiences where Malaysians feel united and equal despite of our differences. Where each person is treated with equal respect and dignity and offered the same opportunities to be heard, cared for and supported. Just read the numerous Found in Malaysia interviews that The Nut Graph has done for a sense of just how united Malaysians have been, can be and are. Mind you, these stories happened even without the 1Malaysia campaign’s influence.
In Neuro Linguistic Programming, modelling is used as a way to achieve excellence. How can we model people who demonstrate expertise and excellence in what they do so that we, too, can achieve excellence?
I wish our government would ask the same question. How could it model Five Arts Centre, for example, so that the government can better understand what it takes to create spaces where Malaysians feel proud to be Malaysians and feel like they belong to this state? What can our government do to recreate the experiences, described in Found in Malaysia, so many Malaysians have had growing up in our country?
As it is, I know it’s a real challenge for me to buy into Najib’s 1Malaysia campaign. That’s because there are too many instances which don’t have any of the qualities that would make me and other Malaysians feel like we would all be treated fairly and equally with dignity and respect.
How can a non-Malay, non-Muslim Malaysian, for example, trust that Umno is sincere about the avowed aims of 1Malaysia when the party president, Najib himself, has defended a right-wing ethnocentric organisation like Perkasa? Or when Umno’s vice-president-cum-Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein legitimises violence against non-Muslims? Or when an Umno supreme council member who is also a member of the cabinet tells non-Muslims they have no right to use “Allah“?
During the Hulu Selangor by-election, two anecdotes really struck a nerve in me. One was when a Malacca Umno member told Shobana Subramaniam, the wife of the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate, “Nanti lepas menang, boleh pakai tudung.” The other incident was when a Malay Malaysian man chased away two Chinese Malaysian journalists who were working in the BN‘s operations centre in Kampung Sungai Buaya. The man shouted, “Kamu orang Cina, sini tempat Melayu.”
For certain, these would not be the first time when Malay Muslim Malaysians assume a political and cultural superiority over other Malaysians. Indeed, other racial and religious groups, if in power, are just as capable of lording over minority groups. The point though is that in Malaysia, this kind of superiority is entrenched within the dominant party in the ruling coalition. And really, it’s going to take much more than an expensive public relations campaign, codenamed 1Malaysia, to convince some of us that our Umno-dominated government knows how to treat each citizen with equal respect.
For now, I know that my Malaysian friends and I don’t need a government campaign to teach us to be respectful of others. We don’t need to be inundated by patriotic messages and jingles for us to love Malaysia and our fellow Malaysians. Indeed, my friends and I definitely didn’t need 1Malaysia in order to want to be in that gurdwara on a Sunday morning.
I reckon we already had 1Malaysia a long time ago. And the government’s attempt to package and sell a glitzy version of Malaysian unity seems like a false caricature of who we already are without any government inducement.
Jacqueline Ann Surin loves and respects her Malaysian friends. She never imagined she would need a government campaign to do that, and wonders why the government thinks we would.
Read previous Shape of a Pocket columns
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