MUCH has already been said about how MH370’s mystery and tragedy has united the nation. One month after the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane and the 239 people on board went missing, acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein tweeted: “Msians continue 2 b united.” Hishammuddin also praised Malaysians’ solidarity and unity over the loss of the plane.
Yes, many Malaysians feel empathy for the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board the ill-fated flight. And numerous Malaysians feel a shared sense of sadness over the sudden loss of lives. And yes, it is not unexpected for politicians to want to cash in on this collective sense of community.
Several editorials and readers have already pointed out how superficial and glib such remarks by politicians are. More than that, however, the declaration of national unity and the call for citizens to remain united, by Umno politicians in particular, is hypocritical and duplicitous.
Robbing the bank
Keynote speaker Stephen Covey presents a powerful metaphor for relationships and how to build or destroy them. Covey talks about an emotional bank account, where deposits and withdrawals can be made, not with money but with the currency of trust.
The way it works is, when we make regular investments into someone’s emotional bank account, the return on our investment is a relationship built on fondness, trust and confidence. Conversely, if we constantly act to deplete the account, that relationship will strain in an environment of mistrust, bitterness and discontentment.
So, why are Umno politicians’ declarations and celebrations of unity over MH370 hypocritical and duplicitous? Umno, as the dominant party in the Barisan Nasional (BN), has been robbing the bank over the 50-plus years of its rule. Not only that, Umno continues to overdraw on all the accounts for racial and religious unity.
The most recent display of how Umno is only interested in overdrawing on racial unity was made by the minister in charge of the Election Commission. In reply to a question about electoral reform in Parliament, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim proposed a “One Vote, One Person, Based on Race” electoral system for Malaysia. In essence, what Shahidan wants for Malaysia is “electoral apartheid”. His proposal was even supported by Kinabatangan MP Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin from Sabah, who is also from Umno.
As the DAP Member of Parliament (MP) for Serdang, Dr Ong Kian Ming, pointed out, “If Malay representatives are only voted in by Malay voters, they will more than likely only represent the views of their Malay electorate. Similarly for the Chinese representatives who are voted in by Chinese voters … and so on. This means that there will be no electoral incentives for elected representatives to consider the views of voters who are not from their own race. This will inevitably increase racial polarisation rather than reduce racial problems.”
It is dishonest of Umno politicians to laud unity when their actions, in fact, orchestrate more racial division in Malaysia. Shahidan’s remarks are just part of a long line of racially divisive actions by Umno members. This ranges from Hishamuddin’s keris-waving at two Umno general assemblies to a veteran party member calling for 1Melayu to replace 1Malaysia at the December 2013 general assembly. And despite criticisms from other BN component parties, Umno leaders like Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir didn’t see anything wrong with the call for 1Melayu.
It is also ironic to preach unity when the Umno-led government exerts its dominance over minority-faith groups by dictating to them how to practise their religion. This is evident in their attempts to prohibit non-Muslims from calling God “Allah”. This continued with Umno-led Selangor BN supporting the illegal raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) and the confiscation of more than 300 bibles earlier this year. The bibles were taken because they contained the words “Allah”, even though BSM had broken no law and had abided by the Cabinet’s 10-point agreement over Malay-language bibles.
The current regime under Umno doesn’t only sow discord between Muslims and non-Muslims. Even fellow Muslims are targeted for persecution if they don’t toe the official thinking about what Islam is all about. Whether it’s the Shiites or Ahmadiyah, or independent scholars like Dr Kassim Ahmad or rights-based groups like Sisters in Islam, it is obvious that the Umno-led government is only interested in unity when everyone conforms to their brand and interpretation of Islam. Muslims who don’t often have a harder time in Malaysia than non-Muslims.
For instance, when police arrested 81-year old Kassim, who is in frail health, on 26 March 2014 for expressing views about Islam that were not state-sanctioned, he was questioned until 3am. Additionally, the syariah prosecutor wanted the scholar detained for a week when he was charged in court.
National unity is not just about feeling shared sorrow over a tragedy, it is being able to work together to forge a common future together in this country where every citizen’s rights and beliefs are respected. And to do that, we need courageous and consistent leadership from our government, and not one that is ever willing to sacrifice principles to pander to its vote bank to stay in power.
On all accounts, the Umno-led government is bankrupt when it comes to national unity. It has done nothing meaningful to invest in improving the relations between the difference races, between Muslims and non-Muslims, and even among Muslims. In fact, it has squandered whatever deposits were built up by previous national leaders from Umno.
Our national unity, because of Umno’s current leadership is in the red. Hence, no Umno politician has any business claiming and talking about national unity, especially because of MH370. Not only does that insult Malaysians who don’t need a national tragedy in order to be united, such declarations are based on deception.
Umno can only start boasting about national unity once it is held accountable for emptying out the nation’s emotional coffers, and once it starts putting deposits back into those accounts it has overdrawn on. Until and unless that happens, Umno politicians who use MH370 when they talk about national cohesiveness are attempting to use a national tragedy to hide their plunder.
Jacqueline Ann Surin believes that any politician who thinks it’s OK to use a tragedy to spout national unity is bankrupt of ideas and emotional intelligence.