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Confronting our prejudices

By Ivanpal S. Grewal
I have always been very proud of my Malaysian upbringing. I was educated in a national type school and I was privileged to have friends from all ethnic backgrounds and despite leaving secondary school 12 years ago, many of them remain my friends up to this day.

It is important for us to mingle and understand Malaysians of all ethnic identities so as to foster mutual respect and understanding that will anchor unity that is crucial to the nation’s development and progress.

Over the past week, this issue of unity and understanding our history has been at the forefront, due to remarks made by a delegate at Gerakan’s National Delegates Conference last week.

An indisputable fact is that we are all Malaysians so long as we are citizens of this beloved country. I cannot comprehend how a member of any community can be categorised as an immigrant or “pendatang.”

With that in mind, I believe the action by the Gerakan central working committee to suspend the membership of the delegate in question was the right one.

Gerakan’s opponents have sought to make political fodder of the decision with a prominent DAP member of parliament even terming it an assault on free speech.

I had remarked in an earlier article that free speech must come with responsibility. Unbridled speech will not only lead to disorder, it will effectively dismantle the peace, security and harmony we have enjoyed.

But the bigger concern I have is the fact that some persons who always take offence at being labelled immigrants feel it is fine to use the same term on other ethnic groups.

The challenge for Malaysians is to confront our own deep-seated and sometimes dormant prejudices. I am heartened by Gerakan president Datuk Mah Siew Keong’s call for action to be taken against any member who utters remarks that have racist undertones because Malaysians can only flourish if we shed our prejudices and accept all of us, despite our ethnicities, as Malaysians.

In this regard, Gerakan has taken the lead to institutionalise responsibility and sensitivity and this must be welcomed.

Prime Minster Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s assurance in his speech at the conference that Barisan Nasional will tolerate any individual with extremist views is an apt message given the increased instances of extremism and bigotry we find engulfing the region and the world.

Malaysia, despite its diversity, remains a beacon of hope that people of different ethnicities and cultures can live together in peace and harmony and every attempt must be made to preserve this.

Furthermore, there must be a concerted effort for us to understand one another better. There is a need for greater empathy and compassion, and this will allow us to confront the prejudices that we tend to hold.

I also believe that all political actors must employ a Malaysian outlook and in this regard I am proud of Gerakan’s achievement, despite the trying and challenging political climate.

We must strive to be better before we expect better from others and to me, that remains the greatest challenge because it is always easier to expect good things from others rather than deliver it oneself.