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Enhancing Tolerance in Malaysia Print E-mail

ImageWe need to acknowledge and address inter-racial, cultural and religious issues,” says Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. Aini Arope, an illustrious son of La Salle. "How can we enhance inter-racial, cultural and religious tolerance in Malaysia? This is a fundamental question and goes to the very heart of the founding of this nation. It recalls the principles and the architectural basis of our independence."                    

ImageAini, as he is popularly known to his friends grew up in Penang in a mixed environment of friends comprising many ethnic groups and thus learned to speak many languages. In his primary school days he studied Japanese. As a student at the St. Xavier’s institution, Penang (the first Lasallian School to be established in Malaysia in 1852), he took up Latin and French which comes in handy when corresponding with her daughter now residing in Lausanne, France. “So, it’s an incentive to keep up with the language,” he continues.

Tan Sri’s illustrious career both in the private and public sectors is a matter of public record. He was with MARDI, RRIM (Rubber Research Institute Malaysia), Kumpulan Guthrie Bhd and the National Electricity Board (Lembaga Letrik Negara).

Quote:

"Let us acknowledge that these social problems do exist and if not addressed, could impinge on our social and economic development. By doing so, it provides a sound basis for the creation of a more sustainable and effective response to our understanding of the values of our diversity and to prepare the up-and-coming generation to learn to “live together” better.

Racial prejudice and religious bigotry have always been with us. We find it hard to talk about these topics in a cross-cultural environment for fear of our emotions. Some of us would rather deny that these things exist, preferring to go into self-denial than grapple with this insidious moral and social disease. The problem, unless we admit it, can balloon out of proportion.

It is convenient to place the blame for this prejudice squarely on the legacy of former colonial masters. However, the reality is that much of it is our own making, enforced by interested parties driven by the fear-based environment. These parties need to perpetuate the existing prejudice and bigotry, because whether they are real, perceived or invented, they are the reasons that justify the existence of these extreme chauvinistic groups.

As a member of the endangered species, I am concerned to see a stark polarisation of races in our schools and institutions of higher learning. This polarisation opens the door to prejudice and bigotry among the various races. One group would have a sense of superiority from believing that they are members of some elitist group that is superior to others.

Unfortunately, the adults at home and the mass media give support to reinforce this sort of thinking. It is common among certain groups of society to believe that they are the chosen ones over others. They refuse to recognise the worth and contributions of others.

In my jagged career path, I had occasions to visit countries where people of different religions live together, and in terms of ethnicity, there are no physical differences between them. They speak the same language. They share a common origin and one would not be able to tell the difference from one group to another outside the mode of dress. The only difference is religion. And based on religious bigotry, they are willing to kill each other.

In more sophisticated societies, there are more subtle means of persecution than physical violence resulting from religious bigotry – character assassinations, harassment of members of religious minorities and the people associated with them. Other members of religious minorities find themselves in the position of an outsider.

In a multi-racial, multi-religious nation like ours, where the practice of religion and culture of one’s choice is protected by the constitution, there is no reason of any kind for such prejudices. All of us wish to achieve the same ends, the enlightenment of the soul and well-being of mankind. These ends can be achieved, all the easier, if there is mutual understanding, trust, respect and kindness.

We recognise that social conflicts are inevitable, but there are strategies if we care to sit down and work them out for their resolution or at least minimise or divert them before they become unmanageable. It is important that we recognise potential hotspots as we are dealing with human lives, their jobs and their children.

For too long, we have backed away from displaying the dark side of our social problems, preferring to sweep them under the carpet. What can we do as a group to avoid and resolve conflicts which affect our daily lives and the future of the young generation? Institutions of higher learning could be roped in. They can help gather and analyse data and information on socio-economic matters to encourage honest discussions and sound recommendations.

Have a re-look at the linguistic dimension for our national development. Should we not encourage our young to be multi-lingual which would give them an edge for an appropriate and harmonious use of language in our society?

Furthermore, language is of strategic importance for us. Educators among you will agree that acquiring languages offer unique modes of thinking and expression which can be an asset to a multi-racial society such as ours.

Ultimately, we may disagree but we must understand that healthy disagreements help build better decisions. We must be prepared to discuss our value systems and our priorities. We should not feel embarrassed to talk about our shortcomings or the marginalised."

This is an excerpt of Tan Sri Dato' Dr. Haji Ani Arope’s speech at a recent gathering of the Fulbright Association

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