In person with Dato Saifuddin Abdullah, Council Member, National Unity Consultative Council and Chief Executive Officer, Global Moderation Foundation.
The concept of new realities and new social consciousness of the society is the take-off point on the future of national unity in Malaysia. The important factors underlying new realities are the influence of international or universal ideas, advent of information and communication technology, new media and the emergence of a third phase democracy.
The new social consciousness movement, which is interconnected to the new realities, has caused the emergence of the new middle ground. This new middle ground is portrayed as being less partisan, independent, represented by young students, professionals, civil society, academicians, technocrats and activists. They are connected with each other and share the content of social media. The combination of these gives birth to a new thinking. In order for Malaysian to move forward in this issue, we need to have constant dynamism and stabilization. To achieve these, we need to teach the younger generation the history, the preamble of our country’s constitution. The meaning that lies beneath it and not just the weekly pledge during the school assemblies or what is stated behind students’ exercise books.
In the new reality, ICT and social media are not only being used as a communication medium but also to share information. It is known as the Information Sharing Technology (IST) although the term is yet to be used as a recognized or accepted terminology. In the old reality, it is known as alternative media but in the new reality, it is known as the new norms. This is main stream. Amongst the society, there are some who have totally migrated from the old to the new realities. Some are still in moving towards and backwards between the new and old realities. Malaysia is also facing the new social consciousness that is happening universally when people starts to voice out their values on specific issues. One example is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issue that has been discussed extensively in the social media in Malaysia. On the positive note, the discussions have moved society towards God conscious – LGBT is rejected as being un-Islamic. (LGBT is also being rejected by other religions in Malaysia).
The new social consciousness resulted in the emergence of new social ovement. Such movement is based on an extensive usage of ICT and social media where people communicate and share information and values without having to be ‘engaged’ in or with any formal organization. This new social movement is emerged from FB and Twitters followers. That was how Bersih 2.0 and Comango came into being, through the new social movement that uses social media platform which need not be registered because it is formed under the realm of the new reality.
Another aspect that we need to realize is that we are now on the third phase of democracy where it is not limited only to the ballot boxes and traditional democratic institution like the parliament and election, but by deliberation and participation. This is why the Prime Minister stressed on the importance of engagement and consultation and he is moving fast into the new reality.
As a result of the new realities, Malaysians are becoming more educated, inculcated and critical in expressing their opinions. In addition, the migration of the population from rural to urban areas has resulted in the rapid development and growth of the middle class society. The convergence of these elements has resulted in a new thinking amongst the society and the emergence of a new kind of middle ground. If we take the electorate as the benchmark, the ‘middle ground’ group comprises about 30% of the population.
This ‘middle ground’ group is not something that emerges suddenly as it has existed since the early days. Political researchers always use the term ‘on the fence voters’, but I am using the term ‘middle ground voters’ as they are mostly academia, professionals, technocrats and entrepreneurs. The difference between the old middle ground and the new middle ground is the existence of ICT. Those days, people did not know each other and communication amongst them were very limited. Today, in the new realities, people are connected to the extent that they are able to share information, opinions and ideas.
I would like to borrow and share the thought with Prof. Wan Mohd. Nor of Advanced Studies on Islam, Science, and Civilisation (CASIS), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), that states: Malaysia needs to have both dynamism and stabilization (equilibrium) in order to move forward. Stabilization is the idealism – Rukun Negara, Constitution, values in religion and history – that forms the roots of the country.
We cannot be disconnected from these. And dynamism that includes this stabilization must exist to strengthen national unity and identity. This is where the gap exists. For example, the gap is between academic performance and creative thinking. The other gap is in the things that are supposed to be our strength, but turns out to be a weakness. One good example is in the differences in religion and ethnics. We should be able to reconcile all these but somehow, along the way, we lost it. We do not know why, but I suspect there are a lot of leadership issues here where there are difficulties in deliberating the matter.
We in National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) are seriously looking into this. The premise of NUCC in unity is that we have done very well for the past 50 years given the social fabric that we have, and we have reached to the level of social cohesion. However, we have yet to reach the level of unity that every citizen dreams of – the perfect unity. We have yet to reach the ‘perfect unity’ because there are contradictions, and we in NUCC have identified nine areas of contradiction as of today, namely: ethnicity, religion, social class, education, language, intergenerational gap, gender, geographical spatial, politics and governance. Leadership falls under politics and governance as far as NUCC is concern. The two factors that dominate discussions are race and religion.
Malaysia needs to seriously think about citizens’ education when it comes to revisiting the founding documents. I would like to stress that most of us fail to understand constitutions, not only of the country’s, but of organizations’, political parties’, etc. Even our politicians are facing difficulty in determining the difference of their political ideologies if they are given the constitution of their own and of their rivals’.
We must admit that we do not educate our society to understand the details of our founding principles. Discussion with my colleagues from the US reveals that our counterparts are capable to provide in detail the pillars of their constitution and they seem able to digest well their founding documents. The debates in their house of representative are based on their constitution. For example, when Mr. Obama suggested a tighter control of fire arms, the debate was on the framework of the constitution. Not many of our leaders are capable to debate about issues in the parliament based on our constitution.
We are also facing a shortage of constitution law experts in the country that can provide views and opinions to the masses. The social contract is being spoken by the public but not being discussed in depth, resulting in multiple interpretations. We need to have a consensus and collective interpretation that can be used as an authoritative reference. It is impossible to have a conclusive interpretation that everyone in the society can accept, but the founding speeches of the late YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun V.T Sambanthan should be the basis for reference. Unfortunately, they are not promoted and deliberated, and almost never being quoted, even in the parliament.
As for the new social consciousness, the deliberation by the society seems to be superficial. This is perhaps the reason why certain quarters start raising sensitive questions such as where is the social contract. Again I would like to reiterate that Prof. Wan Mohd Nor’s concept of dynamics and stabilization is of utmost importance. The Rukun Negara is not being thoroughly deliberated. For example, the preamble is being left out whereas the spirit of the Rukun Negara is in the preamble.
Models of Other Countries
South Africa has two fundamental aspects that we can learn from. One is its leadership. Nelson Mandela, upon his freedom and became the President, had shown a resolute leadership and boldness in what he believed on the reconciliation between the blacks and the whites. He had the strength and firmness to face those in the country and also in African National Congress (ANC) itself. In fact there were a few veto decisions.
Secondly, in South Africa, they optimized everything that is available. One good example is sport. South Africa is a country where the majority of its people are black and the minorities are white. The minority plays rugby, whereas only a small number of the majority plays the game. What Mandela did was to get the whites to share the game with blacks until it became a national game. This example is a good for us to emulate. If South Africa has rugby as the activity that unites the people, then I would suggest wetake basketball as the unity agent. I have a reason for this as the same concept can be emulated between the majority Malay and the minority Chinese. The Chinese plays basketball and only a few Bumiputra play the game. There is similarity between the whites in South Africa and the Chinese in Malaysia, they hold the economy.
Of course we can consider other games too. Sepak takraw, for example, is predominantly played by the Malays, but is being played by those from other communities too. We can have an interchange on this. But I still think basketball is the best because if more Malays were to play basketball, the Chinese will be motivated to accept and share. East Malaysia’s Diversity My experience through a series of dialogues in Sabah and Sarawak reveals that many decisions made in Putrajaya are made without an in depth understanding about our Sabah and Sarawak counterparts. The Sarawakians and Sabahans feel that their 1Malaysia understanding is much more advanced than us. Divisive issue such as kalimah Allah is a non-issue over there and, to them, it only emerges in West Malaysia.
However, when we take Sabah and Sarawak into perspective, we need to be very cautious as there are some practices and activities that need better understanding. One example that I wish to highlight is the multi-religion family members. Should we celebrate that as unity in diversity? Are we sure that the society is having a good understanding of religion? Or are they able to live together because of their ignorance about their respective religion? We have to be very cautions. Every aspect should be carefully and thoroughly examined as all it need is a small spark and we may have a religious confrontation in our hand.
Plausible Scenario for Malaysia on Unity
I am optimistic in the creation of a good society, subject to a few issues that need to be addressed. If we look at the nine challenges of Vision 2020, we will find a few challenges that are hard to fulfil unless they are being fully addressed. For example, matured democracy, will we be able to meet it within these six to seven years?
Innovation society is still beyond our reach, but I am optimistic that a good society is achievable if we can immediately overcome issues such as race and religion which, actually, should be our strength. I am really hoping that we can settle the kalimah Allah issue and we also must make progress in the migration from race based policies towards need based policies. Migration takes time, but we need to make some progress. How? I think we should re-launch the New Economic Model that emphasizes inclusiveness in our mission towards a high income nation. Role of Global Moderation Foundation (GMF) The idea of GMF was mooted by the Prime Minister in 2010. It is very well received because the concept of wasatiyyiah or moderations is something that is relevant in today’s globalized world. Nevertheless, it is a bit hard to promote the concept because it comes under our foreign policy and people would like to see how it is being actualized. The management of GMF tried our level best on this and now we have decided on a few approaches in our foreign policy. The latest approach is soft power. The days of military power, economic power, political power is over. Now it is about soft power. In the world of multilateralism, soft power has more potential compared to unilateralism. GMF is not a government agency, but we work very closely with Wisma Putra as our realm is ‘public diplomacy’ or ‘people to people diplomacy’. We are using soft power as the platform and moderation as the content. We have decided on five initiatives to make moderation as the content and to actualize it in public diplomacy. They are digital diplomacy, non-traditional security threat, social cohesion and inclusive development, democracy and governance, and engagement with some domestic issues such as national unity, human rights and interfaith dialogue.
It is impossible to have a conclusive interpretation that everyone in the society can accept, but the founding speeches of the late YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun V.T Sambanthan should be the basis for reference.