Living in a harmonious country is a blessing, and it surely helps the people to prosper. Guarantee on security and peace allows the citizen to live productively and improve our standard of living. In Malaysia, we are ranked the 16th most peaceful country in the world, according to the Global Peace Index 2019, as there were no riots or wars in this country, unlike other parts of the world.
However, polarization is shaking societies across the world and intensifying steadily. The deep division, either within religion, race or political spectrum, can fuel societal anger. Later, it can rip our society apart, just like recent riots between political groups as well as assaults against Asian-American in the United States. The list is never-ending, and it is not exclusive to any country. If there is one thing we can learn, it must be how disunity could lead to hate incidents and even worse, violence.
We Malaysians should take this matter seriously. For more than six decades, we are known for our unity in social diversity. However, we should rethink how we define unity. It must involve a high degree of interaction between social groups. It is disappointing to see the interaction between our three major races only happens during formal events. This leads to a lack of genuine relationship as we are united only on the surface.
As studied by Institut Kajian Etnik UKM, our state of unity remains subpar as there exists a trust deficit which halts the integration between racial and religious groups. There is not enough integration like we are supposed to have after more than six decades of independence days. If we do not preserve it, it might translate to worse scenes in future.
The Government of Malaysia has launched Dasar Perpaduan Negara, a long-term strategy aimed to preserve our unity based on many suggestions put forward. The blueprint comprises five strategic cores to accomplish its objectives in 2030. Looking at the past trajectory, one can debate how previous policies focused mainly towards redistributing economic powers and maintaining the current state of peace.
However, it does not set a holistic goals and action plan for pure unity among Malaysians, hence the trust deficit - or social deficit, as coined by the UKM researchers. Previously, the 13 May tragedy occurred. In more recent years, we have conflicts of the right to use “Allah’, vernacular schools, national language, and many more. Each issue is not an isolated case, as usually it is motivated by past unresolved conflict as well.
Differences in opinions are supposed to be normal in diverse communities, but people must be ready to agree to disagree. In practice, it is hard to preach due to low interaction and understanding among people from different social groups, which eventually strengthen the trust deficit. While public conversations are now happening online now, the media is the battle for us now.
Even in our country, the post-2018 election has seen rising polarization which can lead to extremism activity and sentiments. Clearly through the death of the spirit of late Adib, it almost sparks irresponsible riots and incite interracial hate, especially in social media. The use of social media as a platform for the dissemination of fake news has undoubtedly increased the spread of extreme sentiments which motivates violent and outrageous actions. This will contribute to rising social divisions in Malaysia.
Social division most of the time is a by-product of media and hate speech. While the media disseminates information in an unethical way, it feeds people who abuse their freedom of speech to commit hate speech. Now it is high time to understand the motivations and implications of hate speech. Youth can play an important direct role against hate speech. There is no shortcut to have a cohesive and harmonious community, but we can start with spreading the speech of peace.
We are concerned about how divisive our country will be in future if we do not stop fueling it now. Once a society has become deeply divided, it is very difficult to heal. By increasing youth empathy and cross-cultural understanding, we could help build youth resilience to divisive narratives. As both interaction and understanding are currently lacking, it is a good idea to conduct initiatives to promote cross-culture understanding that involves young people. This will be further elaborated in the discussions.