KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 – Malaysians have to change their simplistic understanding of unity to appreciate the true meaning of independence that the country has enjoyed for the past 63 years.
Distinguished Professor Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said this is because the value of unity is not only translated into “moments of similarity” but also translated in the “moments of difference” celebrated by the plural society in this country.
Shamsul Amri, who is also Unity Advisor to the Ministry of National Unity, refers the moments of similarity to the togetherness shown by Malaysians when national badminton ace, Lee Chong Wei competed against Lin Dan of China, and efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic or the moments of difference in the acceptance on the issue of Jawi writing in school.
“In this moment of similarities and differences we continue to walk because there is cohesion (kesepaduan) among us towards the process of unity (perpaduan).
“Cohesion is when Malaysians agree with two forms of agreement, that is, to live in Malaysia, we all have to agree to agree and (also) agree to disagree.
“Cohesion is part of unity. Reconciliation is the path to unity. This is a new understanding and a gap that we have to manage,” he told Bernama in an interview at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) recently.
Shamsul Amri, 69, who is also the Founding Director of the UKM Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) ,is one of the individuals involved in the post-racial dispute recovery effort following the May 13, 1969 incident which saw the launch of Rukun Negara on Aug 31, 1970 to unite the people.
Starting with his involvement in a music performance at a durian feast (an event to promote unity) in Kuala Lumpur after the May 1, 1969 incident, Shamsul Amri devoted himself to fostering and disseminating the society’s understanding of unity through KITA.
“I do not agree if anyone says we failed (in unity). I am pro-Malaysia and I will tell the world, how good we are. This is the story of Malaysia, which is our ability to defend unity, democracy and freedom.
“We like to engage in oral war, but we will not be wielding machetes,” said Shamsul Amri, while referring to the norms of the Malaysian society which often quarrel over sensitive issues, but never resort to violence or shed blood like in other countries.
He gave an example of how the change in government from Barisan Nasional (BN) to Pakatan Harapan (PH) in May 2018 went smoothly without violence even though BN ruled Malaysia for more than 60 years.
Shamsul Amri said the people’s maturity and understanding on the importance of unity and peace in the country, made the independence achieved by Malaysia on Aug 31, 1957 more meaningful.
Referring to the establishment of the Ministry of National Unity by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government since last March, Shamsul Amri said, the government’s decision to restore unity as a national agenda was a wise and apt decision in line with current developments.
He said the country had never failed in the process of reconciling the people, but the initial understanding of unity should be changed from being only simplistic, mechanistic and literal.
“Simplistic is physical, for example, a feast to forge closer unity. As for mechanistic, an example is vision schools (placing national schools and national type schools in one area) and we build bridges (to link them).
“Literal understanding refers to unity as something solid like a brick, but unity in Malaysia is not solid, but fluid (changes according to the moment of difference). Not everything is solid and because of that many conclude that unity does not exist yet, ”said Shamsul Amri.
He said the early understanding on unity should change in line with the social development in Malaysia which also inherited elements of difference from the colonial era, like the vernacular system.