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Perhaps it is not a necessity yet

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Lets try others food as our way of creating the necessity for unity in the country (Ash Edmonds - Unsplash)

By: Nahrizul Adib Kadri

1969 was a year etched in history for vastly different reasons on opposite sides of the globe. In the United States, the Woodstock symbolised a cultural revolution by bringing together over 400,000 people in a massive music festival that celebrated peace, love, and music. Meanwhile, the moon landing on 20 July not only showcased American ingenuity and technological prowess but also cemented US dominance in the space race, marking a significant achievement in mankind’s scientific exploration (and Cold War rivalry).

Nahrizul Adib Kadri

On the other side of the world, on 13 May 1969, our young, independent country saw severe ethnic riots between the Malay and the Chinese. The violence erupted in Kuala Lumpur following a contentious general election where opposition parties made significant gains. Tensions that had been building due to economic disparities and ethnic issues boiled over, leading to widespread violence, destruction of property, and loss of lives (many of them unreported too). The government declared a state of emergency, and the incident led to significant political and social changes, including the implementation of policies aimed at improving the socioeconomic status of the Malays.

The stark contrast between these events begs a crucial question: have we, as a society, truly learned from the past? When talking about inter-ethnic tensions, what have really changed, honestly?

Recent events vis-à-vis the Sockgate, the UNESCO listing of New Villages, and the Type-C reference, to name a few, suggest that we are still grappling with ethnic tensions. Despite the passage of time, the wounds of 1969 seem to linger, and the horors of division still haunts us. The necessity for unity, it appears, has not been sufficiently realised or acted upon. I find myself asking, why have we not created the conditions necessary for true unity in our country?

In conjunction with Mother’s Day celebrated last Sunday, it is timely to reflect on the proverb (no puns intended): “necessity is the mother of invention.” This saying, originated from Plato the ancient Greek philosopher, highlights the idea that significant progress often arises from dire need. However, it seems we have not yet cultivated the necessity for unity. We have not made it a pressing, tangible goal that we all must strive for every day.

Remember, unity is not a distant destination to be reached someday. It is a journey, a continuous effort that must be proactively pursued by everyone, at all times. It requires conscious, deliberate actions and a collective will to bridge our divides and foster harmony. Unity is something tangible; something that must be nurtured and sustained.

To achieve this, I believe, we must create the necessity for unity. We must instil in ourselves and our communities the understanding that our future depends on our ability to live together in harmony. This means promoting inclusive policies, encouraging interethnic dialogue, and fostering a culture of mutual respect and understanding. It means celebrating our diversity as a strength, rather than allowing it to be a source of division.

On a more personal level, this can translate into simple, everyday actions too. Consciously make an effort to speak and eat (a very Malaysian social tool) with people from different ethnicities every day. This can easily break down barriers and build friendships. Also, learning a second or third language can deepen our appreciation for other cultures and enhance communication too (imagine how proud you’d be to order teh tarik in Tamil fluently at your favourite mamak). Embrace the opportunity to learn and savour each other’s food (laksam instead of nasi lemak, capati instead of roti canai, loh mah kai instead of chee cheong fun), will work wonders too, especially after understanding that each dish carries its own story and heritage. These simple yet very personal efforts, when multiplied across our society, can create a powerful ripple effect towards greater unity and mutual respect.

As we reflect on the lessons of 13 May 1969 and the ongoing challenges we face, let us agree to making unity a necessity. Let us recognise that the journey towards social cohesion requires effort, and a willingness to change and explore new things.

To all non-Indian readers: let’s have a real vegetarian banana leaf rice lunch today in Brickfields, shall we?

The author is the former Director of Corporate Communications Centre, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at nahrizuladib@um.edu.my

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