May 13, 2016
Johor’s Intellectual HRH Sultanah Zarith Sofiah launches Visions for Peace
by Zaid Ibrahim
The Star Online
Malaysia needs an extensive communications channel committed to explaining concepts which remind us of the value of multiculturalism, diversity and understanding.
Johor’s HRH Raja Zarith Sofiah Sofiah with Datin Halimah Zain Yusuf of PCORE
THE launch of the book Visions for Peace by the Permaisuri of Johor, Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, who is also patron of the Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE), at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club on April 23 was memorable for many reasons.
The main attraction for me was Raja Zarith’s speech, which was short but full of courage and hope. “I have often lamented on the erosion of values and principles which stand in the way of our hopes and dreams for a better Malaysia,” she said.
It was especially poignant when she asked, “Why should we not uphold these noble values? Why should we not have lofty principles to guide us in life? Why should we not be guided by the tenets which our faiths and religions teach us?”
This was a brave and timely call, especially when many are already asking if it is not already too late. The continued struggle by the people for Malaysia’s heart and soul, between the religious and secular, is the source of our difficulties. While some are comfortable with democracy, and want to accept the reality of multiculturalism, believing that we can find true peace and unity only by harnessing the strength of our diversity, others are totally opposed to this idea. They prefer the “unity” of one racial or religious group over all others and seek to maintain control on the basis of identity.
Some believe in the value of fairness and human rights, as evident in our religious obligations to treat all of God’s creations with fairness and justice, but others see this as inimical to their beliefs and even as a threat to their culture and morality; even posing a threat to their positions as “political masters” of the land.
Many believe that democratic rights and common values should be the foundation of society and are willing to trust political leaders elected by the people to manage the affairs of the country.
Many others, however, are making equally strong demands for a religious country where theologians are the true leaders of the land and where democracy is desirable only if politics can be won by the new class of leaders whose claim to fame lies in their “divinely inspired” knowledge.
As a result, the narratives of the past – the Rukun Negara, democracy, human rights, religious freedom and fundamental liberties – are spoken about today without conviction and only in terms of their “limited” application.
Religious morality has become the new tool of social differentiation, which makes it impossible to integrate the various communities in our country. It’s indeed laudable and gratifying that HRH Raja Zarith and her team of dedicated reformists have initiated a movement to bring back the values of the “old school” into the lifeblood of the country, as a modern and civilised democracy where people are guided by reason and conscience and want to live in peace and harmony.
At the book launch, it was evident that PCORE was made up of well-educated Malaysians who could provide a fresh outlook to help the country move forward. I did observe, however, that many who attended the launch (including myself) were in their 50s and 60s – many were ardent voices of reason and moderation, perhaps because they were educated under the “old school system”, have an open mind and live in middle class suburbs.
I just hope the young and those living elsewhere in the country share the same mindset. It is a blessing that we have as leaders of the moderate movement those privileged elites who are willing to engage with political leaders on major issues and make the case of reform in key areas such as education and politics.
At the same time, the message articulated in the book and other PCORE seminars needs to penetrate the far reaches of the country so every Malaysian regardless of background has the opportunity to listen to these views.
The effectiveness of PCORE as a group will be more widespread if they have the ability to influence and lobby policymakers effectively. Politicians will take notice of public initiatives only if they sense that support for such initiatives is strong and that the lobbyists are influential individuals themselves.
Towards this end, I suggest that Visions for Peace and other works be translated into Bahasa Malaysia (if not already done) and that the chapters on various topics such as unity, multiculturalism, harmony, balance of the environment and social cohesion be read and explained over a special radio service.
Malaysia needs an extensive communications channel committed to explaining concepts such as those articulated in Visions for Peace to remind us of the value of multiculturalism, diversity and understanding.
These broadcasts should be made on a regular basis and I call on the Government to allow the establishment of a dedicated national radio station, which I think could be managed admirably by PCORE.
The significance of radio is two-fold: if the Government truly believes that fresh ideas on national unity, diversity and democracy are important, then it must be willing to be a partner in disseminating these ideas. The Government should not fear a fresh view of these concepts if it is useful for national development.
For PCORE, radio can be a useful tool to spread the message of moderation, conscience and reason while discussions and debates on air about some of the key issues will help enlighten people who are otherwise subjected only to a fixed line of thinking.
Unless PCORE has the tools and is allowed by the Government to have access to these tools to do its work in spreading new ideas, its ability to change values and mind-sets, and its efforts to help give voice to those seeking to find the light at the end of the tunnel, will be limited and this would be most unfortunate.