Celebrating Ethnic Diversity–Congratulations Jakarta Post and Republik Indonesia

February 10, 2016

Celebrating Ethnic Diversity–Congratulations Jakarta Post and Republik Indonesia



It has been 13 years since democracy icon and late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid restored to Chinese-Indonesians the right to openly express their ethnic identity, including the ancient tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year.

It was Gus Dur who lifted the New Order ban on anything related to Chinese identity in the aftermath of the September 1965 coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party. Indonesia severed ties with China after the aborted coup, but the two normalised relations in 1990, although discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians remained.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year, therefore, has always been a celebration of ethnic diversity in Indonesia, which was originally conceived as a pluralist nation. It is not simply about New Year feasting or the joy of giving and receiving angpao (gifts of cash in red envelopes) and basket cakes, but also the joy of sharing happiness with the other ethnicities that form Indonesia.

More than just New Year-themed entertainment with dragon and lion dances and red lanterns that decorate public spaces and shopping malls, the celebrations to mark the turn of the Chinese calendar underline Indonesia’s acceptance that cultural differences enrich rather than divide the nation.

After years of persecution and restrictions, Chinese-Indonesians now stand equal with other citizens, whose freedom of expression and fundamental rights are protected by the Constitution.

The case of Jakarta is also unique, in which the governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, belongs to the Chinese-Indonesian minority. Although his ascent to the gubernatorial post was thanks to former governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s catapult to the presidential post, Ahok has started to win the faith of many Jakartans. The real test of diversity for Jakarta looks to come in 2017 should Ahok seek another term of office.

Many do not like him, but very few of them dislike him for his ethnic or his religious backgrounds. His critics oppose his policies, which they deem as failing to help all the people, but the same people are quick to jump to his defence against intolerant groups, such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), who have attacked him simply for his ethnicity and religion.

Ahok himself has never been shy about his ethnic identity. He invites the public to call him Ahok, a Chinese “peranakan” pet name from his father. And many people also call him Pak Ahok with respect, not in some derogatory manner as some did in the past toward Chinese Indonesians.

Sixteen years of cultural recognition is probably not a very long time. Many Chinese Indonesians still remember the dark past, when they had to hide their ethnic identity and when their phenotypical features gave them away and increased the risk of being harassed on the streets.

But a lot of progress has been achieved. Not only do Chinese-Indonesians get to celebrate it publicly, but they can also share the happiness with all their fellow citizens.

Happy Chinese New Year, and may you be blessed with strength to outsmart the Fire Monkey. And may diversity turn Jakarta into a joyful, colourful and vibrant city for all to live in. — Jakarta Post

Gong Xi Fa Cai reminds us about being Malaysian

February 8, 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai reminds us about being Malaysian



I like going to morning wet markets. There is a lot to see and observe about the people there – the way they carry themselves, their purchase choices and how they interact with one another. I find it fascinating, especially in a multiracial, multicultural nation like ours.

The morning wet market I frequently visit is at Sea Park, Petaling Jaya. Now there’s nothing extraordinary about this market compared to others in the country – it is crowded, noisy and smelly. However, when I visited it yesterday, it resembled a fun fair – the sea of people flooding the area was unbelievable, made the merrier with tanglungs hanging overhead and the heart-thumping beat of ‘doom-doom-cha doom-doom-cha’ playing in the background.

It is Chinese New Year tomorrow! A-ha, patutlah the suasana meriah sekali! Capitalising on the festivities were many new traders who popped-up from nowhere, some even without the prerequisite stalls but employing other amusing means to display their goods.

I saw this one uncle selling inner garments from a van. He had bras and panties of every colour and size on display inside. The women milling around were understandably ecstatic with the choices before them and were eagerly examining the merchandise, haggling with the trader for the best price.

While watching them, I couldn’t resist imagining the dialogue that would ensue later that night in their homes: “Lao Po, you look sexy in that lingerie. Is that from Victoria Secret?”

“No-lah Lao Gong, it’s from a van.” And then there was an uncle who was busy emptying boxes of shoes from his old Proton Saga. Take a guess where he displayed his items – yup, on the car itself! It was a sight to behold! The entire vehicle from bonnet to boot was covered in stilettos, pumps, platforms and flip-flops. He had something for everyone. This reminded me of my childhood when mom used to wash all our school shoes and sport shoes and arrange these atop dad’s car so they dried quick. Simply classic!

Next I saw an apam balik seller operating from a minivan. His stall was the only one without any customers. Since I was in the mood for a sweet treat, I approached the abang and made my order.

“Abang, apam balik satu, extra kacang dan extra, extra jagung,” I said. As he was busy making my order, I asked curiously, “Business macamana hari ni?”

He smiled, “I baru kat sini. Kawan cakap business bagus. Tapi tak banyak customer-lah. Ini kan kawasan Cina, jadi I rasa customer Cina lebih suka beli daripada orang dia sendiri.”

As I paid for my snack, a few Chinese customers began queuing-up next to me awaiting their turn to place their orders. I looked at the abang and smiled. He returned my smile, presumably embarrassed of his racially tinged remark earlier. Perhaps if he knew the area well enough, he wouldn’t have said it.

I mean, among the many places I have lived before (including Penang), this neighbourhood is the perfect model of what I personally aspire for Malaysia. I have witnessed for myself, a kopiah-wearing old pakcik selling orchids opposite stalls selling pork. I have seen a tudung-clad makcik selling karipap and nasi lemak next to a Chinese aunty selling non-halal noodles. It’s the same with Muslim customers too, who do not hesitate strolling past stalls selling bakwa, frogs and pork. Everyone is genuinely accepting of each other and extremely friendly despite our differences.

I’ve had some pretty memorable times at this market too. Take yesterday for instance. At one point, I found myself gridlocked in a sea of sweaty bodies when two groups of market goers from opposite sides of the market merged in the centre. With elbows poking into each other’s ribs, and shopping bags bulging at our sides, one petite aunty who was among us said something exceptionally delightful.

“Don’t worry, just squeeze. You squeeze, I squeeze, everybody also squeeze. Being Malaysian is all about squeezing.” What an amazing analogy – “Being Malaysian is all about squeezing each other”. And it is so true, for Malaysians “squeeze” not only in the market, but also at the mall, on the streets, at pasar malams, in the lifts, trains, buses, LRT stations, – my gosh, most of our time is spent squeezing each other since the practice of queuing has never really caught on here.

However squeezing has its benefits too. Very often, when caught in situations like these, we find ourselves making eye contact with those nearest us, offering a smile, extending a greeting or apologising for stepping on their foot.

In such close proximity, we notice little things about others too – their hairdos, their complexions, the perfume they’re wearing, their mannerism. We wonder about their ages, their lifestyles, and we peek at their shopping trollies, surveying their purchases and thinking about the meals they will cook for their families later at home.

These bits and pieces of information give us some insight, no matter how vague of the people we share our space with in this community, and somehow make us more tolerant and respectful of them.

Personally, I have found inspiration for some of my most meaningful stories in the most common places ever – hospitals, lifts, schools, streets and yesterday, in a market.

I guess this is where the spirit of Malaysia lives – among ordinary folk.To all ordinary Malaysians, I wish you a wonderful celebration. May this year of the monkey bless you with good health and prosperity.

Gong Xi! Gong Xi!


In Memorium: Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj

February 8, 2016

In Memorium: Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj

COMMENT: It is sad that Malaysians of the present generation no longer have any recollection of our First Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj from Kedah Darul Aman. Over the years, especially during the Mahathir Era (1981-2003), the names of our distinguished Prime Ministers–Tunku himself, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Hussein Onn–disappeared from our national consciousness.  So I am glad that Terence Netto has written a thoughtful article on our First Prime Minister.

this above all to thine own self be true and it must follow as the night the day thou canst not then be false to any man - Google Search:

The Tunku embodied the qualities of  Malaysian politicians who put Malaysia first and led by example.  Yes, he was a Gentleman but he was more than that. He was to my mind a compassionate leader who was also a good judge of human character. That enabled him to choose a team of Cabinet colleagues like Tun Razak  Hussein, Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Siew Sin, and Tun V.T. Sambanthan who shared his vision of a united Malaysia.  Above all, The Tunku was the embodiment of authenticity.–Din Merican

by Terence Netto


Today is the 113th anniversary of the birth of Malaysia’s founding Prime Minister and statesman Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, a remembrance hard to keep in mind amid the Lunar New Year festival.

From all counts, the 2016 festivity is subdued because of the exactions of rising living costs and the plunging value of the ringgit.But the economic overhang is not as sapping as the clouds that shroud the political horizon which some say are the most worrisome in our country’s 59-year history.

The noxious fumes that continue to swirl over sovereign wealth fund 1MDB and the donation/investment of RM2.6 billion in the bank account of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, show no sign of abating one year after the controversy first began to poison the national well.

In times like these it is perhaps understandable that the mind harkens back to the ethos of a less contentious past and to the man, whose birth anniversary this day is, who embodied the old world charm and sagacity of his era.

More than ever marking the Tunku’s birth anniversary is something Malaysians must to, if only because the effect of the 25 years – he died on December 10, 1990 – since his passing has compressed and intensified the figure of the Tunku retained by memory.

Shades have ceased to count and accidents have fallen away: his life stands sharply for a few estimated and cherished things rather than nebulously for a swarm of possibilities.

The Tunku was a gentleman.It is difficult to say what the term may mean in the context of the political life where fair can be foul and foul can be fair in the fog of the blood sport of realpolitik.

“Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail,” was one definition from an American practitioner in the era before the demands of counterespionage made Henry Stimson’s stricture baloney.

Testimony of Derek Davies

Let’s allow the testimony of Derek Davies, an editor of the defunct Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), speak for what ‘gentleman’ may mean to a hard-boiled journalist in a long career of writing on politics in the region his newsweekly covered from the time of its founding in 1946.

Invited by FEER to reminisce on the occasion of the weekly’s 50th anniversary, Davies recalled an episode when his magazine carried a report the Tunku thought was at variance with the facts and had put the Malaysian prime minister unfairly in a bad light.

At the Tunku’s urging, Davies flew into Kuala Lumpur from Hong Kong where FEER was headquartered to see the Tunku. He waited in a room in Parliament while the Tunku was busy with business in the House.

Once done, the Tunku sauntered into the room where Davies was cooling his heels and after a brief exchange of each’s take on the matter, Davies said he saw that his publication was at fault, quickly tendering an apology which was received with aplomb.

No threats to sue, no demand for an apology in the next edition. Davies’ summation: “Truly,” he said in recollection to FEER on leaders he had encountered in a long career, “the Tunku was a prince among politicians.”

The Tunku was unpretentious and unsanctimonious as someone of royal lineage could be.A couple of months before the 1969 general election, he turned over prime ministerial reins to his deputy, Abdul Razak Hussein, to lead the Alliance campaign for the polls in May that year.

In the lead-up to the vote, he was the target of intense vilification by the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party ((PMIP) (subsequently called by their current shorthand PAS) in which the Tunku’s morals were attacked.

Parrying the attacks, the Tunku, then 63, joked with press: “I wish I were 20 years younger.”At Alor Star airport, after a campaign tour of his home state of Kedah, the a reporter told the Tunku that he was wearing an old shirt. “I like old things,” he said, and pointing to Puan Sharifah Rodziah seating a short distance away, he added, “You see my wife over there.”

Seen in the perspective of the quarter century that has passed since his death and the events that have taken place, it can be said his faults were negligible, his strengths considerable, and the stock of values his career highlighted is hollowed by absence.


ASEAN: 50 Years and Beyond

February 8, 2016

ASEAN: 50 Years and Beyond

by Nunn Nagara


THE Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) enters its 50th year of operation this year, and many in the region sought to peek into what it would look like in another 50 years.

ISIS Malaysia held two days of brainstorming during the week in an international Track Two (non-governmental) roundtable in Kuala Lumpur titled “ASEAN in 50 Years” in the context of a rapidly changing world.

The discussions did not lack optimism: despite challenges, there was general agreement that ASEAN would still be around as a centenarian in 2066-67. This was not without cause. Evidently ASEAN today, upon growing steadily towards a formal Community, has stood the test of time.

ASEANn (1967) has endured and lasted better than its predecessors SEATO (South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, 1954), ASA (Association of South-East Asia, 1961) and Maphilindo (Malaya-Philippines-Indonesia, 1963).

ASEAN endured precisely because it was unlike its predecessors. With ASEAN, the sovereign nations of South-East Asia at last have a regional organisation fit for their purposes.

SEATO (Eisenhower-Dulles project) was a Cold War  of the West alien to South-East Asia. Its members were Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan and the US, with the only South-East Asian countries being US allies Thailand and the Philippines. Although without overwhelming contradictions, its small membership proved too limited for regional needs and it too died a natural death.

Maphilindo began as an emotional pan-regional appeal to ethnic identity, but in coming on the eve of the formation of Malaysia and being promoted by Indonesia and the Philippines which tried to pre-empt Malaysia, it was regarded as subversive to Malaysian territory and identity.

By 1967, Indonesia and the Philippines were under new leadership. Gen. Suharto replaced Sukarno and Marcos succeeded Macapagal, and Malaysia together with Singapore and Thailand worked with them to form ASEAN.

All member nations would have equal rights and privileges, and none would interfere in the internal affairs of the others including territorial integrity. In time, ASEAN would take in new members and acquire a higher international profile.

Among the questions raised at the Track Two ASEAN Roundtable was whether ASEAN would become an integrated regional body or remain an inter-governmental organisation in 50 years. Related to this was the question of whether it was better to have ASEAN as a supranational regional “superstate” or have it remain as an agglomeration of sovereign states.

Such discussions risk veering off at an tangent, as these artificial dichotomies have little to do with the real world. Such debates make intriguing academic discourses but are unrelated to the here and now.

Even the EU as the most developed regional grouping of states never considered replacing the national with the supranational. It is not a question of either national or regional, but both.

EU member countries, like those of ASEAN, see advantages in exercising their diplomatic clout and economic potential within a larger regional body – provided it does not preclude their core national prerogatives.It makes sense to develop common regional propensities to the fullest, or until it begins to compromise national sovereignty or interests. There is often a trade-off, and several EU states are already seeing some limits on certain fronts.

Ultimately, such dualities of national-supranational are false, misleading and distracting. It is like pitting the extreme of the free market against that of state control, when every economic system in the world is a combination of the two where both exist at all.

There was also a roundtable consensus that the nation state will continue to evolve, prevail, and remain significant as an arbiter of national and international policymaking.

Then the question becomes, to what extent would a South-East Asian nation evolve in 50 years? More to the point, what would ASEAN itself as a grouping of 10 or 11 countries including Timor Leste become by then?

Meanwhile, the identity of the nation state as formally defined continues to be eroded practically everywhere. Erosive factors include the growing influence of NGOs or CSOs, increasing multi-ethnicities and various other diversities, and territorial disputes that tug at the physical character of the state itself.

The operations of all regional institutions are limited and messy, and ASEAN is no exception. Yet, members choose to remain and non-members wish they could someday join.

ASEAN continues to experience centripetal forces tending towards coalescing inwards, as well as centrifugal forces pulling it apart. Global markets and major powers in the neighbourhood are responsible.

There are times when a member nation may feel tempted to drift away, thinking that its fortunes are better met outside ASEAN. Singapore once felt that way, followed by Indonesia more lately. But any (passing) sense of self-importance or regional frustration is soon overcome by the prevailing realities. As a Singapore policymaker once put it privately, it is not as if Singapore can just row away and join another region of its choice.

Beyond all the bubbly talk of a “borderless world,” geography is still important. It remains at the centre of geopolitics and geo-economics. Beyond the formal state, however, lies the “deep state” said to act as the ultimate determinant of policy direction above and beyond official channels and procedures. On a regional level, it can also apply to a transnational body like ASEAN.

Thus, a Deep ASEAN would act much like an ASEAN state, but on a regional scale and in the common collective interest of its member states. There are signs that a Deep Asean has taken root after the inclusion of the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam).

Progress towards the regalia of a Deep ASEAN.however. has been slow. It took many years for the Secretary-General to acquire the status of an ASEAN government minister, then full regional coverage in its membership, then a formal legal identity with a Charter, with more developments set to come.

The extended powers that a Deep ASEAN offers member nations in representing their shared interests are also an attraction for them to compromise on some aspects of their national sovereignty to join.

Asean must then develop its legitimacy by broadening its internal constituency. This has come with moves towards a people-oriented ASEAN, then a people-centred ASEAN, and now with talk of a people-led ASEAN.

But “people” as an indeterminate mass is quite meaningless without being harnessed and honed into policy making form. Unless this is done through the appropriate political processes, improved people-to-people exchanges could mean little more than expanded tourism flows and enhanced student exchange programmes.

Another question raised was whether ASEAN had to include all countries in South-East Asia. The name “ASEAN” says so, its founding fathers said so, and it serves ASEAN’s legitimacy to do so.

There was also discussion and confusion over neutrality or non-alignment as an ASEAN imperative. ASEAN is, has been, and needs to be neutral or non-aligned in respect of the major powers – but not with the sanctity of international law which it must embrace.

ASEAN remains a minnow relative to the US, China, Russia and India – all of which have renewed or heightened their interests in this region. Asean members have no choice but to close ranks.

The major powers will keep ASEAN relevant and important, but only if ASEAN deals with all equally and impartially.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Sparing the Wrongdoer like Najib Razak

February 7, 2016

Sparing the Wrongdoer like Najib Razak

by S. Thayaparan


 ‘Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets…’ – Napoléon Bonaparte

COMMENT: Nobody would agree more with the above quote than the Najib Abdul Razak regime. Ever since the Sarawak Report expose and then the alternative press began reporting on the ‘donation’-now-investment scandal that has engulfed the Prime Minister, the keris(es) have been out for the online media.

With UMNO devouring itself with its internal schisms, the search for acceptable scapegoats has been frantic. The Chinese community, always the first choice, has proven problematic since with each passing the day the Malay community has been inundated with news that the so-called defenders of race and religion have been selling them out for decades and getting rich in the process.

Sacred cows of Malay hegemony have been railing against the Najib regime and in the process, the Najib UMNO faction has been carry out a systemic Night of the Long Knives on dissenters and rebels.

The Christian community is always a juicy target but the threat of IS and Islamic extremism right on our doorsteps have the security apparatus in a constant state of high alert for provocations that could lead to sectarian Islamic conflict that we have demonstrated that we are woefully unprepared to face.

Secrets are leaking from the corridors of UMNO power. Sleepers, sympathisers, malcontents, dissidents, people of conscience or just plain troublemakers, are spilling their guts because Cash is King but, as always there is not enough of it to go around.

I never really liked the idea of calling Najib the Teflon Prime Minister. The only other person of such title is Russian President Vladimir Putin and we all know how he deals with dissent.

No, the real Teflon President was someone like former United States President William Jefferson Clinton, who had to contend with a free press, an independent legislature and his own personal demons. Yet nothing stuck to Slick Willy and most Americans loved him. Now that is Teflon.

However, our Prime Minister does not fit into my definition. With the UMNO state controlling everything, there is no need for spin or brilliant counter moves, shrewd political manoeuvrings, or deft handling of public perception, there is only the blunt force of the apparatus of the state doing its master’s bidding.

I have no idea when we descended the rabbit hole but when Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali warns everyone that his office is seriously mulling “to amend laws to increase the punishment for those who leak state secrets and journalists who report them” I think we can safely say we are not in Kansas any more.

What exactly are these “state secrets” he is alluding to? Plainly, his warning is to potential whistleblowers but more importantly, to the recalcitrant online press who continue offering alternatives views to the UMNO narrative.

Schizophrenic nature of this regime

The Attorney-General references China of all countries and says, “In some countries, the leaking of official secrets is a serious offence, like in China where it carries the death sentence,” which just goes to show, you the schizophrenic nature of this regime when the Chinese are sometimes to be scorned but other times worthy of emulation.

Well, let me remind the Attorney-General that China also has the death penalty for corruption. In fact according to the state-owned China Daily, “There is an overwhelming support for death penalty in corruption cases, according to an online survey conducted by Social Survey Centre of China Youth Daily on November 4, 2014. It claims that 73.2 percent of 2,105 respondents think that the death sentence should continue to be applied in graft cases.”

In the same article Che Hao, Associate Professor at Peking University Law School, said, “Considering the ongoing anti-graft campaign and people’s high expectations, it would be prudent to keep the death sentence for corruption cases”

Now, we already have the death penalty for a variety of offences but does the A-G’s office think that the death penalty be used for corruption cases? Would the public support something like this?

In the past year not only have our democratic institutions been compromised , we have a former de facto Law Minister charged in court for asking the Prime Minister to step down. We have had a law professor charged in court for giving a legal opinion. We have had a cartoonist charged in court for drawing cartoons. We have had activist charged in court for organising protests, as is our constitutional right.

We have had radio presenters investigated because of suspicion of turning Malaysia into a “liberal country”. We have had publications suspended because they were investigating and enticing employees to reveal damaging information of possible corruption. We have had material confiscated because certain words are verboten to a certain segment of the Malaysian polity.

In all those cases where charges brought, I am sure the A-G’s office had 90 percent (sic) of the evidence. What a ludicrous proposition. What exactly does 90 percent of evidence mean? Either you have evidence of probative value or you do not.

Why bother shooting the messenger? The alternative press is but a small fraction of the dissent that is heard in the online world. When the prime minister initiates legal proceedings against Malaysiakini because its Yoursay column offends him, does he really think the average netizens would be cowed into self-censorship like the propaganda organs of the state?

When the editors of Utusan Malaysia have no problem saying that it lies and spins for the government, all bets are off. That is one kind of message that is being spread. I suppose lying and spinning are on the bottom of the list for the A-G’s office unless it comes from the alternative media.

Whenever Apandi Ali or indeed anyone from Barisan Nasional speaks, what they say does not resemble anything like a functional democracy. What they describe, with their threats, intimidation, provocations and enticements is not a system of government or governance.

What they say makes the Malaysian government sounds more like Cosa Nostra rather than a democratically elected government for the people by the people. What does Cosa Nostra mean? It loosely translates to ‘Our Thing’.Indeed.

S. THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.


Towards a New National Ethos NOW

February 6, 2016

Towards a New National Ethos NOW

by R B Bhattacharjee


The current generation of Malaysians have an extraordinary opportunity to chart new pathways for the country in light of the ground shift that is taking place in its political, social and economic spheres.

Currently, the multiple crises that are playing out on the national stage present a rather disturbing picture of the state of the nation – reflecting a breakdown in accountability, misallocation of resources, radicalisation of cultural norms and a growing ethical deficit. In total, the trend is distinctly downhill.

Nevertheless, while the near term will tend to be chaotic, it is important that we do not succumb to negativity but focus our energies on nurturing a vision for Malaysia that will put the country on a path towards excellence.

To achieve this, we will need to find inspiration to transcend the petty squabbles, narrow viewpoints and selfish instincts of self-serving pressure groups in our midst that have kept our nation in a constant state of anxiety.

It is clear that these divisive voices occupy a public space that is disproportionately large because opinion leaders with a more wholesome vision have not given life to a holistic worldview that all Malaysians can espouse as their own.

This then is our challenge today: can we supplant the narrative of the extremists with an ideal of a plural, tolerant and progressive society? Failure will mean condemning future generations to a dismal fate under the tyrannical control of self-appointed guardians of society.

So, it is not only vital to invest in the socialisation of a common, yet diverse value system, this generation has a solemn responsibility to succeed in that endeavour.

As societal transformation often occurs on an inter-generational time frame, a key challenge will be to plant the seeds of this new thinking in institutions that involve the young – particularly the educational system, sports organisations and youth movements.

A vital measure in this context is to reform the school environment to promote the concept of egalitarianism as a basis for a just society. This will require a mindset change at a fundamental level to create a new sense of national consciousness.

There must also be a readiness to reinterpret the intent of constitutional provisions on issues like the special rights of the Malays, among other things, to align prevalent views on the nation’s charter with universal concepts of human aspirations.

The terrain is fraught with perils including racial and religious sensitivities that can derail attempts to explore alternative pathways that are more conducive to Malaysia’s progress as a contemporary society in the era of borderless exchange and globalisation.

Yet, we must find the courage to venture into forbidding areas of our composite nationhood in order to lay to rest musty ideas about inter-ethnic relations and mutual suspicions about acculturation, hidden agendas and an assortment of other hobgoblins.

Difficult as it may seem to discard old ways of thinking about ethnicity and cultural differences, it is worth noting that many Malaysians already incorporate colour-blind practices in significant aspects of their lives.

Children who are enrolled into international schools, for example, experience diversity and multiculturalism as integral elements of their learning environment.

Similarly, employees in multinational firms imbue policies promoting equal opportunity and cultural sensitivity as part and parcel of the organisational ethos.

People working in fields like the health services, engineering, research and management benchmark their performance to international standards and protocols that are insulated from ethnic markers of any kind.

These examples show that a significant segment of Malaysians are already operating in a universal framework of values, and that the time is really overdue for a bigger swathe of the population to be co-opted into this broader paradigm.

What remains is to overcome the inertia of our current trajectory and steer the country away from its disastrous current pathway towards a national vision that is open to the best virtues of an interdependent new world.

Nothing would be more tragic for the nation than to remain shackled by its self-inflicted deficiencies instead of leveraging on its natural advantages to build a dynamic, open and forward-looking society.

To realise that potential, we must be ready to undo past mistakes and adopt a fresh ethos that all Malaysians would want to buy into.

To find our bearings again, we only need to reaffirm the best aspects of our diversity that promote our common well-being and discard those habits that divide and separate us. It really ought to be a simple choice.