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A Fire and Rescue Department helicopter bearing the remains of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim landing at SK Tebengau field in Kedah on Dec 18. Adib died of injuries sustained during temple riots in Subang Jaya. FILE PIC

WHEN the Pakatan Harapan government swept into power in May 2018, millions of people hoped for a new Malaysia, a better Malaysia. But can anyone truly and honestly say that seven months into their reign, Malaysia is a better place?

While corruption is combated, much of what people hoped for are not materialising. The cost of living has not subsided, people’s lives, especially the rural ones, have not improved. Many promises have not been delivered and polarisation of Malaysians along racial and religious lines are more pronounced.

It’s still too early to make a definite conclusion as to whether the government of the day would deliver a better Malaysia and create a united people, but from what had transpired of late, polarisation in the country seems to have grown.

In the last two months alone, the kerfuffle surrounding the cases of Edi Rajang, the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple and Caryn Yean points to a disturbing and disgusting trajectory in how Malaysians behave when faced with issues that run along racial or religious lines. And no matter how remote or accidental they may be or what the official statements coming from the authorities are, Malaysians seem to have allowed the ugly head of racism, mob justice and hypocrisy to rise.

The liberal group who are mostly urban-based as well as the “zombie-ism” afflicting a lot of the pro-government groups will continue to pooh-pooh concerns of increasing disunity and antagonism among Malaysians. But at the same time, to most, such concerns are real and threatening.

Undeniably, one of the good things that the new government has brought is the freedom to speak our minds without fear of retaliation from those in power, but this newfound freedom also seems to be the main contributor to the further polarisation of our society. At what point do we demand from the government to do something to ensure that such polarisation is nipped in the bud before it leads to more malaise in the country?

While the cases of Edi Rajang and that of the “Honda Girl” were mostly debated and discussed on social media that had real life consequences, the anti-International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination rally that saw Muslims in huge numbers march to Dataran Merdeka and the riot at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple happened on the ground. Tragically, the riot at the temple ultimately led to the senseless and untimely death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim.

At the time of writing this piece, while there have been arrests connected to the temple riots, they are mostly for other offences and no one is yet arrested for causing the death of the fallen hero.

In times like this, what Malaysia needs are real leaders with a good understanding of the root causes of such polarisation. What we need is justice and for the rule of law to be implemented without fear or favour. We don’t need inconsiderate, self-serving and condescending politicians to opportunistically relegate his death to a “Unity Day” or the creation of a “Unity Award” commemoration. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

In private conversations some of the staunchest government supporters opine that the government must do more to maintain peace and security. And this starts with bringing those who caused Muhammad Adib’s death to justice.

But more than the recent events, when will politicians actually do something to help unite the people? When will they stop bickering against each other and actually effect real and meaningful changes that would benefit the country? More than band aids is needed now.

The biggest paradox that the “New Malaysia” has ushered in is this: the more freedom we are given, the more polarised we tend to become. What has happened to the towering Malaysians? All we see now are huge egos with dwarfed thinking.

At what point do we stop kidding ourselves and truthfully recognise that we, as a society and as a people, have a problem? And that we are the problem? So long as we continue to hide the truth from ourselves because of our own racial, religious and political bias, all the promise of a better Malaysia will be nothing but a dream.

“Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost” — Charlie Chaplin.

ivan.omar@theiomovement.com

The writer heads Brand Strategy at The In/Out Movement, an ensemble of thinkers, creatives and perfectionists who believe in doing the right things right

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