The solution to Malaysia’s political polarisation — Khairul Azwan Harun

JULY 28 — Political polarisation is getting worse in our country. The divide between our people today has reached record highs. On every side, there is a rising animosity towards one another, the pro government groups and the pro opposition clans increasingly cannot stand one another.

We see this divide reaping through our communities. Friends stop befriending one another according to political choices. Couples begin doubting each other’s judgment and parents more and more opt to steer their children away from marrying someone who supports another party. It is frightening.

On another level, our communities also have become more divided. According to a study by CIMB Foundation released earlier this year, Malaysians today have very little communication with people from other races. About 90 per cent of Malay respondents, 80 per cent of Chinese respondents and 70 per cent of Indian respondents reported that almost all of their friends were from their own racial groups. We live in the same country, but in our own little silos.

Last week I organised an interfaith dialogue. We invited imams, priests, Hindus, Buddhists and all religious leaders in Malaysia to attend. The purpose of the dialogue was both symbolic and foundational. By being able to gather different heads of community, we aimed to solidify the image of a united, tolerant and open minded Malaysia; one that aims to use our common bridge of Malaysian-hood as a strength to solve problems together in the future. Strategically, the dialogue narrowed down on how we could quickly translate interfaith dialogue into interfaith action. Because by action we hope to create a momentum of progressive inter-religion where we would in turn have a platform to respectfully address one another when disagreements arise. Creating a stage designed to withstand sensitive mature confrontation with the commitment to compromise.

In the Quran’s Surah Al Hujurat, God reminds us that he created us into different tribes, races and communities so that we “may know one another.” This surah does not say we should try to convert one another, but simply that diversity is accepted and that we should get to know one another, on a deeper level, heart to heart. Diversity was God’s growth chart to complete ourselves as a united community.

As the Prime Minister said, “political and social stability can only become a reality if we have interfaith harmony in the country.”

The question then is whether the political divide up top and in the news is the cause for the communal divide. Or if it is the ground affecting the top.

As a senator, it has become my role to exemplify an open and accepting Malaysia that can be mirrored for common Malaysians. I believe it is high time that politics today becomes the example of a maturity that is fact based rather than emotion based; forward thinking rather than inward looking.

What can we do to cut down on the polarisation in Malaysia’s political discourse? What can we do to connect with our political counterparts?

As a start, it is vital that we recognise how the political qualms in our country are based on a deeper moral divide.

On one side, some Malaysians may prioritise moral values like transparency and equality whilst other Malaysians may tend to uphold the values of religion and identity. Do the people who value religion and identity not care about equality? Certainly not. It just means that from their upbringing, they have learned to accept that the values of religion and identity resonate more in their life than other values. These moral values become what Malaysians define themselves as. It translates into what you read, watch, how you act and comprehend everyday news.

Part of the reason that our communities and politicians become so antagonised to one another is because we talk to each other through the lenses of our own values. For example, someone who prioritises religion may argue to others in a rhetoric that centres upon religion. They may quote the Quran. They may use the life of the prophet as an example. And whilst this may be convincing to him, it may not be as satisfying an argument for those less versed in religion. It seems that living in our own cultural silos have made us uncompromising even in the very structure of our arguments.

So here’s the solution, if you want to persuade your counterparts on certain policies that you know they disagree with, your first step must be to identify and connect with the values that the person you are addressing may have. If you are a Member of Parliament from DAP and you want to preach gender equality to someone from PAS, structure your argument in a way that is supported by the values of Islam.

If we truly value our country, then we will let go of immature “he pushed me, he hurt me first” bickering. Putting our country back together requires the collaboration of all leaders. Fear mongering about one another and the hampering of communication needs to stop. Even more critical is the need for us to engage in a level that is unselfish and understanding of each other’s values. We owe it to one another and to our country to reach out and try to connect.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.