Do we need a ‘Race Relations Act’? — Jason Loh Seong Wei

DECEMBER 18 — There had been talk emanating from the government side of the need to enact a “Race Relations Act” — conceived as a catch-all term encompassing racial and religious harmony.

But the question is does our beloved nation need the equivalent of a Race Relations Act or a series of such Acts to combat hate speech, racism and bigotry?

Of course, there are two sides to the argument. There always are.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for Islamic affairs, Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa has stated that the government intends to legislate for the Anti-Discrimination Act, National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Act, and Religious and Racial Hatred Act.

These laws are part and parcel of the anti-hate speech measures under Malaysia Baharu to counter racial and religious extremism in our midst.

Even as Pakatan Harapan replaced the old and crumbling “ancien régime” that Umno-Barisan Nasional was, at the same time, it inherited the problem and challenge of the toxic mix of ethno-religious rhetoric and narrative that has seeped into the public consciousness and national psyche.

But what if in this instance at least, there is also a so-called “third way” — one which neither makes light of the arguments for and against but at the same time finding a solution in common with either/ both and also transcends them?

Well, the solution could also be thought of as simply this: We need a fresh and new narrative for Malaysia Baharu — and that which has a constitutional or legal weight.

Politicians, policy-makers and community leaders need to articulate a new overarching and foundational national vision for our nation that serves to underpin our national policy frameworks such as the Shared Prosperity Vision, Total Defence (Pertahanan Menyeluruh, Hanruh) concept and the Defence White Paper, and one in which we remember and therefore cherish our unique makeup and shared identity.

And this remembrance must be embedded and reinforced in our national discourse so as to be retold again and again — to dispel fear and anxiety and in its place bring hope and faith.

There is a need for new narrative which contains the dynamic (or existential) balance implicit in our Federal Constitution. What is implicit must now be made explicit.

The letter and spirit of both the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara must be strengthened, and thereby renewed in the sense of making clear and explicit those terms and conditions that inform and form our political and social fabric.

The “social contract” must reflect the existential and actual realities on the ground. It must thereby give expression to the hopes and aspirations of all Malaysians within the constraints of the “dynamic balance”. And not be a reflection of politicians’ ideological fantasies and dystopian vision.

Towards that end, there should be a Preamble formed within the bosom of our Federal Constitution where hitherto there was none. Much like the Preamble to the US Constitution which provides the historical narrative and raison d'être of the nation’s identity and existence.

Finally, to complement and supplement the national narrative, there must be the creation of a national pledge, following in the footsteps of Singapore.

The national pledge of Singapore which as legend would have it was composed (“on the back of an envelope as if by immediate inspiration) by the late S. Rajaratnam, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and MP for Kampong Glam as the then fledgling nation sought to recover from the trauma of Separation in 1965 and moving past beyond the infamous riots of July 1964.

Our Malaysian national pledge must be made mandatory and recited by all pupils and students at primary and secondary levels; at national day celebrations; by our military and police; and not least by the civil service.

The national pledge ought to then — so as to provide it with a constitutional aura — be appended to the Federal Constitution. Just as the Preamble comes at the beginning, so the National Pledge comes at the end – like two pillars reinforcing and bolstering the constitutional superstructure and infrastructure.

At the end of the day, we do not just need laws to restraint and constraint.

The nation is crying out for an inspiring force that will arouse and instil a sense of patriotism. This will bring out the best in us — to fight for a better Malaysia for all.

Whatever our interpretation of national unity and racial harmony is, patriotism would seek to ensure that everyone is equally part of the same family — of the homeland (setanah air) or motherland (ibu pertiwi).

Let there be a national narrative that would renew and sustain our hope and belief in Malaysia, and that Malaysia Baharu is here to stay irrespective of who wins power.

*Jason Loh Seong Wei is head of Social, Law & Human Rights at Emir Research, an independent think tank focussed on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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

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