Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Star: It’s time for us to chill

Wednesday September 16, 2009

It’s time for us to chill


WHEN I was little I remember there being a Malaysia Day. I don’t remember what the date was, but now I realise that it must have been Sept 16. But at the time I remember the word “Malaysia” was somewhat a novelty, but an exciting one nevertheless.

I don’t know how it came to be that Malaysia Day disappeared from our consciousness. To be more correct, it has disappeared from the consciousness of those of us Malaysians in the peninsula.

It has only been because of the insistent reminders from our fellow citizens in Sabah and Sarawak recently that we have become conscious of the fact that today is the anniversary of the formation of Malaysia.

As important as Aug 31 is as the day that Malaya became independent, surely the day that we became the modern nation of Malaysia is equally important. We are after all Malaysians, not just Malayans.

So it is fitting that some of us have decided to make this year’s Malaysia Day an extra special one.

After what has seemed like a very bad-tempered stretch of several months when everyone’s emotions have been strung out with one incident after another, a group of individuals decided that enough is enough and that something needed to be done.

But instead of doing something that would only heighten emotions, they decided to do something to underscore the need for reflection, restraint and calmness.

They decided to reject the hatred and injustices of recent months and reclaim our country for the peaceful place that it is.

That was how the idea for the Fast for the Nation, Peace for Malaysia initiative began. As with all good ideas, it is striking in its simplicity. What everyone joining the initiative is doing today is to fast from dawn to dusk.

This is not just to show solidarity with the Muslim citizens of the country but to do something simple together as a way of showing unity.

If there is one thing that brings Malaysians together, it is food. So early this morning, several Malaysians of all races got together to have their pre-dawn meal, the sahur.

In the spirit of inclusiveness, so that there is no barrier to anyone’s participation, the meal was vegetarian. People who would never normally get up so early to eat did so just to join their Muslim friends.

Then in the evening, they will get together again to break the fast. From the very onset of the idea, as is typical of Malaysians, friends have been discussing what they would eat to break their fast.

But they are determined to do it together, with their neighbours, workmates and friends, regardless of race or religion. The citizens who break fast together stay together.

In addition, this initiative calls for participants to do something kind to someone during the day. At heart is the idea that if you do something nice for someone, you will get the same in return at some point.

After months of an environment where retribution seemed to be the order of the day, it was time to reverse that by consciously doing something good.

It could be as simple as offering to babysit, shop for a house-bound neighbour or help someone at work or something more complicated, as long as it’s an act of kindness.

When the project was launched last week, the first 50 people to sign on all said the same thing: the hate and violence exhibited by some people recently are not typical of Malaysians.

We do not solve things through anger and recrimination. Nor do we allow anyone to exploit our differences and divide us.

While our strength is our diversity – and that diversity should always be respected – our national project ever since Sept 16, 1963, so to speak, is to unite.

So Fast for the Nation is exactly what we need.

It is a community-driven grassroots initiative, one not tainted by politics and with genuinely sincere objectives.

Basically it upholds the basic Ramadan thrust of restraint and calmness. In other words, we’re saying it’s time to chill.

Initiatives like this should not be confined to one day a year only.

We can easily think up many similar ideas. Already there have been groups of Muslims going to visit Hindu temples, or inviting non-Muslims to break the fast with them at suraus.

We need to reach out to each other more in natural ways, not at glitzy manufactured events.

Most of all, we need to show that hate is an emotion that is alien to the ordinary Malay-sian.

When we have seen people from all sides behave in the most debased manner, we have to rise above them. And show them what Malaysia is really about.

Happy Birthday Malaysia!

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