I want to take this moment to be real with my community, and write about how I felt in the weeks leading up to Merdeka.
As my diary filled up with community programmes, in my heart I was wondering what exactly to share during my address. I had two choices – I could have whitewashed my speeches and talk about how everything is okay; or, I could deal with the sentiments head on. I chose the latter. You see, in the weeks leading up to Merdeka, my heart broke many times when I read the news of a divisive race and religion narrative. I saw how people were afraid of Jawi, of Islam and so on. Personally, I was told that I was being provocative by wearing a cross around my neck. I wondered – after 62 years, is this what we have achieved? Is this the Malaysia that I fought for, and returned to serve?
With these issues dominating the headlines, I decided to take it upon myself to meet Subangites and determine whether divisive race and religion still dominates our Malaysian populous. Matters of community welfare and religion are state affairs, after all. I needed to do something about it. My office met with 2400 residents through our flag distribution programme. After 10 days and after visiting 25 places, I can say this – I did meet with one instance of racism, but that was about it. On a whole I gathered that Malaysians are peace loving. The question then is – why is extremism dominating our headlines?
This leads me to my Merdeka message – I pray that Malaysians would find the courage in us to cast out fear of our neighbours. I pray that Malaysians would step out of our comfort zones and start moving to the middle. I pray that the moderate voice begins to rise. I pray that Malaysians would be willing to not focus on our differences, but celebrate diversity.
Bring a Christian has never prevented me from stepping into other places of worship, of learning and inquiring about the rituals and rites that I witness being performed. In fact, I have in my possession books about other religions e.g. books on how Hindu temples are built, and even the Qur’an.
I have just returned from my final Merdeka programme, which has given me hope. Earlier this year during Ramadhan I was invited by Pertubuhan Minda Progresif in SS18 to break fast. During my address I spoke about how faith can be a unifying tool, and mooted an idea to have inter-faith dialogues. I was surprised that they took up the challenge because today, on Merdeka Day, we saw representatives from the Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities take the stage to share about what they believe in, to an audience of about 100-strong. That programme ended with communities from different faiths talking to me about how they wish to do their part in bridging the divide.
You see, I believe that we cannot outsource nation building to our policy makers. As Malaysians, we should take ownership of our country, not discharge responsibility. The rationale is simple – unless all of us buy in and do our part in building a better Malaysia, one person’s effort can only bring us so far. But together, we are strong. The last conversation I had with my community telling me that they want to do more ended my Merdeka perfectly for me.
And so I would like to ask you – how do you think you can contribute to building Malaysia?