January 14, 2010
Most Malaysians are relying on a faithful old friend, reticence, to get them through the spate of church attacks, which rose to 11 on Thursday when a church in Johor was splashed with red paint. That may be helping to prevent a mass outbreak of violence. And yet, left uncorrected, the pernicious habit will ensure the country further regresses socially and ethnically, if not economically.
Ethnic resentments and suspicions have been high for years, in no small way because Malaysians have not found the courage and wisdom to reflect on and talk through unflattering realities. The attacks have only served to magnify the anger and mistrust.
And so it is that Malaysians must respond to this unprecedented surge of hatred in an unprecedented way.
Now is the time to reach out across race lines. Now is the time for Malays to communicate to their non-Malay brethren – not officially but on the ground, in day-to-day conversations – that they condemn the attacks. It’s equally incumbent that non-Malays convey that they don’t hold the whole of the Malay community responsible. I sense that Malays feel the spotlight is on them and they’re humiliated and this might lead them to retreat further under the coconut shell, where fear and hate will fester at the expense of competency and empowerment. Non-Muslims can help prevent this.
Or Malaysians can keep relying on their worn out band-aid of silence. But of course that more, rooted in fear and pride, is partly what got Malaysia into the mess in the first place. And so it would be downright dangerous for Malaysians to put faith in it once more.