Saturday, May 30, 2015

'Integration, Unity Process More Challenging Now, Says Analyst', Bernama, 27 May 2015


By Erda Khursyiah Basir

KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 (Bernama) -- Whether at home, in the restaurant or supermarket or even when using public transport, most people can be seen engrossed with their hand-held gadgets, particulary smartphones.

In fact, there is a tendency for people to feel "lost" should they accidently leave their phones at home before going out. So powerful is the lure of the Internet, especially when it is available at one's fingertips, that people of all walks of life, especially the younger generation, just cannot do without cradling a phone in their palms.

On the one hand, such gadgets have paved the way for easier communications but, on the other hand, they have unwittingly distanced human beings from each other, in a sense that these "tools" have done away with the need to have eye contact and heart-to-heart conversations.

Dr Mohd Ainuddin Iskandar Lee Abdullah, who is a senior lecturer at Universiti Utara Malaysia's School of International Studies, said today's social scenario was having an impact on the nation's unity.

In fact, the process of forging national unity and integration has become more challenging as youths become more interested in surfing the Internet and being absorbed in their social media affairs than make an effort to be involved in activities that promote interracial unity.

"These days, the Gen X and Gen Y are closer to their gadgets and more attentive to their virtual relationships with their 'friends'on Facebook and Twitter.

"They have forgotten how to go out and look for new friends and face the real world, especially when it comes to mingling with people of different backgrounds," Mohd Ainuddin Iskandar told Bernama, adding that schools, colleges and institutions of higher learning were ideal places to sow seeds of racial integration.

He said it would help if parents exposed their children early to the concept of unity, and if they were continuously exposed to it at the school- and later university-level, they would succeed in breaking across racial barriers by the time they start working.


Besides advising people to keep their phones aside and spare some time to build real-life friendships, what else can they do to foster unity among the various races?

Asso Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, a lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia's School of Social Sciences, opined that more opportunities should be given to the young generation to enable them to have this sense of "having contributed and being present" in the nation-building process.

Besides reviving the spirit of volunteerism through gotong-royong activities, he said, the unity agenda should also capitalise on social media networks to gain the attention of youths.

"It'll also be an advantage to introduce more youth icons in various fields because the young generation would view them as having a better grasp of the subject concerned, be it social media, sports, entertainment or youth leadership," he said.


Unity in the context of a plural society can only be forged and maintained if there is true commitment on the part of the players concerned.

According to Sivamurugan, people cannot afford to be complacent and assume that unity was something that could occur naturally. It was the joint responsibility of all stakeholders, including families, schools, universities, employment agencies, friends, media and the nation's leaders, to promote unity, he said.

Mohd Ainuddin Iskandar agreed, saying that the current situation warranted for more information pertaining to the imortance of unity or social cohesion to be made available via the print or electronic media, including social media. This, he added, would have a positive impact on efforts to foster racial tolerance.

He said the aspect of understanding the values of the people of other racial backgrounds and sharing them should be sown and nurtured continuously to pave the way for social cohesion which, in future, would reflect the true meaning of national unity.

"Attaining national integration involves the nation-building process and it can't be done in a short time. Racial unity cannot come about on its own, without the various races understanding or accommodating the best in each other. This is something that has to be sown and nurtured from the start.

"The process of nurturing unity begins to thrive when the various races assimilate and respect each other, in the context of their beliefs and customs," he said.


A full stop has to be put to attempts by certain quarters to play the racial card. The issue being bandied about may be trivial but it can inflame racial tension if no efforts are made to safeguard interracial relations.

Mohd Ainuddin Iskandar, who lectures on ethnic relations, said people should avoid raising issues that evoke racial sentiment, adding that they should make it a point to understand the sensitivities of the other races as this was among the conditions that preceded unity.

Besides avoiding issues which have communal overtones, the people, regardless of their backgrounds, should also make an effort to remain courteous, a common trait of the people in eastern societies.

"However, things have changed a lot now, with uncensored information exploding virally through the Internet.

"This phenomenon is very dangerous because any issue can be spinned out of control. This can cause unrest among the people and even lead to chaos, which can affect racial harmony," he said.

Efforts should also be made to enhance the people's understanding of the Federal Constitution and system of governance, because when they are more literate about such matters, they tend to exercise more responsibility when it comes to issues concerning the sensitivities of other races.

Sivamurugan agreed, saying that Malaysians should go to the basics of how people of different races and religions could coexist in this country.

"We should continue to reinforce in the people the spirit of sharing and sense of belonging, besides promoting the concept of moderation or middle path and putting a stop to radicalisation," he said.


Can the joint humanitarian missions that were launched by Malaysians to extend aid to the earthquake victims in Nepal and Rohingya refugees be described as benchmarks for racial unity?

Sivamurugan felt that the missions were an apt reflection of the unity process taking place in this country.

He said if such a spirit, which flourished on the principle of compassion, existed perpetually and not seasonally, efforts being undertaken to maintain unity and consensus in this country would see vast improvements.

Mohd Ainuddin Iskandar said the aid missions, which were spearheaded by people of various races, showed that Malaysians were concerned about the welfare of others, regardless of their ideology or race.

"Malaysia is known for being concerned about global humanitarian issues. Furthermore, Malaysians of different racial backgrounds have been mobilised to extend aid to the world which, indirectly, have proven that this nation's plural society lives in unity," he said.


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