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Sabah, Sarawak lead the way in tolerance and harmony

By Francis Paul Siah

Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.” — John F Kennedy, 35th US President

To many of us, one thing about debating over religion is clear — we know there will be no end to it.

Principally because no one is prepared to lose in such a debate.

The same goes to people in the media and writers, like me.

Religion is a subject which I would consciously choose to avoid whenever possible, particularly those involving sensitive issues which would likely lead to less-than-savoury confrontations.

If ever I find it necessary to pen anything on religion, it would be about events generating positive vibes like tolerance and harmony.

Religion and God, to me, have to make us feel good, happy and contented.

I think there is no reason at all to get worked up over religious sensitivities.

Every problem has an answer which, I believe, the God-fearing person must surely possess.

Indeed, the debate and argument over religion have been ongoing for centuries, and it’s unlikely to have a definitive end anytime soon.

So, we can expect more of it in Malaysia too.

Religion provides answers to existential questions, but different religions offer different answers, leading to ongoing debates.

Debates also arise when religious teachings are perceived to conflict with modern values.

While it’s essential to engage in respectful dialogue and understanding across religious differences, it’s unlikely that a universal consensus or end to debates will be reached due to the complexity and diversity of religious beliefs and practices.

Back home today, Malaysians have been grappling with a number of sensitive issues, all intertwined with religious, racial and political fervours.

In recent days, there were the bak kut teh, canteens, Taylor Swift concert and socks issues.

We were not actually caught off-guard with such sensitivities as they have emerged out of nowhere all too often.

But such controversies would normally fade away after a while.

This time, however, the debate over the sock-gate debacle is still as fiery as ever, even after two weeks (at the time of writing) since it erupted.

The sock controversy, perpetuated by Umno Youth chief Mohd Akmal Saleh, is well covered in the media.

Hence, I will refrain from repeating the many stories associated with it and the ‘Boycott KK Mart’ campaign.

What caught my attention in the midst of the debate was the March 25 statement by Tuaran MP Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau, saying that Sabah and Sarawak should take action to avoid being dragged down by divisive issues prevalent in Malaya.

“Sabah and Sarawak should cultivate a clear branding as the ‘Other Malaysia’, one that is reasonable, stable, inclusive and at ease with diversity.”

The former Upko president also said that this would enable the Bornean territories to woo investors, both domestic and foreign.

“While we Borneans are not good in producing grand narratives and slogans, we have been the real ‘Madani’ (at least in compassion, respect and trust) country even before Malaysia was formed. Moderation is our middle name.

“I hope Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor and Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg can see both the crisis and opportunity at hand,” Tangau said.

We have to applaud the statement by Tangau, a politician known for looking after Sabah’s interests and speaking up aloud for his home state whenever the need arises.

Party comrades call him a true ‘Sabah champion’.

I’m glad that the Sabah politician also brought up Sarawak in his mention of staying away from divisive controversies and extremist elements in Malaya.

Tangau, like many of his fellow contemporaries in Sarawak, must surely be aware that Sabah and Sarawak have to continue leading the way in religious tolerance and racial harmony.

That is just not happening in Malaya, as evidenced by recent divisive and arrogant displays by certain quarters.

His Sarawak counterpart, SUPP president Datuk Amar Dr Sim Kui Hian has also been on the same page, declaring many times that “Sarawakians will look after Sarawak and the people of Sarawak want no part in the ugly incidents and extremism perpetuated by destructive political forces in Malaya”.

Yes, a nation that prioritises religious tolerance and racial harmony often demonstrates higher levels of social cohesion, inclusivity, and overall well-being for their citizens. Sabah and Sarawak are clear examples.

Political leaders, community leaders, and influencers in such a nation often serve as role models for promoting tolerance, inclusivity, and racial harmony.

They use their platforms to advocate for unity and diversity.

I like to think that the majority of our politicians in Sabah and Sarawak have been quite successful in their quest to ensure that tolerance and harmony stand tall together with the people in the two Borneo territories.

To the quarrelsome and unhappy politicians in Malaya, it costs you nothing to take a leaf from the people of Sabah and Sarawak and learn how to co-exist in peace and harmony as one people and one nation.

This article had appeared in the New Sarawak Tribune.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of  the Talantang.

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