Harakah Daily – The Potential Role for Cultural Diplomacy in Malaysia
Empowering Malaysia with CultureBy Ustazah Nuridah Salleh, Head of the Federal Territory PAS Sisters
Malaysians of all races should be thankful and feel lucky to be able to enjoy life in this historic land. Malaysia is recognized by UNESCO as a unique country inhabited by people of various walks of life, predominantly belonging to three major groups; Malays, Chinese and Indians but also smaller ethnic groups such as Kadazan, Bajau and beyond. The ethnic diversity that exists is celebrated with the growth of multiculturalism. The different cultures that make up Malaysia is what makes it a special country. However, after the PRU- 13 election racial attacks, instigated by the government, things have changed. Since the country gained independence, racial issues have always been contentious and were deliberately used by the former ruling party at the time, the Alliance Party which later became known as the Barisan National (BN). They used racism as a tool for their own political expedience in order to remain in power. In contrast it is the diversity and cultural variations that exist in Malaysia that must be used by the government to establish the country as a major hub for culture and as a regional and world cultural empire. This is possible if the government are able to be realize, created and observe Malaysia’s cultural strengths in terms of geography, demography and history. These are the three key strengths that can put Malaysia on the world map as a cultural force.
Looking at the geography, Malaysia is in a very strategic position, being in the middle of the route to the East and the West. It’s not about shipping routes but flight paths. It is possible that Malaysia will emerge as a major cultural hub as well as become dominant in the global tourism sector too. In demographic terms, the dynamics of the country’s population is also very interesting. For example, there are many different groups such as Malay Malay, Javanese, Malay, Banjar and so on. Similarly, according to a Chinese study there are at least 14 ethnic groups living in the country now, including Indians from Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi. These factors enable the development of a healthy, cultural and educated population, if the government can utilise these, Malaysia’s socio-cultural society can evolve positively. This opportunity for cross-cultural relations must be cultivated in parallel and in line with the majority of Malaysian Muslims who profess that there is no conflict of religion.
A variety of cross-cultural programs and activities must be optimized as much as possible. The community must have a sense of mutual interest and can share resources. The cultural relations will lead to a healthy and vibrant community. In addition, the attitude and ethno-centric ideology must also be controlled so that it remains positive. A group must maintain their right to keep and preserve their own ethnicity, but the attitude of being accepting and open to other ethnic groups must also be valued. The United States is an example who managed to take advantage of the country’s culture to become a grand nation-state. Empowering culture does not mean to ignore the things that might be in contradiction with the rules of religion, especially Islam. However, it does not mean Islam does not allow the sharing of culture. Culture is a tool which governments can use as anti-racial policy.
The government, through the use of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, must devise a Closer Culture or Culture Engagement Plan (CEP). Diversity of ethnicity must be taken into consideration throughout the plan. The initiative would harmonize and strengthen the spirit of communities living side by side, only able in a country which is truly democratic. Among other things, the Ministry of Education as well as through educational institutions both public and private sector must be revitalized as nations react to the agent or agents of change. The syllabus must have a stronger emphasis towards success of the cultural knowledge. At the primary and secondary school level the same change should be seen. Looking at the government’s failure to win this race, the presence of Chinese and Tamil schools is no longer relevant to the eradication of racial problems. Schools must increasingly become culture houses for a new generation of children to learn and create a better future for the country. Once complete, the government should learn from other countries in terms of managing and maintaining the cultural aspects of the country.
For example, in the United States, Germany and some other countries there are organisations which successfully implement cultural initiatives such as the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD). The Institute serves as a platform to gather politicians, academics, artists, journalists and others in a similar medium. Many issues can be healthily discussed. Dialogue between cultures or intra-culture can occur which is positive to good relations. The ICD will simultaneously correct misunderstandings between cultures and build a platform for developing and developed societies. Cultural issues are no longer the principal issues considered important. Malaysian language may differ. Malaysia has different religions. However, culture can be linkage between the races. No need to set up commission to solve the problem of racism. Dominate cultures can be used to revive the economy. Malaysia will emerge as the World Cultural Power Empire! The writer is Head of the Federal Territory PAS Sisters.