Diversity is a source of strength

THIS year will definitely be memorable for people all over the world for all the wrong reasons. But amidst the dreariness of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was heartening to read inspiring news about many who rose above and beyond the call of duty. Kudos to the Malay-sians, especially our frontline workers and NGOs providing essential food for the needy, who stepped up their game. They all worked tirelessly, and are still doing so, during these difficult times. Not forgotten also are big-hearted Malaysians who, as always, donated generously to worthy causes.

When we read such news it definitely uplifts low spirits. And the good deeds of Malaysians at home were complemented by heartwarming news of capable Malaysians overseas making us proud.

There’s Penang-born K. Gurunathan, a former journalist in Malaysia who was re-elected as mayor in the New Zealand city of Kapiti Coast following his first stint in 2016. Guru, as he is popularly known, attributed his success to a society that recognises talent irrespective of colour or creed, and that functions on meritocracy.

Another Malaysian overseas who gained media attention is Jocelyn Yow, a 25-year-old of Malaysian-Chinese-Vietnamese descent who become mayor of Eastvale in California. And in Perth, Western Australia, 60-year-old Malaysia-born Sam Lim became the first non-white to win the city’s policeman of the year award. Lim recounted how his white colleagues sprang to his defence in the face of racism.

And then there’s Dr Nur Amalina Che Bakri who has been practicing as a general surgeon in London since graduating in 2013. A few months ago, the Malaysia-born doctor was selected to join Britain’s first Covid-19 vaccine trial team at the Imperial College London.

These are just a few successful Malaysians that I have heard of recently; there are many more who have made Malaysia proud with their work overseas. In fact, during my stint at the Malaysian embassy in Stockholm, I met many successful Malaysians. The beauty about those Malaysian Malays, Chinese and Indians is that when they met, they would speak in Swedish – a sign of their successful integration into Swedish society.

When talented Malaysians leave this country and gain recognition abroad, it is time to do some soul searching to prevent further brain drain or it will not augur well for our future.

Coming from diverse backgrounds and raised in the melting pot of races, religions and cultures that is Malaysia, it is not too difficult for Malaysians to integrate well in societies abroad. Irrefu-tably, it is a positive reflection of Malaysia’s ethnic diversity.

When our founding fathers built this country, I’m sure they knew there would be problems in such a multiracial country. And they showed that comprise is necessary in the quest for solutions to those issues. Compromise is a sign of strength in character. It is not an indicator of weakness in any way.

I vividly remember growing up on what was then Cochrane Road in Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s, where there were Malays, Chinese, Indians and Eurasians who lived harmoniously as neighbours and friends. Race and religion were never an issue. We went to school and played games together, united in recreational activities, and celebrated each other’s festivals with much merriment. We were 1Malaysia then, when there was no need for slogans.

Unity and diversity were prevalent, just as respect and tolerance for all races and religions were part and parcel of our daily lives. At that time, there was no need for such sentiments it to be drummed into our heads. And to the credit of politicians of the day, they were only focused on developing the country.

Whenever I reflect on those most impressionable years of my life, I feel so fortunate to have been inculcated with such good values. Now, when I compare Malaysia today with those bygone days, it is only melancholy I feel.

But being a pragmatic optimist, I hope and pray that better days are still ahead of us when we all realise that diversity is always a source of strength in any country. We can celebrate our differences while simultaneously valuing our unity.

By : BENEDICT LOPEZ (Kuala Lumpur) – THE STAR

Note: The writer was director of Mida (Malaysian Investment Development Authority) Stockholm and economic counsellor at the Embassy of Malaysia in Sweden from 2010 to 2014.

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