UPDATED @ 05:58:12 PM 21-02-2012 By Clara Chooi
February 21, 2012
PETALING JAYA, Feb 21 — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin claimed today that Malaysians have never fought one another over their racial or religious differences, insisting the country has long embraced racial harmony.
The deputy prime minister, in his speech when opening the World Interfaith Week at SMK Sri Aman this afternoon, described this as a “special privilege” enjoyed by every Malaysian.
“We have accepted this reality as our special privilege… that’s why in Malaysia, we have had this a long time… there are no fights, no war among us, no crises arising due to our diverse faiths… because we respect one another,” he told a crowd of hundreds of students gathered before him.
Muhyiddin’s remarks today comes despite persistent reports of racial and religious conflicts in the country that increased significantly after the landmark Election 2008 — the stiffest contest in Malaysian history.
With the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) losing its customary two-thirds hold on Parliament and five state governments, many political leaders appeared to have retreated into racial silos to drum up support.
This has been attributed to the rise in ethnic tensions here, leading to numerous cases of racially motivated incidents that have hit media headlines over the past few years, including the 2010 bombings at several houses of worship, the Shah Alam cowhead protest, the controversial raid at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) here, claims of Christians proselytising to Muslims and the government’s confiscation of Malay language bibles.
In the most recent incident, even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak found himself in the centre of a religiously-motivated controversy when Muslim clerics expressed their disagreement over his decision to attend Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves.
Despite this, however, Muhyiddin said today that Malaysians should feel thankful for the racial harmony enjoyed here, saying many countries do not share similar privileges.
He attributed Malaysia economic successes to racial harmony and cooperation between the races, adding that every citizen here stand united under the government’s 1 Malaysia platform.
“We want this practice continued. With this, we can focus on other matters of importance like developing our economy, education, politics and so on,” he said.
Muhyiddin added that the best place to inculcate a deeper sense of tolerance, acceptance and understanding between the races was in schools.
He urged educators, parents and students to make this their priority and advised them against touching on the sensitivities of other religions to avoid future conflicts.
A Merdeka Center poll in June last year found that only 66 per cent of respondents said ethnic relations were “good” — a 15 per cent decline from the 78 per cent who said so five years ago.
The opinion researchers also found that just over a third believed that there was “sincere and friendly ethnic unity,” down from 54 per cent five years ago.