First published in The Star Online 

By G. Thomas, (c) 2016, Star Media Group Berhad (c) 2016

In arguing for liberal policies, Wan Saiful Wan Jan suggests that the national goal should be peace, which is seemingly less demanding than unity, integration or harmony, “Do we want peace or unity?” (The Star, April 12).

He points to several problems in government interventions, especially problems that curtail individual choice.

In fact, these do not appear to be efforts to create unity. They look like the application of legal and administrative force to impose uniformity.

Does it make sense to demand all to speak in Malay when official policy promotes language-segregated schools?

 Are race- or religion-driven rules sustainable in an open, tourism-driven economy? Is it not clear that such uniformity in rules lead to farcical situations?

As for actual unity, how does top leaders declaring they are Malay/Chinese/Indian first and Malaysian second contribute to this? How does repeated extension of the New Economic Policy under new names promote harmony? How does superimposing religious identity on citizenship status strengthen nationhood?

So, getting real, unity efforts are put on the back burner and official attention is focused on maintaining peace instead. The efforts include pushing through laws for detention without trial and taking tough action on street demonstrators.

Peace is a wobbly policy goal. How far is one prepared to go to keep the peace? Will bullies threatening violence then set the national agenda? Are we even a nation when we lead parallel lives as Wan Saiful proposes?

As has been witnessed, the focus on maintaining peace has pushed the Government to intervene in society more rather than less often, and more violently.

This is because the cultural differences among Malaysians are sustained and, arguably, getting sharper.

Peace can be an operational goal, but the strategic goal has to include national unity.

All Malaysians have multiple identities. Any government that wants citizens to pull together should be able to explain why they should.

Or we might all hang separately.

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