By Sharifah Munirah Alatas
January 17, 2020
Media outlets, educationists and politicians need to wise up.
If we, in Malaysia, want to reject the numbing effects of identity politics, please get to the basics.
The WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook world of communication exacerbates miscommunication. There is no more excuse. Let us cease using the word “tolerance” and substitute it with “acceptance”.
Before I am accused of dabbling in mere semantics, please reflect a little.
The rampant usage of tolerance as a word, has suffered from conceptual error.
Tolerance is a human value that orientates towards difference and indifference. It is a passive and more abstract idea of interaction.
Acceptance is an active value. In human psychology, it is explained as a person’s assent to the reality of a situation.
In this, there is no attempt at changing it. It implies growth, improvement and positive development. Acceptance is an ideal that goes a step beyond tolerance.
A sign of tolerance is “I can live with the fact that Hindus and Christians have the constitutional right to practice their faith in Malaysia”.
However, you can tolerate Hindu and Christian places of worship without accepting it as part of Malaysian identity. Therefore, one can tolerate something without accepting it.
What this means is that tolerance excludes two human values. These are compassion and understanding. We Malaysians consistently struggle with these.
The media in Malaysia Baru carelessly use the word “tolerance”. I hope more bloggers, broadcast producers and editors switch to “acceptance”. It should be a word of first choice rather than a sentence filler. Most importantly, social media mavericks must perpetuate the trend.
Former education minister, Maszlee Malik in a speech at the Unesco General Conference in Paris last November, quoted the late Kofi Annan as saying: “Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity”.
Very good. However, I would have preferred Maszlee (or his speech writer) to update his knowledge of 21st century progressive lexicon.
It is not good to be bigoted, but it is not good enough to be tolerant. All Malaysian leaders on any international platform must resort to exporting acceptance, and not mere tolerance.
I hope the Ministry of Education will take note of this in their future endeavours at upgrading the quality of our schools and universities.
Islamic affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa’s Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin means compassionate Islam. Islam is globally depicted as a religion of “peace, tolerance and compassion”.
Mujahid’s focus on compassionate Islam is preferred, though, for the Malaysian context. Nevertheless, compassion will not be achieved without dialogue, understanding, and both physical and intellectual interaction.
A compassionate Muslim in Malaysia is one who takes the trouble to understand and accept differences. They actively engage with these differences, be they physical or ideological.
Merely reading headlines, texts and social media posts about different opinions, is not good enough. Compassionate Muslims should go the extra mile in understanding why differences exist.
Similarly, attempts at overcoming misunderstandings should not be done through cyberspace alone.
For acceptance and compassion to develop, we need to bring back face to face interaction and dialogue. Face to face interaction may be old fashioned and time-consuming. But it is basic, human and humane. It is the most efficient way acceptance can lead to compassion. Furthermore, I suggest we drop the word tolerance from all discourses associated with the concept of Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin.
I am not suggesting that by merely playing around with words, Malaysia will miraculously become a nation free of religious and racial tensions. We have a lot of work to do. But a baby step forward would be to change the existing narrative.
I also advise the public to cease their gruff and vulgar approach when offering their opinions on social media. Curb your penchant for personal attacks on looks, dressing, hair colour and body parts. Use dignified language which projects you as a person of integrity, not filth.
Also, be consistent. What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander. So, if you cannot help your vulgarity, let it be gender inclusive.
Shouldn’t Malaysians evolve from their patriarchal high horse once and for all? If there is a need to insult a woman online by referring to her unveiled hair, it should be just as natural to insult a man for his imitative style of Arab dressing or obesity.
Acceptance is a virtue that needs to be inculcated despite the sea of differing opinions among different races and religions.
God created diversity. It is ungodly to criticise His diversity in such a disparaging and uncouth manner.
Original Headline: Acceptance, not tolerance
Source: The Free Malaysia Today