In 1998, former politician John Hume was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in bringing about peace to Northern Ireland.
For 30 years, The Troubles raged on in a country torn between Catholic Irish nationalists who favoured unification with the Irish Republic, and Protestant paramilitaries who favoured British rule.
In Visions For Peace, we find Hume’s take on differences in the book’s introduction, setting the tone for the collected reports, articles, speeches and essays.
“Difference,” said Hume, “is the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”
The works within Visions For Peace are stitched together by themes of peace, unity, balance and harmony, across a range of subjects that affect Malaysia’s melting pot society.
These include: unity and multiculturalism; combatting corruption; human rights challenges in Malaysia; education; language and culture; the magic of Malaysia; and the spiritual heritage of mankind.
When I received this book for review, I expected to open up the pages and be welcomed by saccharine sermons that briefly touched on challenges faced by Malaysia, but focused mostly on telling me how wonderful everything is, really.
It was refreshing, then, to make my way through Visions For Peace and read honest and inclusive accounts of the concerns held by people throughout the country, and what solutions might be set in place to address those concerns.
For example, the Intercultural Dialogue Towards Greater Awareness: Community Identity and National Identity 2012 report revealed that participants who took part in the dialogue felt they were “quite ignorant about other cultures”, but believed that while Malaysians are often categorised into various ethnic groups, there are usually efforts to understand and help each other when they come together.
Suggestions of having a “clear definition and explication of what 1Malaysia is all about” and removing the “race” field in all documents were among the many to help strengthen understanding and unity between people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
With a population of around 30 million, there are bound to be differences among the various races and culture groups that make up Malaysia, as well as challenges faced by society as a whole.
Although the book is split into three parts comprising collected works (brief reports and speeches, articles and essays), there is a tension maintained between frustration and hope that permeates the pages.
Malaysia has the people, the infrastructure and the potential to be in a better position than it is, politically and socially; and yet, there is hope that the many who work alongside organisations such as the Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE) will continue to shine a light on the problems at hand and recommend solutions to help bring about a future of progress and prosperity.
Having said that, there is a slight flavour of cynicism that rises in the mind when it manages to catch itself seduced by the more idealistic ponderings found within the book.
You have to wonder, good intentions aside, whether some of the suggested aims that are offered up hopefully are, ultimately, flighty notions that are unlikely to develop beyond the warmth of the impassioned plea,
An example of this comes from Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim’s paper, The Federal Constitution And Malaysia’s Development, presented at a PCORE talk in April 2015.
Commenting on the desire of the public to see “better functioning of our democracy”, he suggests, “There are three institutions of justice that need to be improved in order to gain the trust and faith of the people in the constitution and the democratic system. They are the judiciary, the police and the anti-corruption agency. These agencies, including the Attorney General’s office, should be made independent of ministerial control so that they can dispense their responsibility without fear or favour …”
Overall, the book carries a clear, overarching message. Malaysia may be governed by politicians, but we each have a responsibility in our role of making Malaysia the best it can be in our own unique ways, which form a collective strength that calls out the issues we face as a nation, and offers up ways in which we can overcome even the toughest obstacles.
Visions For Peace is an insightful collection of works that reveals the rich and complex nature of Malaysia’s social, political and cultural challenges.
The book serves as a clarion call for everyone who is part of Malaysian life to come together and help build a future that’s truly inclusive, empowering, and one that’s headed in the right direction.
Visions For Peace
Publisher: Association of Visions of Peace, Conscience and Reason, non-fiction