#KitaKawan - 2022’s highlight of the year

31 Dec 2022 10:17am
The #KitaKawan campaign happened not long after GE15 was over, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Prime Minister of the current unity government. Photo for illustration purposes - BERNAMA FILE PIX
The #KitaKawan campaign happened not long after GE15 was over, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Prime Minister of the current unity government. Photo for illustration purposes - BERNAMA FILE PIX

It’s hard to resist looking back at the year that’s past in these last few days of December.

A lot happened in Malaysia. We went through a whole lot of ups and downs, and had our fair share of political rollercoasters.

Throughout the madcap year though, there was one thing that stood out for me: the #KitaKawan campaign.

This happened not long after GE15 was over, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Prime Minister of the current unity government.

In the days that followed, there seemed to be a concerted effort to create an atmosphere of racial distrust and hatred.

Some content, especially on TikTok, even went so far as to suggest that these political developments would lead to a repeat of the 1969 May 13th race riots.

The May 13th race riots, and the deep national trauma they wrought, have always figured strongly in the Malaysian imagination.

Often times, instead of helping to heal these wounds, politicians in the past have used the riots as a bogeyman of sorts, presenting themselves as all that stood between peace and a return to violence on the streets.

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In 2022, they were used in a similar fashion - to try and create an atmosphere of fear and violence, to pervert the course of democracy here in Malaysia.

But whoever choose to organise this evil failed to account for one thing: how Malaysians will never let divisive hate overrun the peace and love that is at the true heart of Malaysia.

Indeed, netizens refused to take this onslaught sitting down. They refused to cower in fear as others sought to drown the internet with darkness.

Instead, they decided to show what the real Malaysia looks like.

Overnight, each and every social media platform started to be flooded with pictures, videos, and stories of how Malaysians had long left behind these outdated notions of racial division, in favour of building bonds of friendship and family regardless of racial or religious divisions.

Something as widespread as #KitaKawan could not be engineered or paid for. It could only emerge from real stories, real experiences, and real people.

It would of course be silly to try and claim that this outpouring meant that every single nook and corner of Malaysia was filled with interracial peace and harmony. There’s no doubt that there’s still a lot of work to be done in Malaysia.

What #KitaKawan showed however, was that that work began a long, long time ago. It began in kitchens and open houses, in gotong-royong projects and interfaith dialogues - all creating a real foundation from which we could build upwards.

This historic new government has a unique opportunity to take a meaningful lead in this process.

I continue to maintain that nation-building is something that we should never leave exclusively to politicians.

That said, if the right government wants to take the right steps, they will be perfectly poised to lead by example and set the tone for a new narrative of national unity.

We have an opportunity now to completely reimagine the way we think about race and religion in this country.

For decades, the dominant narrative (in the peninsular especially) that has been fed to us from the top down has been one of Malays against non-Malays, competing to see who controls a larger slice of the economic pie.

In 2023, we have an opportunity to change that narrative to one where we are all working together to push the Malaysian bus out of the mud that we’ve been stuck in for decades - a chance to stop wasting our energy fighting each other, and use that energy to bring Malaysia to heights it’s never seen before.

The government has an opportunity to show that true Malay dignity and pride is about uplifting the lives of all Malays, not just elite ones - and that this can be accomplished without taking anything away from any of the other communities in Malaysia.

They also have an opportunity to show that dignity and pride is rooted in building a reputation for unimpeachable integrity, and showing how a government that is Islamic not just in name but in true adherence to the noble principles of Islam will win the deep and abiding respect of not just Muslims but non-Muslims as well.

For the non-Malays, this government has an opportunity to go further than any previous government in recognising that non-Malays, including those from Sabah and Sarawak, are just as much Malaysians as anyone else - not just in a legal sense, but in a way that is validated, recognised, and appreciated at every level from the top down.

It’s hard to describe the yearning that so many non-Malays have for this type of recognition and validation, and just how much so many are willing and ready to contribute to the nation, if only given the opportunity to.

If we can truly imbue the #KitaKawan spirit to every aspect of nation-building in our culture, I think we will finally see within our grasp that one thing all of us have been desperately pining for so, so very long - a Malaysia that lives up to its potential, and is truly worthy of all Malaysians.

Nathaniel Tan is a freelance strategic communications consultant who also works with Projek #BangsaMalaysia. Twitter: @NatAsasi, Email: [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.