Malay rights group Perkasa’s Datuk Ibrahim Ali has only one reason for setting up his own unity council – he wants to keep the Malays happy.
Ibrahim feels that by keeping the Malays happy and united, only then will unity be possible in Malaysia, a country where over half of the 30 million population are Malays.
"The happiness and the unity of the Malays and the Bumiputera are the core of unity in Malaysia because we are the majority at 67%," the Perkasa president told The Malaysian Insider.
"The government cannot satisfy everyone, so it is best if they keep the majority happy because they are the ones who can determine and foster unity.”
Hence, the formation of his baby, the National Unity Front, which Perkasa has presented as an alternative to Putrajaya’s newly formed National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC).
He said the council was not fit to advise Putrajaya on race and religious issues because the majority of its members were non-Muslims, and some of them had an "anti-nationalist” bent and were partisan.
Contrast Perkasa’s stand on unity with NUCC chairman Tan Sri Samsudin Osman’s take on it. Samsudin believes it stems from elements of respect, democracy and freedom of speech.
"Unity is a state of mind where people respect one another and there is no enmity between the races,” the retired senior civil servant told The Malaysian Insider.
Samsudin said that the council would serve as bridge builders in society towards unity and called for more "mature discussions" in order to restore relationships.
"It should be a situation where people can discuss many issues, taking into account religious sensitivities, without feeling threatened or scared," he added.
This, he said, was demonstrated at the first of a series of unity dialogues the NUCC organised two weekends ago in Kuala Lumpur, to which Perkasa rebuffed an invitation because it did not “recognise” the council.
Among the issues brought up at the dialogue were the need to put an end to race-based politics and an overhaul of the education system to make it more inclusive.
As far as Ibrahim is concerned, non-Muslims should not bring up issues that have been agreed in the Social Contract as stipulated in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution which talks about the special rights and privileges of the Bumiputera and the Malays.
"They cannot bring these things up… why are Malays Bumiputera, why Islam is the religion of the federation and why other religions are not, and more.
"They (non-Malays) wanted to be citizens and we took them in so they, in turn, have to accept Article 153.
"If everyone follows this, then there will be unity," the stout Kelantanese politician said.
Perkasa has also listed three factors which could restore unity in the country: one, the nation's economy should not be monopolised by one race; two, schools should be of one medium only; and three, stern action should be taken against those who question the constitution, insult the religions of the people in the country, insult the royalty and cause tension among races.
Perkasa said it was confident that NUCC would not be able to ensure that these three points are realised.
For espousing his brand of national unity, Ibrahim has been dubbed a “traitor” by DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, who also described Samsudin as a "patriot” for advocating an inclusive approach to harmony.
Samsudin recently hit out at Perkasa and Ibrahim for their barrage of criticism of the NUCC, saying his colleagues are patriots fighting to stem racial and religious discord.
“We’ve had five meetings so far and what showed up at these meetings is that all of us love the country so much and want to see a solution to what's happening now," the NUCC chief had said.
He was referring to the escalating racial and religious tension in the country, brought on by a series of attacks and threats by extremist groups.
The NUCC was formed in the aftermath of the 13th general election, when racial harmony was put to the test several times, affecting the sensitivities of various communities in the country.
The NUCC came under fire from Perkasa and other Malay NGOs after it had condemned the Selangor Islamic Religious Department for its raid on The Bible Society of Malaysia and the seizure of more than 300 Bibles in January, and said it was a "blatant disregard" of Putrajaya's 10-point solution.
On the other hand, Ibrahim had called on Muslims to seize and burn copies of Bibles which contain the word Allah or other Arabic religious words, insisting that it was the only way to stop non-Muslims from stirring the sensitivities and sentiments of the majority of the Malaysian population.
It appears the unity council and some Malay rights groups are facing off over how best to foster “real” national harmony and ease racial and religious tension.
Amid this are ordinary Malaysians pushing for national healing by holding peace walks and reaching out to one another.
In the words of social activist Azrul Mohd Khalib, leader of The Malaysians for Malaysia movement which is credited with initiating the peace walks: "We want to be one of the voices that speak about moderation. Speaking about it and having dialogues are great but it is equally important to show the people what moderation looks like." – March 6, 2014.