What Is Solidarity and Why Does It Matter to Malaysians?

As Malaysia marks its 64th year of independence, let us remember the importance of solidarity and the significance of independence.

Image: Prestige Online

Malaysia’s rain is a rain of exile; it is a downpour of rejection. It’s a rain of loneliness and solitude. It’s a rain of misery and anguish. Even if we’ve never felt totally cut off from others, we’ve all experienced alienation in our lives. Some of the ways we’ve felt alone include disconnecting from family members, friends, co-workers, employers, and even government officials. Everyone, at some point in their lives, has a lack of will to live and just wants to give up on everything. We feel as though we’ve fallen into an abyss, a bottomless pit from which we’ll never emerge. Some of us find ourselves in this pit due to the harshness of our lives: being poor, suffering illness, having friends who don’t care, being oppressed, and being captured.

Malaysia, a country with enormous potential, is mired in apathy. In Malaysia, as in other places, many people feel as if they’re shackled by their problems and can’t achieve their dreams. We’re all imprisoned, but with no chains to confine us.

And who is to blame? Everyone and no one; the government, the system, our parents and our ancestors. Although everyone played a part in the current state of affairs, the only person who can be faulted is oneself. We should step up and reform our country ourselves because no one else will. It all starts with the realisation that one has agency, that one can change what they don’t like, and that one can manage their own fate. Even though it’s more easily said than done, it is something we must try.

Despite the government’s efforts to improve these things over the past two decades, challenges that our country has been struggling with for centuries are as pervasive as ever: corruption is just as rampant, the rich continue to become richer while the poor grow more desperate, racial tensions between various ethnic groups are running hot, partisan divisions in politics are more divided than ever, unemployed youths with few prospects are on the rise, the government is at odds with the people, religious extremism is growing, and our people are divided. Bureaucracy, commercialization, materialism, and a lack of human connection crushes the individual.

We haven’t resolved who we are, how we want to be seen, and what we aspire to become, even though we’ve been a country for decades. We are at a loss over what type of country we are — a country rooted in Islam, one that is growing, a Tiger of Asia, a first world country, or a new political entity. Those that suffer the most are the folks who are actually in the middle of the mess. Change is needed.

The goal of this article is to focus on the absurdity and futility of society, and so enrich a conversation of inclusive solidarity in the Malaysian context. The following will be the key themes of discussion: the individual, government, race, as well as the future.

Individuality and Solidarity

Mikhail Alekseevich Kostin — In the Stalin Factory (1949)

The individual will be the first matter to consider. In absurdism, the individual refers to the self’s importance. The conviction in life’s purposelessness, which absurdism attributes to the person, leads the individual to develop his own values and goals. This belief in purposelessness, which is based on absurdism, is what allows the individual to define his own values and ends. But it conflicts with moral rationalism, where people rely on externally imposed norms and goals, such religion or society’s values. It is believed that this outside structure is a burden on the individual’s ability to choose his own values. So the individual comes first.

The term solidarity describes the unity and support for each other that the group offers. I don’t have the same idea of solidarity as my contemporaries. Instead of regarding solidarity as the unbreakable support of a team in which everyone is quite similar, this paper understands solidarity as a group’s unified support for one another despite the fact that each member is very different. Group members accept their differences and still appreciate the value they provide to each other.

Imagine a scenario where after being shipwrecked, people are left on an island like survivors of a disaster. This group, just like us, must figure out the next move if they are to survive. Some of the people in this group are kings, some are paupers, some are religious, some are atheists, others are young, and some are old. Although they are at odds, they put aside their disagreements to work together. The religious person prays for their salvation. The atheist laughs at this and refuses to cooperate further the religious person the next time they’re harvesting fruits together. The king, on the other hand, persuades the atheist to assist harvest fruits by assuring him that if he works hard enough, he might be able to build a raft that could perhaps save not just himself but also the other people. In other words, the king convinces the atheist that there is value and importance in uniting with the other people despite their differences because it is possible for all of them to survive if they work together.

These are only a few examples of situations in which there is solidarity despite the fact that the persons involved are all separate, unique individuals. Because this way of seeing commonality differs from the traditional approach, the stance being taken by adherents acknowledges that they are all human beings but nevertheless place significance on the fact that they are distinct from one another. In my eyes, solidarity like this, which is based on true, real relationships, is more valuable than superficial or artificial acts of cooperation. Despite their disagreements, everyone in the group is really dedicated to treating each other fairly.

It’s still conceivable in Malaysia to look at the country through the lens of solidarity, even though our population is huge and diverse. It’s a rarity in our country to have this type of group solidarity. Looking at what our politicians say and doing can help us to see this. Our government is more focused on race, religion, language, and other things like that than it is on any real substance. The labels divide the people, making this just another unimportant difference. We need to give more weight to the things that we have in common. For instance, we all deserve to live and be able to follow our aspirations, regardless of race, creed, religion, gender, or political beliefs.

A small subset of Malaysians have come to believe that only their kind are worth saving. They believe that racial discrimination is legitimate as long as it is committed by people of their own race. The same logic holds true for religion and language. Some Malaysians claim to want to safeguard a “Malaysian’s Malaysia,” but their only success is splitting the people apart. Let’s set aside trivial, surface-level stuff and focus on actual solidarity.

In The Rebel, Albert Camus wrote that the first revolt is the refusal of servitude: “The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He must dominate in his turn.” Thus, we must look beyond apparent differences that can divide us and instead embrace solidarity. This is the first step to actual liberty.

When we fight back, we are in a state of reacting, rather than thinking. To get out of this state, we must first cease thinking of every incident as a “me vs. them” situation. There is no purpose in repeating an action that continually fails. Moving on and breaking the pattern are the only two sensible choices. We must abandon vengeance and look to the future. We will make sure we avoid making the same mistakes, so that they won’t be repeated.

Solidarity is an ambiguous term that is widely taken in a variety of ways. In my view, true solidarity can only be accomplished when people see beyond their differences and see one another for who they really are. It is time for us to let go of things like our race, religion, and political party designations and focus on just viewing one another as individuals. Still, to ascend beyond our human condition, we must first understand who we really are. This implies that we must understand that we are human, and we are all united by similar values. We want all of the good things in life like having a safe and tranquil existence, being happy, and having the liberty to do as we like. In addition to everything else, these core values are universally held by the human race; it doesn’t matter who you are.

Individuality is of great importance in society. The individual is the foundation upon which the entire community is built. As long as the individual is sound, the community will be sound, and as long as he or she is corrupt, the community will be corrupt as well. It’s a domino effect.

Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher once said that:

“If the king were as careful about the selection of his subjects as he is about the selection of his horses, he would be a real king.”

Our leaders are a reflection of our people, thus to be sure our leaders are great, our people must be good. It’s a virtuous cycle: a virtuous person must make a virtuous society, and the only way to have honest leaders and politicians is to have a virtuous population. So we can have a beneficial domino impact on our nation’s future.

Choosing who will represent us is an important first step in creating a better world for the next generation. We can’t make our decisions on who to vote for solely on pledges or policies that party members have promised to carry out. Instead, we should instead focus on them as human beings, and how they’ve achieved certain qualities that make them unique. To determine if they are a fit candidate, we need to scrutinise their integrity and see if it’s worthy of our support, because our support indicates the path of our country. Each individual voter has his or her own distinct experience, which makes their thoughts on their country’s future distinctive. When it comes to voting, a single vote, once cast, cannot be changed. Every citizen must exercise their right to vote in favour of a leader who will improve the lives of everyone in this country.

A state of solidarity might be described as a sort of admission that our personal well-being is tied to the well-being of every other individual. It’s a willingness to help others because we believe we’re all in this together. We are united and have the same aim: ensuring that no one is left behind. It is where people find community, where everyone finds unity, where people get along.

As the country faces a variety of problems, citizens must be vigilant and uphold the values of mutual aid, solidarity, and empathy. Let’s not be passive, disengage, and withdraw into our own personal lives, leaving it to others to handle things. The responsibility is ours, as individuals, to make the world better for all of us.

“Ye are many, they are few,” poet Percy Shelley once said in his masterpiece “Mask of Anarchy.”

You and I are the first two links in the chain of solidarity. We’ll move on to another issue now: that of individual-government relationships.

The Individual’s Relationship with the State

There is complexity in the way a person relates to the government, and it varies greatly from country to country. This relationship is deeply affected by the ideology of nationalism. One way to describe nationalism is that it is having strong allegiance and commitment to one’s country. Nations are built on traditions and culture, and thus individuals, who develop, hold, and pass on these aspects.

George Orwell (real name: Eric Blair)

George Orwell wrote in Notes on Nationalism:

Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.’

This topic might benefit from the usage of the George Orwell statement that shows how patriotism and nationalism are two distinct and conflicting ideas.

Most societies tend to view patriotism positively. In general, it’s your feelings about your family. This feeling of absolute determination to support them when they need you, and wanting them to be successful. Patriotism is just love for one’s nation, and to make the comparison, one may replace the word “family” with “country”. Patriotism represents, essentially, the idea of inclusion. Your hopes are inclusive, since you want your country to succeed, and this includes everyone who belongs to that country. In addition, it is defensive — it is a defence mechanism when one feels a threat to their country. In the end, patriotism is defined as a good and inclusive way of thinking about one’s nation.

Nationalism is far more aggressive compared to patriotism. The individual must sacrifice their personal identity and submit to an abstract ideal termed the ‘country’ in order to aggressively act out at other nations. Nationalism makes you inclined to be combative and prejudiced, so you feel it’s reasonable to impose your culture on others by force. To summarise, patriotism is a healthy trait, whereas nationalism is aggressive and inhumane.

The word “nation” is used to describe several group identities, including identities that include (but are not limited to) a specific group’s shared values, history, or culture. It’s both very huge and very small: It could span anything from a small town to the entire human race. Nationalism calls for one to sacrifice their own well-being for the collective, which is quite artificial, and thus not completely real.

Orwell also wrote the following in Notes On Nationalism:

“By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad.”

Orwell suggested that when a person thinks about the “nation” notion, he or she would be reminded that the concept encompasses everyone in it, with the important distinctions of being either “good” or “bad.” This tendency to view things as “black and white” has proven wrong in history and led to violence.

The concept of nation is seen as needless and unnatural by absurdist thinkers since it is viewed as an attempt to create order out of a chaotic world and human preferences to make reality reflect what humans want it to be. Despite the existence of entropy and unpredictability in the real world, humans still strive to impose a feeling of artificial order on it. This means that people are trying to rationalise things that don’t have explanations in order to better deal with the complexities of their own existence. Because of this, our personal activities — particularly in the political sector — can be interpreted as desperate measures taken in an unstable and ever-changing reality.

The absurd manifests itself in many ways, and one of them is nationalism.

Our drive for independence in Malaysia is mostly driven by nationalism, which we learned from our colonial oppressors. We admire the old Malay monarchs and describe how they conquered and dominated other nations. We were confident in our cultural norms and beliefs, and we were unified in our hopes of freeing ourselves from British control. This is not wrong. As Camus said, it was “a just revolt.” A revolt took place in order to overturn a massive amount of injustice.

We continued to push the same nationalist philosophy even after the British left, and that proved to be a mistake. We distanced ourselves from other societies, pushing our own propaganda on each other. It was bad for the citizens of the nation to feel more disconnected from one other. They believed they were living in a “manufactured paradise” where they had no choice. Nationalism had, in some ways, backfired on itself. We weren’t “whole”.

Rioters during the 13 May race riot.

And then racial riots broke out on May 13, 1969, and everything went downhill from there. In the public consciousness, this marks the start of the “time of difficulties,” when Malaysia started its slide into the abnormal and unknown state it currently exists in.

To sum up, our ties to our country were starting to cause instability because we had tied ourselves in too tightly. ‘Nation’ and ‘race’ had become entwined in our minds.

Thus, it is a tense relationship between the person and the nation. Praising and valuing the nation becomes a detriment to one’s self-awareness since it causes us to begin to believe that we have no shortcomings. Perhaps it would be better to abandon nationalism entirely and simply live for ourselves? Should we just think of ourselves as persons who are more like everybody else and don’t see ourselves as distinct or unique in any way? Do societies without nationalism become places where values and meanings disappear?

Some say that if we give up our identity as “Malaysians,” the country will disintegrate. What will happen when everyone only fights for himself and does not care that they are Malaysians? Will the country end up in chaos, with everyone only battling for their own personal interests? We will certainly turn into a country of people who do not care for one another unless we reject nationalism.

But is it actually possible for this to occur? Why does a prohibition on unlawful actions, together with the enforcement of laws, have to be connected to national pride? Must we lose our individuality and become mindless followers in order to uphold the law? Is it really fair to restrain us like this?

There is a concern that if we don’t stick together, we will come apart, even though it’s our nationalism that brings us together. A group of unconnected people will form, and that group will have no loyalty to each other.

Solidarity happens when people are brought together of their own free will, without having to be forced or pressured. To fully care for your country and its people is to sincerely care for all of humanity. Between the end, the problem with patriotism and nationalism is getting the right balance in your love for your country and your fellow citizens.

We can only hope, but we should avoid succumbing to our inner darkness.

The impact of race relations on solidarity

Pro-Malay rights rioters

People of one race are more likely to have a solidarity with those of their race. In the end, this will create a gulf between racial groups. This distinction can be either positive or bad, with negative instances being racism and hate crimes. This distinction gives people a chance to make connections with those who are similar to them, which, in turn, encourages a solidarity of shared community. It’s unfortunate that people will be hurt by this aspect in the future since it will work to the benefit of the political class, who cares only about their own interests.

One important problem with racial solidarity is that it doesn’t recognise how people of different races and cultures share common ground. Despite our various appearances, all of us share common basic needs and desires. What differentiates us is merely our view of our needs and desires. When looking at things this way, it’s simple to see the many similarities between people of different races. It is understandable that race can be a very hot topic since it is apparent why race is a challenging topic.

Though we may never have unanimous opinions, our experiences are varied, so we all know we won’t get along on everything. While there are items we will not be able to come to a consensus on, we should be able to identify some issues we agree on.

Look at the obvious way people wish for a better future in Malaysia.

This is a straightforward and clear statement, but it is also a solidarity that everyone should support.

At its heart, solidarity is the unification of people striving for the same objective. It is the belief that, despite the fact that we are all individuals, we may come together as one and assist one another in achieving our common objectives and purposes. The differences in ethnicity should not cause trouble; they should merely be one of the least important factors in decisions about what is and isn’t important to all of us.

For far too long, Malaysian political parties have used racial stereotypes and fostered unneeded divisiveness among the people in order to achieve their own personal interests. It’s come to the point where even the ‘non-racial social democratic party’ has made racist statements; as a result, people are unable to perceive one other as individual persons, but instead as members of various ethnic groups. Our fixation with race has led us to lose our nation.

Solidarity is a revolutionary concept in this country because it forces us to look past race and recognise each other as humans.

Race can easily make us overlook who people really are; hence, to understand one another better, we must work hard to recognise people’s values, personalities, and intentions above their race. However, rather than seeing the many communities as places to settle our differences, we must understand each community as an entity in its own right, and the varying cultural, ethnic, and racial values of those inside it as the natural effect of long-term adaptation and history. It is a fact that Malays have historically made up the majority of this country and receive special privileges as a result. It is a fact that the Chinese have historically been the economic drivers of the country and thus controls a good portion of the economy. It is a fact that the Indian population is small and does not hold as much economic or political power as the Chinese population. It is a fact that other races, like the Ibans and Kadazans, have their own distinct cultures and traditions that make them different from one another and other groups. We have to accept that these are just facts. We can’t change them. However, what we can alter are our conclusions drawn from these facts.

I’m not arguing we should ignore communal differences. On the contrary, I believe that we must take note of these communal disparities. But we must do so in a healthy and non-divisive manner. Instead of pretending that these distinctions don’t exist, and allowing biases make superficial assessments of other people, we should notice these differences and consider who these people are when getting beyond their outward appearance. It is important to remember our shared humanity by avoiding focusing on small differences such as skin colour, language, and religion.

This manner, we view each other for who we really are and cease judging others on the basis of race. We cease associating everything positive with our own race and everything negative with another. We cut off the creation of a “them versus us” mindset. Because of our newfound sense of identity, we may see people from various races as friends, not enemies. Rather, we see everyone as an equal: some people are good and some people are evil, regardless of ethnicity. We stop discriminating against people based on their race and begin recognising each individual as an individual rather than assessing them based on communal connection. We create solidarity in this way. We promote a stronger sense of community and equality.

The notion that it’s completely out of reach might sound naive, but it’s not hopeless. I sincerely hope that we can look at everyone as a person and can strengthen our oneness as a solidarity. Even if nothing else matters, do you not think that community members have more in common with each other than everyone else? These are the issues that are tearing us apart. But what can we possibly find that will truly connect us, if not our shared humanity? These are the things that we all have in common. Let’s rally together as one nation, to create the conditions for trust to grow among our citizens.

We arrive at the final section of the article, where we address how future generations might grow a genuine solidarity in light of the various global ideologies we have discussed and the distressing circumstances in the world now.

Solidarity’s Future

In no uncertain terms, we all know we are living in a moment of upheaval and unpredictability. Dangers seem to lurk at every corner in our future, thanks to the innumerable global terror threats, escalating political strife, and more. Malaysia’s politics are all about corruption, nepotism, and ethnic division. There are significant groups in our country’s media who are pushing their own political and financial agendas over the interests of the general public. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates the problem by increasing suspicion toward the authorities and creating a scared climate in which people are hesitant to go out and socialise for fear of infection.

But we must, at the same time, acknowledge that there is an advantage to this gloomy situation. The importance of solidarity has never been greater. Although wounded and damaged, the human spirit has not been broken. Even though Malaysia has been facing a multitude of challenges, it has thus far endured. We may be hopeful for the future because of our strength of will, and we believe that with this perseverance, we can do anything.

To ensure that the future is one of togetherness rather than division, we must ensure that the next generation grows up with a strong feeling of unity and patriotism — not just blind devotion to the government or immediate community, but a profound love and respect for the country as a whole.

Malaysia is celebrating its 64th Independence Day today. It’s a day when we think about our past, who we are, and where we’re going as a country. Let’s be honest, friends: Do we, as a people, really stand together? Is there a feeling of kinship amongst us all? Do we still care about each other even though we’re all different in terms of our ethnicities, beliefs, and political leanings?

Looking forward, I am concerned with all the ups and downs ahead of me as a young man in a fast-paced and ever-changing world. I don’t know what the future holds for me and the people in my country. Though I can’t say exactly what we’ll face, I know for certain that, regardless of where we are, we will all be in for a fight. We must be ready to face whatever that lies ahead. To make this happen, we have to stick together and all pull in the same direction. Only after overcoming such challenges can we succeed.

Also, we shouldn’t forget that today is not the only day we commemorate our independence. We do so on a daily basis. The generation of independence rescued the country from colonialism and paved the way for us today. Our nation was liberated not only by the generation before them, but also by the generations who followed. We can add ourselves to that list as well. The fact that our independence is preserved by citizens of the modern era makes it necessary to remember that they are fighting for their rights with us in a never-ending struggle.

True independence is impossible without solidarity. As a country and as individuals. True solidarity can only arise from sincere understanding of the uniqueness and preciousness of every life. Every life has value. Differences should not make us blind to similarities. Real solidarity comes from appreciating our differences and finding common ground.

On this day, which celebrates our nation, let us never forget it.

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Business writer at The Malaysian Reserve. I write other things here too, you know.

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Fayyadh Jaafar

Fayyadh Jaafar

Business writer at The Malaysian Reserve. I write other things here too, you know.

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