KUALA LUMPUR (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - What difference does it make if a festival is religious, or cultural?
In multicultural Malaysia, non-Christians celebrate Christmas with their Christian friends, and non-Muslims join their Muslim friends for Hari Raya celebrations. We have done it for centuries.
Normal Muslims wish the Hindus Happy Deepavali, say Merry Christmas to the Christians, and express Gong Xi Fa Cai to their Chinese friends but, in Malaysia, there exists a small minority of hard-core, conservative Malays who practise the ketuanan Melayu (Malay superiority) mentality.
Why are they allowed to persist? Why can't the authorities make an example of them, and punish them severely, to prevent more inflammatory tactics? Why should the majority of the rakyat (people) be terrorised and bullied by these bigots?
For millennia, the winter and summer solstices, agricultural events, folklore, religious beliefs, harvests and military conquests have determined many festivals.
Festivals help to bond communities and are nation-building because people of different social standings, faiths and cultures are brought together. They also provide an opportunity for estranged family members and friends to meet.
If one's faith is strong, the decorations, the food one eats, the singing and the rituals we join to help celebrate our friend's festival are not going to diminish our own religious convictions.
In the days before mass entertainment, people looked forward to festivals because these gave them a respite from their busy schedules and allowed them to interact with their neighbours.
Religious or cultural festivals also help boost the economy because of the sale of items and services specifically produced for the occasions, such as new clothes.
Last week, the vice-president of Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia (Putra) Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz threatened to report secondary school SMK Pusat Bandar Puchong 1 for bedecking the building in Chinese New Year decorations.
He probably wanted to create an aura of fear among insecure Malay parents but, at the same time, he sent a message to others that he really does not care if he causes further divisions in our already fractured society.
The school was doing its best to project an image of unity by celebrating its multicultural identity, but Mr Mohd Khairul appears to continue to practise the indoctrination which Umno-Baru has promulgated for many decades. Why is he allowed to do this in the New Malaysia?
The lawyer said the display of Chinese New Year decorations was "unconstitutional". He needs to read the Malaysian Constitution again to realise that he is wrong.
He also claimed that Muslim parents had complained that the decorations were an attempt to propagate a non-Islamic religion among the students. Really?
How many parents complained? In today's culture of fake news and fake postings on social media, how can we be assured his allegations were genuine?
It is shameful that, soon after Mr Mohd Khairul made his threats, the school took down the decorations. Bullies like him should not be humoured.
Just over three weeks ago, Malaysians joined their Christian friends to celebrate the birth of Christ. No one made a fuss over the Christmas decorations in hotels and shopping malls. So why is Mr Mohd Khairul being aggressive towards the Chinese?
The Hindu Ponggal festival, which occurs at the end of the winter solstice, is widely celebrated among the Tamil community.
Traditionally, rice is boiled in a clay pot outdoors as a symbolic gesture to the gods to thank them for a successful harvest. No one is suggesting that the non-Hindus who stir the rice are wannabe Hindus. They are just joining in their friends' celebrations in a spirit of togetherness.
So, when Malaysians celebrate ethnic minority festivals such as Gawai in Sarawak, or Kaamatan in Sabah, next June, will Mr Mohd Khairul make a fuss too?
It is sad when some Malays believe that the cross, the Chinese New Year decorations or stirring the Ponggal pot of rice will induce a Muslim to change his religion.
Is his faith that weak?
Where are the statistics to show that hordes of Muslims have left their faith after decades of Chinese New Year, Christmas and Deepavali celebrations? Conversely, have scores of non-Muslims who are subjected to Muslim prayers before official gatherings, the azan in their neighbourhood or on radio and television been induced to convert to Islam?
Why has the Malaysian education system weakened some Malay minds?
Is it the influence of religion, or of Umno-Baru indoctrination?
Perhaps Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is also the acting Minister of Education, will reverse the negative thinking prevalent among some Malays.
After 62 years, it is sad that the various communities are more divided than ever.
The Inspector General of Police and individual ministers are not strong enough to stop the rot.
But one man can. If he wants us to achieve his dream of a developed nation-state, Tun Dr Mahathir can stop the disunity by severely punishing the racial and religious extremists.
Dr Mahathir has nothing to lose by acting decisively, but generations of Malaysian schoolchildren will suffer, if he does not end their betrayal.
The author is a freelance writer. The paper is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media titles.