Malaysia 18th most peaceful nation but…
Malaysia has done well in the latest Global Peace Index. It occupies a spot on the top 20 most peaceful countries in the world in the annual index of the Institute for Economics and Peace.
Malaysia is placed 18th, up from its 23rd ranking in 2021.
We all know that Malaysia is a peaceful nation, although tensions do simmer. And Malaysia practices a foreign policy of cooperation and friendliness with all other counties.
The Global Peace Index (GPI) ranks 163 independent countries and territories after analysing which nations are the safest and most peaceful, which are most dangerous, which have an absence of violence and which have a fear of violence.
Although such indexes may not be perfect, they do give a reasonable idea of the situation.
The annual GPI, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), evaluates a total of 23 indicators under three broad categories.
The first is whether a country is involved in internal and international conflicts; the second is an evaluation of the level of harmony or discord within a nation, looking at such areas as political stability, crime rate, terrorist activity and violent demonstrations. The third category evaluates the level of militarisation of the country.
And which country tops the GPI 2022? Iceland has remained at number one position for 15 years in a row. Occupying the second spot is New Zealand, a position it has held since 2014. Ireland beat Denmark to take third spot. Austria is ranked 5th.
For the fifth consecutive year, Afghanistan is at the bottom of the ranking – at 163 – as the least peaceful country, followed by Yemen, Syria, Russia and South Sudan.
Apart from the lives lost, bodily injuries and damage to property, we should shun violence because it also shatters the economy and our livelihoods. For instance, the IEP says that in the ten countries most affected by violence, the economic cost of violence averaged 34% of GDP in 2021 compared with 3.6 % for the ten least affected countries.
Although Malaysia has done well at 18, Singapore is way ahead at number 9. Malaysia’s best ranking was in 2019 when it was placed 16th.
Malaysia ranks better than the United States (129), China (89), India (135), the United Kingdom (34), Indonesia (47), Vietnam (44), Cambodia (62), Thailand (103), Philippines (125), Saudi Arabia (119) and Pakistan (147).
So, despite our racial and religious tensions, we should be proud that we are a peaceful nation. This is not so much because of the government or political leaders – at least not in recent years – but largely due to the attitude of ordinary Malaysians.
All of us – whether Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazandusun or Orang Asli; whether Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or of some other faith – want to live in peace and get on with our lives as well as we can.
So, deep down, the ordinary Malaysian – who is not interested in proving that his race or religion is special but feels that all of us are creations of the same God or cosmic event and that we all share the same fate on Earth – is established in peace.
This is something we should nurture, especially in our schools – whether national, vernacular or Islamic.
Malaysia, in fact, can do better, and become an example to other nations for the simple reason that we have diverse ethnic and religious groups with diverse cultural mores and taboos living together. As such, there is a constant interplay of these diverse cultures and beliefs and attitudes in our lives.
Our conflicts or tensions almost always have roots in some of our overzealous race or religion-minded politicians, in some leaders of race or religion-based NGOs, in some intolerant religious leaders and in the unhealthy mix of religion with politics.
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, racism is at play in Malaysia. As many have pointed out, there’s institutional racism.
The 2022 theme for the UN’s International Day of Peace is, “End racism. Build peace”.
UN secretary-general António Guterres says the theme is to remind us of the many ways racism not only poisons people’s hearts and minds but also that of institutions and social structures, thus eroding peace.
He says: “Racism robs people of their rights and dignity. It inflames inequalities and mistrust. And it pushes people apart, at a time when we should be coming together, as one human family, to repair our fractured world.
“Instead of fighting each other, we should be working to defeat our true enemies: racism, poverty, inequality, conflict, the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We should tear down structures that sustain racism, and lift up human rights movements everywhere. And we should drown out the vicious voices of hate speech with a united and sustained cry for truth, understanding and mutual respect.”
Every right-thinking person will agree with him.
Malaysians need to work hard to ensure our nation remains peaceful, and that factors causing tensions, suspicions and fears are reduced, if not eliminated. How do we do that? One way is to emulate the nations that are right at the top of the ranking.
Let’s take Iceland. Among other things, Iceland is very well-governed. Corruption is low, laws are enforced fairly and justly, the civil service is competent and Icelanders trust both their institutions and their fellow citizens. Also, income inequality is very low and it’s the third best country in the world to retire in.
It has a business-friendly environment and respects the rights of everyone, with equitable distribution of resources. Also, Iceland does not have a standing army, and policemen don’t carry arms.
According to the report by IEP: “Qualities that make it (Iceland) the most peaceful nation on Earth include low crime rates, robust education and welfare systems, fair pay for workers, and virtually non-existent tension among the economic classes.”
Now, we can certainly learn from this. We should, for instance, narrow the income inequality gap, have fair pay for workers, and respect the rights of all citizens equally. Iceland shows the importance of having a good education system and a welfare system that helps the poor and old.
Importantly too, Iceland demonstrates the importance of governance and Malaysia needs a government that is competent, visionary, fair and just. Iceland, just like other nations ranked right at the top, practices transparent and inclusive governance.
The level of transparency and inclusiveness in Malaysia’s governance certainly needs urgent improvement. And institutionalised racism has to go.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), when institutions are perceived as fair and effective, they are respected and govern how people within societies interact.
“However, when institutions are seen as ineffective, exclusionary or corrupt, they can rear grievances and conflict.
“Inclusivity and the building of effective and legitimate institutions is critical in preventing relapses into violent conflict and producing more resilient states and societies. Successful and sustainable institutional reform restores core governance functions and generates equitable service delivery.”
SIPRI notes that poorly governed security and justice sectors are often drivers of insecurity, criminality and violence and that the most impoverished citizens are often those who suffer most frequently from predatory, abusive or corrupt security and justice actors.
“Marginalisation, inequality and exclusion of certain societal groups from power and opportunity can trigger grievances and perceptions of injustice. In turn, this may result in conflict or relapse into conflict and hinder positive peace and sustainable development. States that have avoided regression back into conflict have had either inclusive political settlements, or inclusive behaviour by the party that prevailed in the conflict, resulting in less divisive societies after a conflict.”
SIPRI says inclusion of diverse perspectives – gender, age, socio-economic class and ethnicity – into governance and equitable access to resources can strengthen state legitimacy and social cohesion.
Are leaders of political parties and political and religious-minded NGOs, and even some senior civil servants, willing to drop their self-interested or race and religion-focused perspectives and prioritise making Malaysia more peaceful and an example for others?