The threats to peace and harmony in Asian societies were highlighted at a public talk held under the inaugural WOU Speaker Series at the main campus today.
Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, was speaking on “Peace among Communities and Nations in Asia”. He is co-chair of the Malaysian CSO-SDG Alliance and Head of Secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over 150 people attended the talk organised by the School of Humanities & Social Sciences (SHSS), including the on-campus learning students of WOU.
He cited five threats to peace and harmony, namely: market forces and economic inequality; religious intolerance and violence; dehumanising marginalised people; political ideologies; and shrinking democratic space.
He said markets alone will not achieve shared and sustainable prosperity because the issue involves not just economics but politics as well. He remarked that insecurities can lead to greed, selfishness, exploitation and dishonesty among corrupt political and corporate leaders. “We need good governance, and checks and balances. None of the economic changes will be achievable without a strong democracy to offset the political power of concentrated wealth, the political elite and business elite.”
He mentioned the current shift to identity politics impacting Malaysia, the US, India, Myanmar, and the world. “An economic reform must correspond with political reform. Achieving a fairer society requires greater equality of income and wealth, and greater equality in educational opportunities.”
Dr Jayasooria stated that market forces create economic inequality, leading to ethnic and religious conflict. “But at the heart of it, is a conflict over capital, markets, resources and the inequalities created. Asia has high levels of inequality and poverty.”
He said that religious Intolerance and violence is on the rise, as evident in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, and other parts of Asia where extreme religious teachings promote violence among people of all faiths.
Elaborating on dehumanising marginalised people, he said people are made to feel inferior due to their ethnicity, religion, gender, age, or caste, leading to sexual harassment and discrimination.
On the threat of political ideologies, he referred to the growing right wing movement where one group is pitted against another. “It is often the politicians who fuel this when they focus the problems on race and religion.”
He shared on the shrinking democracy and the demand for greater democratic space in many countries in Asia. “With democratic space, people have a voice, leaders are held accountable, the media provides checks and balances, and there are independent institutions or governments to check corruption, abuse of power, and give voice to the powerless.
Dr Jayasooria also detailed four case studies of community-based projects – Thai street vendors in Bangkok, Dalit youths in India, villagers in Yogyakarta, and the indigenous people in Kudat, Sabah – to illustrate alternative business models to generate wealth, and how economic conflicts like poverty and unemployment, if unresolved, can create disunity and disharmony. Relating the projects to the SDG Goal 16 on Peace, he said, “Often at the root of conflicts are economic considerations. Without peace and security, you cannot carry out economic activities, and without sustainable development, there can be no peace.”
In response to the question on how to solve race, religious and caste issues, Dr Jayasooria stressed the need for the education system and families to teach people to treat one another as equal to halt the prejudices.