The Malaysian International Psychology Conference 2017: Psychology of Peace was held from the 13 to 14 May 2017 at HELP Subang 2 campus. The conference was jointly organised by the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology and PSIMA (The Malaysian Psychological Association) with partner universities such as the University of Malaya, University of Reading, UCSI University, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Perdana University, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, The University of Nottingham, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, International Medical University, Sunway University, Heriot-Watt University, Monash University and International Islamic University.
Dr. Goh Chee Leong, the President of the Malaysian Psychological Association (PSIMA) and the Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Behaviourial Sciences at HELP University presented the Opening Address “How Psychology Can Bring Peace to Our Region”, officiating the MIPC 2017.
“The chosen theme ‘The Psychology of Peace’ is a reflection of our continuing efforts to be relevant to our times. We live in a world where war still exists, where ethnic and religious tensions still boil under the surface, where xenophobia is on the rise, where child abuse and other forms of family and institutional violence is still observed and where mental health issues are still largely ignored and stigmatised. To many of our fellow human beings, ‘peace’ is illusive, whether it be peaceful relations or peace of mind,” said Dr. Goh.
Dr. Goh hoped that participants of the MIPC 2017 will gain the knowledge and understanding befitting a community of dedicated psychologists that can help humanity realise its goal of peace in all its expressions. He hoped for all participants to embrace the spirit and goals of this theme and that the programmes offered in the two-day conference will help spark concrete actions that will lead to lasting change.
In keeping to the theme, the first plenary session that followed Dr. Goh’s Opening Address was presented by Mr. Thomas Koruth Samuel, the Director of Research and Publications with Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT), which is under the purview of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia. Mr. Thomas’s plenary session, “Countering the Terrorist Narrative” discussed the psychological ideologies and myths about what terrorism is about and how it impacts individuals and their families on a social and emotional level.
His presentation highlighted several myths that may trigger a person to become a terrorist – among them is the myth that religious fanatical groups believe that violence is the only option and what they are doing is for the people. The adage that “we have no choice”, “this is the only way” and that “we have to right this injustice” are key triggers that pushes a terrorist to act aggressively and devastatingly towards their intended target group. Mr. Thomas posed a question to the audience asking them what makes a terrorist and who is most vulnerable and impressionable to be brainwashed into becoming a terrorist.
Mr. Thomas also raised an issue about how our country’s counterterrorism measures lack the social impact and emotional depth to tackle the threat of terrorism at its roots. Hence, while we are quick to cut off the tree, we fail to cut off the roots, leaving it to potentially grow exponentially again. He pointed out that society today has not even made any attempts to challenge these myths about terrorists. He proposed that we should create awareness and see alternatives in combating terrorism and to know the real issues when someone dies for the cause versus killing for the cause.
Following Mr. Thomas’s session was another session that was pertinent to the multiculturalism issues of Malaysia, which was presented by Dr. Ananthi Ramiah, an assistant professor of social science (Psychology) at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. Unfortunately, Dr. Ananthi was unable to head the session and Elaine Fernandez, a HELP Subang 2 staff with a MSc. in Social Psychology, stood in her place to present the professor’s findings on multiculturalism in Malaysia.
According to Dr. Ananthi’s findings, while there are some indications that there have been interactions among different cultures present in some communities and neighborhoods, social prejudices can still arise if each race does not maintain any form of contact between the racial groups. This lack of social contact may trigger an individual’s mental health depending on how diverse their neighborhood is in the first place. However, other findings indicated that some groups value cohesion amongst one another and are less likely to integrate with other races because they view integration as a symbolic threat to their identity and culture.
Dr. Ananthi’s findings also concluded that our workplace culture has become more polarized over the past ten years. People in their offices are becoming more cliquish and are quick to form their own social groups instead of mixing with people from a different race. This conditioning is also escalated by the fact that people have been spending less time verbally communicating with one another and would only communicate through emails and texts. Moreover, people form their own cliques due to the fact that they share a common language and find it difficult sometimes to try and communicate in another language.
The Malaysian International Psychology Conference 2017 also had scheduled workshops, research presentations, forums and symposiums dealing with various psychological issues and topics such as Work Psychology, Preventing Child Sexual Crimes and Psychology of Forgiving.