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Monday, April 9, 2007

Waking Up

I am Malaysian but am not certain anymore what that means. On a daily basis, I am being told, directly or indirectly, that in having been ‘given’ the right to label myself a Malaysian, I have no right to a view. I am told that I should be more respectful of my context, of the tolerance that is being shown to me and my 'kind'. I am told to be satisfied with what I have been ‘given’ and if I am not, I should go back to wherever it is I came from, ‘pendatang’ that I am.

I come from Penang. I am not clear how going back there is going to make me feel any different.

The civics classes I had to attend (thankfully, compulsory religious classes were not in vogue when I was in primary and secondary school) must have had some impact. I have, like others, a certain level of public spiritedness. I have like others, a certain level of desire to be active in shaping the society around me into a fair, just and productive one. With the Creator’s grace, I have been given the means to do this, in part by having become a lawyer, a state of being which puts me into direct contact with one of the key aspects of how we organise ourselves in this community.

However, I am no longer certain whether I am to do this at all, and if so, how it is I am to do it. I am being told by things happening around me that some of us are more Malaysian than others, and that that some Malaysians (these more Malaysian Malaysians) are quite happy with the way things are, and if the country is headed in a direction that I do not particularly like, it does not matter, as even if the country is driven to ground, it is a decision made by persons having a bigger entitlement than I do.

The “I deserve to be here more, and my views are weightier” approach is worrying. It does not recognise a very basic feature of our constitutional democracy; that we are all equal stakeholders. The approach seems to have become more prevalent in recent times. The reason for this is multi-layered but I believe it starts with the fact that we are all concerned with the way things are going. The metaphorical pie is getting smaller and competition for that reduced resource stiffer. Competition within the ethnic groupings is intensifying, perhaps now outweighing competition between ethnic communities. When things get difficult, it is easier perhaps to cast a stone outside the community, at the 'barbarians' at the gate. The UMNO reaction to the AP scandal last year year showed this clearly. Any other approach would necessitate having to accept difficult truths. And as a nation, we find it inordinately difficult to accept such truths.

We live in a society in which our racial and, more recently, religious differences are emphasised on a daily basis. And though to a significant extent multi-racial Malaysians have found a way in which they can live with each other, this does not translate into the picture of multi-racial harmony that our administrators attempt to characterise it as. Every so often, we are reminded that for those of us that may be bold enough to think about expressing a view, let alone actually express it, there is a particular sensitivity that we might offend, and a law which might be used to sanction and a cell with our name on it. It is unsurprising that some, if not many, feel disenfranchised and even disillusioned.

This state of affairs has led to a non-partisan, non-involved approach to life on the part of many a Malaysian. With pressing concerns about communal politics, (for all purposes and intents) one party rule and the right to meaningful access to meaningful justice, it is unsurprising that citizens have their backs to the wall even as they dream of a better place to live in. The sooner we realise this state of affairs and begin dealing with it, the better.

There is another layer to this. Sad as it is, and as difficult as it is to say, we are no longer the learned or mature society that we perhaps once were. In place of sophisticated and objective analysis of crucial issues, there is now a regime of sensationalist ignorance and belligerence.

Worse still, we live in a state of denial, insisting that we are more advanced and intellectual than we really are. Look at the issues that figure prominently in the arena of public discourse. How many of these relate to the fundamental aspects of our lives as Malaysians. Admittedly, civil liberty issues such as nude squats and burial rites are important, but where do a lack of coherent economic policy, a lack of coherent governance, a lack of political foresight, an overemphasis on vested interests, institutionalised and crippling corruption and a lack of direction for this great country of ours figure? They do not, in any meaningful way. In having allowed these crucial issues to fall by the way side, in having allowed ourselves to become more interested in being titillated by insane billionaires, sex scandals, Mawi and Academia Fantasia, we have begun throwing away our future.

I used to think that this was due wholly to a media block by the authorities, implemented in tandem with a policy of de-education. I have reconsidered my view and believe that a large part of this is due to an inability, and a lack of desire, on the part of Malaysians to articulate themselves anymore. This is why our media is devoted to gossip and our broadsheets reduced to tabloids. We are all to blame.

By taking sensationalist positions, be it on racial or religious grounds, we are perpetuating the context that has led the country to where it is. And where is it, some of you might ask. Take a look around you. We are somewhere near the bottom. Stock market performance indicators suggest that as an emerging market, we are far behind Mexico, Argentina, India and China. In the Southeast Asian region, we have been left behind by neighbours who we traditionally condescended down to. In Indonesia and Thailand, effective economic policies have created amongst other things a potential powerhouse of agricultural based SMIs, increased revenues and the GDP. Sweeping democratic reforms have allowed for a meaningful reshaping of the economy and political landscape. Important issues are being debated; openly and with the hope that the dialogue will have some bearing on things as they stand.

As Malaysians, we can rest assured that with proposed Islamic snoop squads, even more regulation over our personal lives, and the continued vigilance of our censors and their censors our moral futures are intact. Even as we delude ourselves into believing that spending then kind of money we do on our daily needs, from foodstuff to electricity and water, is perfectly justifiable and fair. Even as we delude ourselves into believing that inflation is not a problem in this country. Even as we potentially plunge headlong into a financial crisis which may take us down the road towards non-emerged nation status. Ethnic and religious bigotry will provide no solutions then, just as they provide no solutions now. Sloganeering will not take us any further.

We have only one country. It is ours. As tempting as it might be for some to believe, and to perpetuate the belief, the majority of citizens are not about to abandon this country when it hits rock bottom. And it will not be surprising that of those of us who actually ultimately flee to greener pastures, or abandon ship, a significant number will be made of up those who, according to popular logic, have no place to go except their ‘tanah air’.

It bears restating: we validate the impression that we do not have a stake in the country if we do not act like stakeholders. Malaysians of all races and backgrounds are to blame for what is that is happening.

If effort can be made to stay up and watch Akademi Fantasia, then should we not be registering as voters and exercising that one most fundamental of all rights? Should we not be familiarising ourselves with the critical issues from more than just a sensationalist perspective. Why is that I would stand a better chance of getting a head to toe analysis of the Razak Baginda case than I would a view about water or toll concessions, or a judicial appointments commission.

Isn't it time we all woke up to reality?



What A Lulu said...

hi Malik,
I'm worried too.
It worries me that what is so obviously wrong is now acceptable in my country.
It worries me that people don't even do the corrupt activities under the table but are now blatantly open about it.
It worries me that the government is spending money they do not have.
It worries me that local councils are busy selling off portions of land at ridiculously low prices to people they know.
It worries me what they teach children in school.
It worries me that schools are filled with misguided zealots with their narrow-minded agenda forced onto the young ones.
I am worried. I am greatly concerned.
and I don't know what to do to save the nation from spiralling downwards.

Anonymous said...

Dear MIS & what a lulu,

I am equally worried and frighten too.

I feel a sense of helplessness and pray that the rakyats must come to their senses that ONLY they have the ability to make a difference.

How this country is governed is decided by their vote and it is high time that they do NOT dissociate themselves from this responsibility and take charge of this country and their destiny.

I dont have any answers too but hope that there are many more MIS and what a lulu amongst us to galvanise this country onto a different path for the next 50 years.

Anonymous said...

No Malaysians would wish to live in a social, political and economical unjust and unstable country. Who would not yearn for equality in all forms? But as you have correctly pointed out, Malaysians are now at a point where the desire to fight for the same seems to have died out. Reason(s)? There could be many; I could instantly think of 3 - frustration, exhaustion and disappointment. Frustrated because we are as if speaking to the deaf whenever we speak of our rights; exhausted because of the endless but fruitless fights; disappointed because instead of bringing us further, it drew us back.

So, what ‘reality’? That upon registering ourselves as voters and casting our votes to whomever we think worth our pick, our ‘most fundamental’ rights is deemed exercised? I always thought there is something more, but what? It seems like the answer would never surface, but shouldn’t we live in hopes and always strive to realise the same?

Keep up your spirit! Do not fall into the trap(s) of frustration, exhaustion and disappointment (of which many Malaysians have already fallen into)!

Anonymous said...

Dear MIS and what a lulu,

I am equally worried and frighten too.

For MIS to feel he is less than a Malaysian – what about the others who are deem to be lesser Malaysians?

For a learned lawyer to feel so helpless – what about the common people on the street?

Many of us (I believe) share the same sense of helplessness but are at a loss of what to do?

I pray that there are many more like-minded people like MIS and what a lulu out there who can galvanise the masses that ONLY their vote is they key to change the direction of this country.

So how do we move on?

Tangkee said...

Chill dude ... pessimism msy be right ,but name me one example where it actually did something ?

Walski69 said...


I think what you've expressed is a common worry among those who value the Malaysia that we've grown to love. A Malaysia that is eroding from within, it would seem.

And what's most disconcerting is that it is these very sources of erosion that are the most vocal, championing their rights at the expense of the rest of the citizenry.

Shouting loudly, not for justice, but for "just us".

I do, however, agree with commenter amelly - that to despair is suicidal. I for one, am trying to do my part to vocalize these very same concerns as best as I possibly can. Just as you are valiantly doing in your capacity.

And sometimes it takes individuals to sow the seeds of realization in the minds of the silent many (I hope). I refuse to believe that the silence means that the majority have resigned to accepting the decay, which if left unchecked, will definitely cause this nation we love to implode under the weight of it's own malaise.

Perhaps it is time that these silent concerns be heard. Perhaps it's not too late to show those who seek to undermine our beloved nation from within that what they are doing is detrimental to our collective future.

And perhaps when the silent majority join in with voices such as yours, Malik, God willing, perhaps one day these beligerant and selfish people will finally come to their senses.

I only pray, when that time comes, it won't be for naught...

Keep on the good fight, my friend... this voice screams justice, just as yours does.


Anonymous said...


For what is happening now, it is clear now that the approach taken to forge unity has failed. The country would have been better off by now if we had placed equal emphasis on the English Language like Bahasa,way back from the 70s. The majority would have been better off SOCIALLY and Globally while the minority would have helped to enhance it further. THE MUHIBBAH SPIRIT WOULD HAVE GROWN. We just didnt think BROADLY enough (like India, which is fast becoming a economic superpower). What happened just divided us further and the current predicament looms. We may need better leaders, like Nazrin the Prince, who, is bold enough to call a spade a spade.


Anonymous said...

If I register to vote, which Party do I vote for?

I (am ALMOST embarressed) to say that I really don't care about what happens in this country.

Anonymous said...

Dear Malik,

I agree with amelly that many of us are consumed by frustration, exhaustion, disappointment and despair - but do we just say die?

As walski69 says, each of us in our own capacity will do whatever we can and just pray that every small little bit we are doing will make a difference.

Don't give up please, if you do - it will mean giving up ourselves as well as the country.

Mr. Smith said...

Racism is the staple food of this government. It thrives on it. Racism is its raison d'etre.
It will be a contradiction if it ratifies the CERD.
What is amazing is, the discriminated support this government.
Whom are we to blame then?

Mr. Smith said...

I can feel the sense of desperation and helplessness in your post. I too feel the same.
I am 61.
All my life I have been voting for the opposition. Now I can only throw up my hands in disbelief as I see fellow Malaysians acting no different from the birds in the sky.
They are just happy to be free, to make money, to eat and produce offsprings.
Life, to them is easy and comfortable, so why bother about good governance, transparency, corruption, independence of the judiciary, human rights,freedom of expression, social justice etc.
"What can the opposition give me?" is a question I am always confronted with.
They look for tangible returns.
They are self centered and selfish.
I am more disappointed with the people's mindset than with the government.
I know of many rich professionals and businessman (millionaires, mind you) who are not even registered voters!!!
As sure as the sun rises, the time will come when it will be too late to act.
As it is, I have no stake in this country. I am called an "immigrant", even though my fore-fathers had been here for generations.
National Day celebrations mean nothing to me. What is there to celebrate?
But I have done one wise thing. To get my children to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
And that is the wisest advice I can give them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mailk & Mr Smith,

It's the Government's modus operandi - DIVIDE (through racial and religious lines) and rule, so that WE the rakyats of different colour and creed will be on a perpetual war path and a state of disharmony thus we CANNOT direct our attention on the COMMON enemy which is the inept government.

Smart move by the Government.

The discriminated masses remains blinkered and chooses to be silent, hoping against hope that as long as they don't rock the boat - all will be well, sad to say it will NOT be.

Mr Smith - I am 50 this year, a Merdeka child by birth right but I feel there is less and less "Merdeka-ness" and with each day going by, I am make to feel an even lesser Malaysian.

God save Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

A lot of Malaysian are definitely unhappy with the present government but as they always say - better the devil you know.... I am a malay. I used to support DAP but after they worked together with PAS, I no longer support them as PAS for me will be even worse than least for a Malay woman point of view. So, who do we support? I think we should at least try to break that 2/3 majority. Maybe then there will be more transparency and perhaps change. Personally, I don't believe in Bangsa Malaysia as I like being diverse but I do believe in equal right for everyone no matter what race you are. And of course, being Malaysian should always come first.

What A Lulu said...

anon 10:25:00 PM, DAP worked with PAS for the 1999 elections. In 2004 GE, DAP disassociated themselves from PAS.
Howvwer, BN has continued to play on this non-existing association.
DAP has consistently spoken against the formation of an Islamic state.
lulu, who's not a DAP member, but is a keen supporter

The Godfather said...

The truth is... all of us are pendatangs. The 3 majority race. The Malays, Chinese and Indians. One race should not have the right to call the other pendatang. Who has the rights? The real bumiputeras...

Sageb1 said...

All I can say in response to the comments is, Canada is freer under multiculturalism than Malaysia is under its multiracial, one party rule.

Yes, I know there are opposition parties galore, but the bottom line is National Front (BN) has run the country since independence.

It is ridiculous for a country to practise racial segregation, but Malaysia practises it daily while waving the flag of peace.

But should love cross the racial boundaries of Malaysian society, the gossip-mongers turn it into another sex scandal and try to publicly embarass everyone involved.

Maybe it is about time to criminalize gossip-mongering.

But the free speech advocates for the newsmedia might cry foul and call it "1984ish" and dictatorial.

However, most newspapers are basically gossip sheets.

An intelligent person would never read the newpaper or watch the TV unless s/he wanted to know what the weather is like, because the news is always never what it seems, because it drips with spicey innuendo.

So, come to Canada to get away from the gossip.