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Thursday, September 25, 2008

How To Be Happy

How to be happy

The idea of enacting a law that deals specifically with race relations in this country is a good one. It is evident that politics, tunnel vision and a lack of imagination have resulted in our society being a great deal more fractured than it should have been, all things considered.

Who would have thought in 1957 that fifty plus years down the line, there would still be a demand for supremacist rhetoric and the fruits of discrimination. But here we are; confused and frustrated, trapped in a labyrinth of our own making. So much so that we have lost sight of plain and obvious truths that could lead us into an age of miracles if rediscovered.

A long while ago, I was rummaging amongst a friend’s book collection and came across a little book by the current Dalai Lama entitled, I think, “How To Be Happy”. Wanting to be happy, I turned to the first line on the first page. If I remember correctly, it said something to this effect: in order to be happy, one had to be happy.

You can imagine how I was somewhat put out by this. If it were that simple, I mused somewhat cynically, we would all be a lot happier. There was surely more to it than that for how else was one to deal with the mysterious complexities of life, I grumbled. I put the book back where I had found it and moved on to a glossy magazine with great photographs.

In hindsight, I realized that I should have paid more attention to that drop in the ocean of wisdom.

Quite a few years later I suddenly realized that over time, life had compelled me to simplify how I dealt with it. It was either that or become victim to the stresses and turmoil that I seemed to have had a knack for subjecting myself to. More and more, I had learnt how to accept the obvious and to say ‘no’ when I needed to, distancing myself from distress, even as I found out how to accept what I did not understand with a more open heart. I saw then that though I had some way to go on my journey, I was relatively happy and that I had got there by, well, trying to be happy.

I tried to find that book again but it had moved on to illuminate someone else's life.

The most obvious truth about being a Malaysian is that all of us, regardless of our background and ethnicity, call this country home and share it with everyone else. We got together at independence because we all believed that we had a place here and that we could live together harmoniously and respectfully for all our benefit. That made us all fulfilled and each of us contributed to its, and each others’, growth.

Somewhere along the way however, we began to take that truth for granted and after a while it was left by the wayside, forgotten. In its place was a void that was soon filled by resentment with a deep, burning need for recognition and belonging that we sated with anything that offered immediate gratification. Race, religion, anything that gave us an identity, was soon being fed to that driving hunger. As with all gangs, those with stronger numbers and greater resource soon ruled the day and discrimination became a way of life.

It still is, and for being so interleaved with so many aspects of our life, is the single, biggest obstacle to our living together harmoniously. It is also the greatest cause of distress and for being that, is something that we must collectively distance ourselves from as we learn how to appreciate and embrace the self-evident truths of being Malaysian.

Discrimination has however become so entrenched that the way forward needs the careful guidance that only a structured policy can offer. A race-relations law, providing for the necessary structures such as a race-relations commission, is arguably the only effective way for such a policy to be introduced and implemented.

Worryingly though, those who have proposed such a law seem more focused on creating more strictures in an already hidebound existence rather than on creating a shared platform for sustainable and inclusive development. This is not the correct approach. We do not need more regulations on what we can or cannot say, we have too many already. What we need is a way to ensure that no Malaysian is sacrificed in whatever way to satisfy the need of another.

For that, a sustained effort must be made to fully eliminate any and all forms of discrimination in public life in this country. Where the race-relations law is concerned, the focus must be on racial discrimination. The law should aim at creating an environment in which the equality of all citizens can be promoted and fostered in the way that the Federal Constitution guarantees. The constitutional scheme aimed at protecting disadvantaged Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak through objectively applied affirmative action is not inconsistent with such a goal.

Can we be happy? I think so. It requires us to open our hearts and accept some truths. It needs a little creativity and a lot of trust.

I would like to think we are up to that challenge.

(Malay Mail; 23rd September 2008)



Old Fart said...

Sorry Imtiaz. Not that I want to insult you in anyway.But I just read your very first sentence and I had to immediately pen this down.

I cannot agree that it is a good one. Its a sad one!!

Old Fart said...

Now that I have read the entire piece, the sadness is just reinforced. But there is hope actually.

When we all meet at the bloghouse or at the Wharf, one would not realise that there is such a thing as race relations in distress amongst us. Indeed, its more a sense of the Malaysianess that brings us together than the differences that we might be in us that might separate us, if at all. Indeed if one finds greater comfort intercoursing with one person there over another, it will certainly have nothing to do with the racial difference, but the character of that person or its content or just the plain chemistry that operates.

It is we who are to blame when we accept without much questioning when UMNO and BN invoke race for every policy that is put to practice. It is their presumption of selfish racial interests that collide everytime they encounter one another that their reason for being to manage those interests becomes reinforced in our minds.

So they think there is a need for an Act of Parliament to help us to develop human relations that is acceptable to them. Human relations that they can manage. Human relations that now will result in lower down UMNO operatives a job in government!!

I know that when we come together at bloghouse or when all you lawyers meet up at any Bar Council events or other professionals meet up in any professional event, race relations management is not an issue.

To agree to this Act would be to undermine our own individuallity. Do I now need to look at the Act to guide me about how I conduct myself when dealing with the mother of my kids who is Chinese?

This presumption about the state of race relations is a creation of the the BN component bodies. Their very existence would appear to be a manifestation of the racial differences and their homogenuity that existed over 51 years ago.

After 51 years, the existence of UMNO for Malays, MCA for the Chinese and MIC for the Indians is shameful to say the least that our leaders have not been able to transcend the racial divide that may have been present then. For it to be present now is testimony of BN's failure to do the simplest thing. To see us as Malaysians.

For anyone outside looking in, each of us becomes the ineptitude human who belongs to the days of the caveman. I think we should all shout out loud that we do not want to be defined by this Race Relations Act that is being proposed. It is sick!

Anonymous said...

Dear Encik Malik Imtiaz

Thank you very much for this post that oozes with so much raw emotion, honesty and sincerity.

To be honest, I have followed your blog for some time but did not dare to leave a comment for I am but a greenhorn at blogging and am unceasingly awed by your wisdom as displayed in your posts.

Thank you for being an upright, frank and just man. I respect you greatly for your commitment esp with reference to RPK and the way you handled Leno's comments recently.

I agree with you completely that the race relations act is testament to the failure of the government to assimilate the citizens as Malaysians. While the Act may sound noble, the hidden agenda is most worrying as you have noted. Suffice to say, the way the authorities deride the colonialistic divide and rule policy while propogating a pluralistic composition in BN is both hypocritical and a farcical joke.

Truly, we need openness, courage to face the truth, creativity and trust in order to foster a happy Malaysian society. Sadly, as long as the status quo prefers to masquerade as our guardian angels and perpetuate discrimination latently and outwardly, the citizens will continue to be like Tom Dooley...heads hanging down, with desperate cries from our hearts that will never be heard by those who choose to dangle carrots in front of us to distract us momentarily from reality as it stands.
I am encouraged when I read 'old fart's' comment with regards to how racial differences are blurred when people see each other for who they are, rather than along racial lines.
When I look at Malaysia today, my heart is filled with despondency but I plod on; which is why I began to blog..and hope that somehow, someday...there will come a time when Malaysians will no longer swallow the myths that we are being fed with and that with the rise in fervour in public discussion esp in blogosphere, there will rise from this country, a new generation who can stand firm and steadfast in being Malaysians without hiding behind the curtain of race.
I just hope enough MPs will object to this Act which is (as posted in my blog recently) an act of 'redemption'(not the positive type) for the Minister with a hair fallout problem for all his 'wonderful deeds'.
Thank you once again for what you are doing for RPK, Malaysians and blogosphere.
Salam and Selamat Hari Raya.

Unknown said...

Hi Imtiaz,

I think it would be nice if Malaysia could have a similar Race Relations Act as NZ. The links below clearly explain the act, they should also provide you with a good understanding of Human rights in NZ.

Your great help to RPK is much appreciated. Please continue with all the hard work.

Please mouse over Race and ethnic relations (very interesting topic, in particular the racist comment that was made by our television presenter).



Crankster said...

I like what you say about being happy. I would have dismissed a statement like "in order to be happy, one had to be happy" as psychobabble a few years ago.

But having enrolled in the school of hard knocks and similarly possessing "penchant" for turmoil, I can attest to that philosophy.

It did take me a while to figure out what happiness had in relation to the race-relations act, because that was what compelled me to click on the "Comments" link to verbalise my thoughts.

I personally believe that the notion of having to enact laws to deal with race relations is utterly disastrous.

Thomas Paine once said, "That government is best which governs least."

Enacting laws to detail how to act and react with another ethnic group, in my honest opinion, intrudes beyond the boundaries of governance. In other words, way too much governing in which the government has no business poking its nose into.

I think it is natural to have the occasional flare-up. What I cannot accept is the hostility behind the polite facade of "tolerance", which is what I believe the race-relations act is destined to bring.

I'm sure 'tolerance' must have meant something positive once upon a time.

Petra said...

Hi Serene

I loved your links. Thank you very much. To add to what you said - the little we studied of constutitional law by comparing Malaysia and NZ (in a NZ university, of all places) left many of my class with the belief that having a right entrenched in law is no guarantee of that right being upheld.

NZ does not have a constitution the way that Malaysia does. Sadly, the lecturer for the course at the time very adequately outlined how a country such as Malaysia can install the correct legislation and court system in place under a democracy, and still fail to breathe life into that very same ideal in practice. Whereas in NZ, you have decent judges who may not always have the proper laws in place to guide them and yet are moved by a sense of justice to make good decisions.

Some time back a debate between Zaid and Nazri was held at the Bar Council. What hit home was a comment by Bar member Chew Swee Yoke, who noted that the process of appointing judges is no longer as transparent as it once was. What I have come to understand is that leadership really does count. Notwithstanding the need for laws against race discrimination - which is necessary since not all judges think alike - one wonders whether some examination into how judges are appointed still needs to be called for.

ash said...

Hi, not to "split hairs too fine" but take a quick look at the date you've put down at the very end of your post...

Either forseeing the future is an interesting quirk of yours, or i'm mistaken about the year in which we're living :D

I think redirecting our energies from mere tolerance to acceptance is more human than what we have here today. Perhaps simplifying things can also be seen as just... returning to the innocence of being human beings.

Funny how we do not have a nation of go-getters, because everyone's too busy trying to make sure they're not trampled on. This little black rain cloud thinks that most people are trying to succeed here not because they have the passion that we see splattered across this (and many other) blog's comments - but because of this sad desperation that they'll fall behind.

My rather liberal parents who've raised me to believe in the world had to sit me down several months ago and rather sheepishly tell me that I have to look at the reality of this country. That because I am female AND from a certain racial background, there are certain cards I must have in my back pocket.

Realistic, or sad?

Seems like nobody's breathing easy thesedays. It's your faith in the Federal Constitution, clarity and patient consideration of the game-plan that helps turn the coin over.


Anonymous said...

i disagree. we dont need any laws to imrpove race relations. we need to help those in need regardless of race.
we need to abolish the entrenched cronyism among the well connected.
eg scholarships should be given to students with out standing results and from poor families, not for children of the rich and well connected.

ChengHo said...

how do we start with race relation when the chinese will go to chinese school ,the indian will go to the tamil school and malay go to the national school . from the early age the malaysian already separated not like in the 70 /80 majority of peoples went to the same school. look at Thailand,vietnam , Indonesia,etc they even have local name. Malaysian constitution is very clear on race relation.

Unknown said...

Hi Petra,

We cannot compare M’sia and NZ yet as M’sia is still a very corrupted country, whereas NZ has been ranked by TI as the least corrupted country in the world, and has been top 3 for the last 10 years.

Over here things are very transparent; you can rest assured that our judges are not corrupted.

I do not consider M’sia a democratic country due to the ISA. At the moment the government will use the ISA to lock up opponents of the BN government without giving the detainee a fair and open trial. The ISA has been described as an anticommunist law and a barbaric law, I agree with this and think that this act should be completely abolished.

Malik Imtiaz and RPK both have world class brains and world class personalities which I believe will be able to help M’sia to move in the right direction. So don’t take them for granted, appreciate what they have done and give them your moral and physical support.

How judges are appointed in M’sia is certainly very important, make sure that the process is crystal clear and transparent. Hopefully Chew Swee Yoke will do something about it.

Malik Imtiaz, I wish you and your family, and all your readers and supporters, a very safe and a happy Hari Raya.


Anonymous said...

Dear Malik Imtiaz,

Please post the video below on your blog (and on Malaysia Today and Malaysiakini) as the song by the great Elvis Presley is very touching, poignant, inspirational and says it all for me during these difficult and turbulent times that Malaysians (especially those detained under the ISA) are facing, our dream will come true soon I believe and all thanks to people like our dearest RPK, Marina, DSAI, M Bakri Musa, you and many other bloggers out there! Pray that all of you will always be protected by our Heavenly Father, Jehovah to carry on the good work - fighting for justice,fairness, equality, integrity, accountability and transparency to prevail, and peace and goodwill to all mankind regardless of race or religion!