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Sunday, September 15, 2013

And so it has come to this

Another merdeka day has come, and with it an opportunity to consider where it is that we are at.

Current affairs points to it having come to this; ideologues, of the totalitarian kind, saying things of very little value or sense in as loud as manner as possible, content in the knowledge that in Malaysia those who bray as brashly as possible and for the longest time usually win the day. And the reality is that very few are capable of doing that and, were they to try, would fail at the outset. For them (meaning most of us in this sadly undermined nation that has been held to ransom by its politics), some things are just too ridiculous to say.

Not for those who hold sway over the airwaves and the media it would seem. For them, it is perfectly normal to act as if the laws of this country, in particular the Federal Constitution, do not apply any more, except when convenient to them.

For them it does not appear to matter that the supreme law we were entrusted with in 1957 guarantees us a representative democracy in which a very clear line is drawn between the government of the day and the nation we live in. In this land, which belongs equally to all of us, we are allowed to express dissent or dissatisfaction with our elected government without that amounting to a lack of patriotism. We are allowed to say, if we think so, that those who claim to lead us are fools who do not have their minds wrapped around the issues that so fundamentally affect us in a way that circumstances required, be they shootings by the police, or the potential economic meltdown that appears to be staring at us over the horizon.

For them, nation and elected government are one and the same. Criticism of one is the other. Hence, we are facing the possibility of having to compulsorily fly flags and stand up when the national anthem is played in cinemas. All in the name of a misguided notion of what exactly I am not sure. As I see it, no one has expressed any disloyalty to the nation, in as much as many are critical of the government of the day.

The nuances are however obscured. Legitimate criticism is labeled sedition, even as those who label say some of the most scandalous things imaginable. Questions are taken as threats. Mistakes are treated as if they are declarations of war. To these quarters, the nation is under serious threat, under siege in the most terrifying way; we are about to explode, disintegrate, and be annihilated. If they are to be believed, the sky is about to fall on our heads.

For them, those who do not like the way the Government is doing things and say so undermine the stability of this nation and, to borrow an expression, should leave the country. Otherwise, they should be deprived of their citizenship. This, they suggest, is to stop any further undermining of the nation.

This seems to me to be a ridiculous state of affairs, one calling for intervention on the part of the Executive or the agencies of state.  The only thing that appears under siege, and I say this with the greatest respect to the freedom of those concerned to say what they think (and in the belief that the rest of us are equally entitled to say what it is we feel), is the seeming fragile personalities of these ideologues. So overwhelmed are they by the shifting sands of the Malaysian socio-political landscape that they have been taxed into a state of intellectual paralysis.

Islam is not, and could never be, under siege. It is the religion of the majority of the citizens on this country. It has been given legal status in a way the other major (or minor) religions of this country have not. Its administration is effected through a bureaucratic apparatus that, I think, is unrivalled anywhere else in the world.

The Malays, howsoever one defines the term (this is a vexed question that comes up from time to time), constitutionally or anthropologically, are not under siege. They form the majority of this nation. Their status has been recognised by several constitutional provisions, one of which provides a pathway to affirmative action. 

Malaysia is not under siege, except perhaps by those who insist on thrusting their perverse views of what it is they aspire to without regard to the sensitivities of others (those from all backgrounds) or the established legal framework. We are at peace with our neighbours, and no sovereign nation is threatening to invade us. We have a defense budget that ensures that we have the means to protect ourselves and we have friends who will come to our aid if need be.

Yet, despite this obvious state of affairs, the Executive has worryingly chosen to avoid involving itself. It has not sought to curtail, either by open dialogue with these ideologues or otherwise, this alarming trend. Further, from a third party perspective it seems like the agencies and institutions of state do not seem to be too concerned either. They appear to be relatively content with this alarming state of affairs, for them it is business as usual. The implications are of grave concern, some quarters may well believe that these ideologues may be justified in what they are saying or doing.  This will undoubtedly resulted in an undermining, some might say further undermining, of the system.

It will also serve to distract us from the real threat to this society, a lack of competitiveness that is the product of a administrative framework that has been tolerant, even accepting, of corruption, and that has been shaped not so much by reference to merit but rather a mélange of cronyism, racial preferences and politics.  Entrenched in this is a public service organization, and this includes the education system, that is struggling to remain relevant in the globalised world.  This lack of competitiveness has been the subject of recent discussion amongst a range of persons regionally who have an interest in this nation and its continued well-being.

Curiously, this is not something that the ideologues feel too concerned about. 

So, where does that leave us this merdeka? With much to think about, I feel. The, any, government of the day must start asking some very difficult questions, and look beyond its political self-interest. I would be surprised if it was not already doing so. The nation is floundering and is in desperate need of statesmanship. Parochial perspectives that ignore the fundamentals of this nation are, and will continue, to do much damage. The incumbent government must step up and start acting responsibly as a government of all the peoples of Malaysia.

And it can start by explaining to us, not with slogans or fancy advertisements but with concrete and decisive action, why it is that Malaysians have before them the endless possibilities that it seems to think we have before us.


(This comment was first published in The Edge on 2nd September 2013)