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The Great Malaysian Story

Posted: 30 Aug 2013 04:12 PM PDT

It's a bit like the Animal Farm these days. Pigs, cows and dogs have made appearances. The sheep are ever present and can be relied upon to be compliant and blindly loyal. Indeed, this has been a year where we have rediscovered that all Malaysians are equal but there are some who are more equal than others.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, MM

So it's August 31 again and we are able to once more celebrate the independence of Malaya. We will go ooh and aahh at the well-oiled routine of the choreographed performances by schoolchildren and performers, the parade and fly-by of military hardware and uniformed personnel, the reading of the Rukun Negara, the procession of colourful floats and their equally colourful entourages. Another entry in the country's proud story and history.

But for many of us, this 56th anniversary will mark a year that has been characterised by events which have rendered us either into a state of apoplexy, hysterical outrage or lobotomised apathy.

It's a bit like the Animal Farm these days. Pigs, cows and dogs have made appearances. The sheep are ever present and can be relied upon to be compliant and blindly loyal. Indeed, this has been a year where we have rediscovered that all Malaysians are equal but there are some who are more equal than others.

I was enjoying a note written by my friend Zafirah Zeid the other day, who regaled a bit of her secondary school experience at one of the great incubators and bastions of the Malay mind, MRSM or the Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (Mara Junior Science College). My brainier cousins got into MRSM. I instead went to another public boarding school, Sekolah Menengah Sains Selangor. Go SMSS!

Anyway, Zafirah, like many others of mixed ethnicity and heritage, experienced the micro-environment of institutionalised racial supremacy which is nurtured, cultivated and is prevalent in many of the best schools in the country.

This is where you are taught early on that everyone needs to know their place in society and must be placed into a box or category which is acceptable (e.g. Melayu, Cina, India, Orang Asli dan Lain-lain), leaving people like her wondering which to tick and why it even matters. Where do you place Chindians, for example?

And then there is the indoctrination on how it is important for a certain ethnic group to be dominant in all matters, and for all others to acknowledge, respect and kowtow to that fact; how this group must defend itself from real and imagined ethnic and religious enemies; how there is nothing wrong being a racist or a bigot and one should never apologise for it; and learning that to divide is better than to add. Biro Tatanegara lite. Shaping the beliefs, mindsets and attitudes of our future leaders, thinkers and workers but also increasing the possibility of creating young Ibrahim Alis and Zulkifli Noordins of the future. Gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, doesn't it?

This is where the trouble starts. In some of the best schools in the country. Places where we are supposed to impart knowledge, expand horizons and young minds, build bridges and friendships.

I sometimes think that instead of writing our stories and living the future, we are stuck in this time warp of yesterday. We are prisoners of our minds where some of us are still fighting for independence, finding an identity for ourselves, looking at other ethnic communities with dark suspicion or finding ghosts and enemies where there are none.

Perhaps we imagine ourselves to still be in a time when our masters were white, wore pith helmets, and ordered scotch by banging on the table and saying "Hey, boy! Kasi satu lagi, ini macam! Cepat! Bodoh!" (a line forever immortalised in a late '80s drama Tuan Brown).

Only when we wake up from the nightmare, do we find that our masters are now of brown skin, still drink the occasional tipple or two, hiss at things like pluralism and compete to see who is holier by persecuting people of other ethnicities and faiths, and sexual minorities. Maybe we see these masters when we look in the mirror each morning. The players have changed but the game and storyline remain the same.

Our silence allows for a minority to continue to seek and hammer their dominance over everything from national politics and governance of our country to deciding whether the air around a char siew pau seller stall is halal and safe to breathe.

I loathe loonies such as Ridhuan "I-am-so-Malay" Tee Abdullah, his pal Ibrahim "I-am-more-Malay-than-everyone-else" Ali, and old-time favourite Rais Yatim (who cautioned Malay girls against inter-racial marriages, and once stated that women wanting to go abroad should obtain permission from either their company, husband, brother or other family member to protect them from becoming drug mules) but I have to acknowledge that they too are part of the Malaysian story and the fabric of our society.

Much as we want to, we can't write them out or ignore them. If you are not angry yet when these characters open their mouths, you should be. These are the sort of people who are writing our story. Problem is we are allowing them to.

They, and we, are responsible for the Malaysia we have today.

Tunku Abdul Rahman once recommended that we encourage interethnic marriages. I think he had the right idea. The more diversity we see around us and in our families, the less we think of the need to be racially superior or that we are special and somehow divinely chosen.

We must throw away the go-along-to-get-along mentality and realise that a new Malaysia must involve throwing off the chains of racism.

Not everyone can migrate and escape to Australia, Canada or some other country if and when things get ugly or Taliban'ised. Most of us are in this country for the long haul and we are going to be building families and communities together.

The concept of the nascent #SaySomethingNice 17-day campaign that was announced last week is rooted in precisely that. Recognising that there is a need for change and working towards it together. We certainly need more than 17 days but some of us need to start somewhere and this is as good a start as any.

We are now at an existential point in the country's lifetime. We need a new narrative for Malaysia. A new story. One that is not determined on whether the writers are Malays, Chinese, Indians and Lain-lain. But writers who identify themselves as Malaysians, writing as Malaysians, for Malaysians. People who don't give a flying cow what ethnicity a person comes from.

To quote Zafirah's note, we can either conform or refuse.

With luck, our sons and daughters will do what she did: toss the racism and bigotry into the garbage, take the good stuff and walk forward colour blind.

Are we going to write the Great Malaysian Story? Or allow others to write it for us?

Have a great Merdeka weekend!


Malaysia's Need for a New National Narrative

Posted: 30 Aug 2013 10:38 AM PDT

Malaysians must move onto new truths and reconciliations in the belief of one nation Malaysia. Otherwise Malaysia will continue to be divided with increasing frictions.  

Race-based idealism must be replaced with policy-based idealism, where governments work upon a platform based on consensus. 

Murray Hunter

The ritualistic month-long celebrations of Merdeka (independence) activities in Malaysia have largely lost their meaning. Discussion about the roles that different groups played in the road to independence has largely been rewritten to support the current rulers of today.

The celebration of 31st August, the day Malaya gained independence from the British as the major national day, to take place tomorrow, seems to exclude the aspirations of Sabahans and Sarawakians, where on 16th September 1963 they joined Malaya and Singapore in the union called Malaysia. Groups like the Communist Party of Malaya, which fought and lost many lives against both the British and Japanese, are almost totally excluded from the narrative. 

This is all occurring in an environment desperately in need of a narrative of inclusiveness. 

The current Merdeka celebration suppresses the generation of new ideas and a national creativity that could spring up from an environment of inclusiveness. The celebrations have severed any empathetic connections between Malaysia's various elements within the rich and diverse history of the country, replacing it with a single narrative one would find on a cellulose film like "Tanda Putera," which purportedly describes the events of 1969 which led to the country's worst race riots and which even before its release has kicked off a major controversy over Chinese-Malay relations. 

A whole generation now exists who behave according to the beliefs and values incorporated within this narrow narrative. This denies the cascade of alternative realities and their accompanying narratives which stifles national creativity and evolution that Malaysia needs to face the challenges before it. The celebrations fail to incorporate any evolving aspirations that would promote and enhance the semblance of national unity. 

Ironically under the Mahathir years, a strong national narrative existed which at the time appeared to be shared by middle-class society. Malaysia in the 1980s and early 1990s had a deep sense of national pride where any senses of inferiority were thrown out of the window with the catch cry of Malaysia Boleh(Malaysia can). Many people at the time believed it was the best country to live in. Almost 25 years on these feelings have been replaced with a sense of despair over law and order, corruption, religious intolerance and self-indulgence. 

The fact that Malaysia has many domestic issues to solve and that its place in the world is slipping away, according to many international rankings, is largely out of the national discussion and public agenda. Rather it appears division is in everybody's best interests, from school administrations right up to the highest echelons of government. 

Malaysia has lost that true spiritual unity between people that was the catalyst that brought independence in the first place, first with the British during the 1950s and then between the parties that made up the Malaysian union in 1963. 

What is missing today are aspirations about the purpose and dreams the country was founded upon during the struggle for independence, and subsequent search for its identity as a nation. Malaysia as a nation is yet to realize that diversity has a spiritual unity about it. Suppress it and the national narrative becomes one without optimism for a just and equitable society. 

The current national narrative is one captive under the old traditional caste system with little relevance to the needs of contemporary society. Consequently the Malaysian mind is a prisoner of this paradigm, unlikely to break free to enable an enlightened society. 

The rulers have felt insecure with their own values, preferring to adopt a neocolonial development paradigm of unquestioned growth and development and profiteering. Development has been a game for the elite, without any questioning of this occidental paradigm. Greed and intolerance have developed into two of the most important post-Merdeka qualities. 


The Way of Collective Ministerial Responsibility

Posted: 29 Aug 2013 11:02 PM PDT 

This is the first rude awakening for Waythamoorthy, who rather naively thought he could reform the BN single handed. 

Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

After 56 years ruling the country, the BN government still does not understand the meaning of Cabinet collective responsibility. Three ministers as well as the Prime Minister have ticked off the rookie deputy minister Waythamoorthy for criticising the police over the slaying of the five alleged gangsters. They have told him that if he does not follow the principle of "collective responsibility" being part of the BN government, he should resign. 

Waythamoorthy had questioned the manner in which the five suspects were killed and had called for an inquest into the deaths of the five youths to dispel the mistrust surrounding the police on probing their own alleged misconduct. He had said that the photos of their injuries seemed to suggest that the five had been shot at point-blank range. He also questioned the nation's top cop's ability to make such a swift conclusion that the five men had been involved in 10 murders and two attempted murder cases. This has been the standard answer given by the police every time they killed criminals. Waythamoorthy further said if it was true that police had been observing the five suspects for some time, there was no reason why they couldn't have been arrested instead of being shot dead at point blank. 

Clearly, Waythamoorthy's criticism was aimed at the police and their conduct. It was not any move or action that embarrassed or threatened the BN government's grip on power. He is not the first member of the BN government to treat the police as a distinct institution separate from the Executive. Remember how Dr Mahathir had claimed that Operation Lalang was initiated by the police and not by the government that he led. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi also saw fit to establish a Royal Commission to review the workings of the Malaysian Police Force after the many complaints against its conduct. 

The police force, the armed forces and the civil service are clearly separate from the Executive arm of the nation. So what do these ministers and the prime minister mean when they imputed that Waythamoorthy had breached the principle of ministerial collective responsibility?

Know your responsibility

"Cabinet collective responsibility" is a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that ministers, deputy ministers and parliamentary representatives must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them.

This principle is usually practiced during any voting for the government in the legislature. For example, if a vote of no confidence is passed in parliament, the government is responsible collectively, and thus the entire government resigns. Cabinet collective responsibility is not the same as individual ministerial responsibility, in which ministers are responsible and therefore culpable for the running of their departments. In the Port Kelang corruption case, then Transport Minister Dr Ling Liong Sik has been held responsible although it was clearly a case of Cabinet collective responsibility.

On occasions, this principle may be suspended over such issues as the introduction of protective tariffs, or a referendum on whether the UK should remain in the European Economic Community. In 2003, Clare Short managed to stay in the Labour cabinet despite her opposition to the 2003 Iraq War.

Under the present Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, we have seen Liberal Democrat ministers frequently publicly criticising the actions of Conservative Cabinet members.

In this country, the real test will be seen when the government tries to introduce the GST or to take us into the TPPA or when Sarawak or Sabah or both decide to call for a referendum on whether to remain in the Federation. It will be a case of the peoples' representatives voting according to their conscience and political principles. When the time comes and if Dr Mahathir does become a rookie deputy minister again, we will know how he will vote on the question of the TPPA. And when he does, will our three ministers and prime minister deal him a severe rebuke and tell him where to go?

The Way of the NGO Politicians

This is the first rude awakening for Waythamoorthy, who rather naively thought he could reform the BN single handed. Even Gerakan with their many knights of the BN round table ended up being deformed by the BN. We hope he will continue to voice the concerns of all justice-loving Malaysians and follow his conscience…



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