by Aerie Rahman
The Malay Mail Online
September 16, 2013
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 — The framers of our Constitution envisaged Malaya as a nation infused with lofty values. They wanted a secular nation with Islamic characteristics. Provisions were made within this sacred document to safeguard individual liberty.
Equality is enshrined but tempered with Article 153 to reflect the social realities of Malaya. However, the original intention was to make this article temporary and subject to review – which was not to be.
These are the fundamental values that Malaya shared with any other progressive nation: liberty, equality and secularism.
The proposal to amalgamate Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak with Malaya to establish Malaysia was made because of liberty. It was a way to hasten independence for Sabah and Sarawak.
Moreover, it was a strategy to stamp out the Communist insurgency – the antithesis of freedom. We knew that under Communist rule, freedom and democracy would be extinguished – the Maoist “Leap” and Stalinist gulags were sufficient evidence to that.
It is not my intention to sanctify the founding members of Malaysia. They are, after all, mere mortals. But these principles that they held dear are principles that I deeply believe in.
After 50 years of Malaysia’s existence, where are we today?
A suffocating miasma
As a nation rich in natural resources, we have utilised huge sums developing our infrastructure. We boast of the once tallest twin towers in the world. We constructed a modern city from scratch, Putrajaya. We’ve managed to attract the Formula One and various international events to this country. The finest things that cash can buy.
Yet, something is missing in the development of this nation. The erosion of the fundamental values that our founding members fought to institute has become this nation’s bane.
This country is devoid of a soul
Religious bigotry is on the rise – who can forget the arson attacks on churches and the defiling of suraus? The tide of extreme reactionary sentiments is peaking, with thugs masked as NGOs scurrilously employing police reports to intimidate dissenters. Protecting sensitivities has become a pretext to curtail liberty. Racial “otherisation” is common with Africans being the latest target.
We are fed with lies. Perfidy is synonymous with the current administration. The Sedition Act was supposed to be abolished, yet it still lives. The ISA was repealed, yet its spirit continues to haunt us in the form of SOSMA.
Freedom is important. From an ontological perspective, autonomy allows people to actualise their “Self.” Since people are different, freedom allows us to find our own way to create our own authenticity and self-worth. This government with its illiberal policies is making us alienated from our “Self.”
When affirmative action becomes perpetuated for such a long time, ethnocentrism becomes institutionalised. Subsequent generations perceive it as a right because they were born into it. Affirmative action continues to be iniquitous – without an end in sight.
It’s the values that defines who we, as a nation, truly are.
Voting with your feet
The consequences of the absence of these values are devastating and debilitating. Malaysia faces a talent haemorrhage. We’re losing our competitiveness. The best and the brightest leave the country to escape this oppressive condition.
For those who are not the best or the brightest or for those who love Malaysia too much – they remain in Malaysia. They become either cynics or stoics or hopeless romantics. For those unaware or who prefer the situation that we are in, well, I envy you.
Journalist Thomas Friedman postulates that there are high imagination-enabling and low imagination-enabling countries. The former creates and enriches the world through innovation, leaving low imagination-enabling countries eating dust. The brain drain is shamefully relegating Malaysia to the latter.
The government is cognisant of the brain drain. They funnel money into Talentcorp. But it’s illusory. Talentcorp is a reactive measure, pulling people back. It is not a preventive measure, ensuring that people don’t have the desire to leave in the first place. Structural problems remain unaddressed. More ringgit wasted down the drain to solve the brain drain.
A leap of faith
Loving Malaysia is like loving a person who doesn’t love you back. No matter how hard you try, she will continue rejecting you. But you continue trying.
I came to England with the hope of furnishing myself with a liberal education. I also wanted to settle down in a liberal democracy. But I feel alienated here. I don’t feel that I belong. Celebrating Hari Raya in London is not the same as in my kampong in Penang. The increasing xenophobia here makes me feel unwanted. The food here is too bland.
Why come back? Entahlah. It’s a geographical accident that I was born Malaysian, I could have been born as a citizen of any another country. Maybe going back to Malaysia has more to do with emotional attachments than rationality.
The Malaysian project is a project that I can call my own. Sure, Western nations have enduring and efficient institutions and have more mature societies. But it isn’t mine and never will be.
Malaysia is supposed to have a significant position in the theatre of world history. I wish to be part of this endeavour to situate Malaysia where she truly belongs.
Call me quixotic. I know that I am
I don’t deny the progress that Malaysia has made. We have a stronger Opposition after GE 12. We have intelligent leaders such as Nurul Izzah, Khairy Jamaluddin and Ong Kian Ming striving for a better Malaysia. The government recognises that we need to become a high income nation.
Nevertheless, when I weigh the evidence, I cannot help but feel negative. My wish of a post-racial society seems like a fantasy – a long walk to a colour-free Malaysia.
Onn Jaafar was different from the rest. He wanted Umno to be open to all races – a dominant post-racial party hopefully leads to a post-racial society. But he was to be disappointed. Onn Jaafar was a man ahead of his time.
Don’t tell me the desire for a secular, liberal, equal and post-racial Malaysia makes one ahead of his time as well.