Dilemmas of a young Malaysian abroad

by Alea Nasihin (loyarburok.com)
The Malaysian Insider
February 24, 2011

FEB 24 — When I first stepped off the plane in Heathrow Airport three years ago, I was your average idealistic 19-year-old who thought she knew everything, and who thought she had it all planned out.

I was going to come to the UK, finish up my law degree and go home to Malaysia and single-handedly change the system. Everyone else who had trodden this path before me and failed just hadn’t tried hard enough. Everyone who went abroad and never came back were cowards who didn’t love their country.

Now, three years on, as I face my imminent graduation and the prospects of returning home for good, I find myself questioning the very beliefs I once held so dear.

It’s hard to leave the fact that I can walk a mile to class everyday and not fear for the safety of my handbag (or my lungs). It’s hard to leave the fact that I can discuss religion and race openly without getting accused of being an “infidel” or “ungrateful.”

It’s hard to leave the way I am allowed to think and question and express and explore for myself, and where my views are respected. It’s hard to leave when, here, youths are given a voice and never patronised, and nobody says “because I said so.”

It’s hard to leave the fact that I can walk down the street wearing anything I want and nobody will give me odd looks or whisper behind my back, or even force me to “cover up.”

It’s hard to leave the fact that throughout my three years here I managed to immerse myself in student activism and politics and went on protests and demos and nobody bat an eyelid.

It’s hard to leave the fact that whilst, yes, racism does exist everywhere, at least here it is not institutionalised and ingrained and incited by the system.

And as I sit in my little student room in Nottingham and read about the latest Federal Court hearing or by-election outcome, or the latest racial slur by a politician, or the latest “religious” festival that has been banned, I think to myself: Why should I go back? What’s in it for me back home? Why should I go home and try to fight for something that is obviously only going downhill? What role is there for a young law graduate whose interests lie in Human Rights and International Law — human rights, international law, Malaysia, are you kidding me?

And even if I did eventually go back, I realise it is surprisingly easy to not care and to get sucked into your own little material world with your own little problems. I came home for the summer with the full intention of getting into the thick of things and ended up spending most of my time drinking overpriced coffee in Bangsar, listening to my friends talk about internships in large law firms and financial powerhouses.

Maybe I could get used to this life after all — it’s nice and cushy and there are yummy cocktails involved. What happened the last time I went for a demonstration of any kind in Malaysia? Oh policemen with riot shields chased me and the FRU trucks blocked my way home. I think I’ll take the cocktails, thanks.

In short, I had become the person I despised, without even realising it.

My wakeup call came in the form of the Al-jazeera YouTube channel on February 10. Watching Hosni Mubarak’s speech, and watching the energy in Tahrir Square, something in me snapped and I realised that maybe we could do it too.

Sure, we had a few teething problems to address — like perhaps having a single united movement with the same aim in mind, but yeah, teething problems — but it wasn’t impossible. It could be in a few months, or a few years, or even a few decades, but there was hope at the end of the tunnel, and maybe at that time it’ll be our turn to scream and cheer in our very own Liberation Square as we finally realise that the country does, indeed, belong to the people. And I realised, it will kill me if I wasn’t a part of that.

There is a line from Yasmin Ahmad’s Gubra that I’ll always remember: “Sometimes, it’s like loving someone who doesn’t love you back,” Orked says of Malaysia. And it’s true, sometimes it feels like we’re all alone, fighting and struggling for something that doesn’t even want to be fought for.

Most of the time, there are a lot of easier options, like for me to just stay on in the UK and be perfectly content here. But I guess it’s like a long distance relationship, where you need to keep putting in the effort, and you need to keep trying, and at the end of the day you need to go back to the person you love.

We have a long, long road ahead of us. There won’t be any change (much less a full-fledged revolution) in Malaysia until we get our act together, until the people can come together and decide what it is that they want.

We need to wipe out apathy amongst the youths, and educate and entire country about their rights and their choices. But amidst the darkness some people have lit their candles and they shine brighter than ever — the recent solidarity movement amongst students, the outpouring of protests against the PPPA and the building of the mega-tower, the fight of the indigenous people.

What these tell us is that we need to be patient and keep fighting the good fight and don’t ever give up.

What it tells me is that I need to regain my passion and hope and idealism, and get my ass back home (and overpriced cocktails in moderation). — loyarburok.com

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 4:42 am

    ///There is a line from Yasmin Ahmad’s Gubra that I’ll always remember:
    “Sometimes, it’s like loving someone who doesn’t love you back,” Orked says of Malaysia. And it’s true, sometimes it feels like we’re all alone, fighting and struggling for something that doesn’t even want to be fought for./// – Alea Nasihin

    This sounds like an unrequited love. The conventional precription & wisdom of what to do when you love someone who treats you bad, is that you, summon self respect, believe in your self worth, move on, and learn to love another who reciprocates, as you deserve.

    I suppose if your country treats you bad you can equally move on ie migrate to one that treats you better as you deserve, as many have done.

    However this love for a person unrequited is of limited application s analogy to “love” for country. It is hard to pin point what’s love for the country, and what aspects this “love” encompasses. Is it love for its climate, soil, food, culture – or people ie countrymen?

    For the country have all kinds of people & countrymen. Not only diverse race culture & religion – that’s first problem, but also diversity in terms of firstly, those who have political; power and rule, and those helpless ruled. Then amongst those ruled there are those who support those rulers and those who don’t; people who support their own ethnic religious & cultural group and care little for other country men outside and those who care for all countrymen’s common liberty, rights and dignity. If the latter group are fewer than the first mentioned group who support by their votes (say) a mob, what do you do? Surrender & give up based on might greater than right?

    You ask, “What role is there for a young law graduate whose interests lie in Human Rights and International Law — human rights, international law, Malaysia, are you kidding me?” I suppose on this dilemma, there’s an argument for an expert in these like you to stay to fight. It’s needed here precisely because human rights at least are not that respected here. What bring it by migration to a country that respects plenty of human rights when such expertise is not needed there as much as (comparatively) here due to the lack thereof at least or the minority??? What do you think Alea Nasihin?

    • #2 by cemerlang on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 10:51 pm

      Malaysia does not treat me bad. Not all the ones in the government from both the BN and PKR treat me bad. But there are those rotten apples who are so happy making your life hell because they are after benefits themselves. Whether it is the government or your own parents who send you out from Malaysia to get an education, what they hope is you will acquire something very different. Now that you have acquired something very different, time will tell when you will use what you have acquired. It is stupid sending someone out but in the end has no benefits from him. It will be a waste of money and time.

  2. #3 by dagen on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 8:39 am

    Stay on. Easy. Forget malaysia. We understand. We do. Really.

  3. #4 by yhsiew on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 9:43 am

    Fight the good fight for democracy. It is well worth it in the end.

  4. #5 by Taikohtai on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 10:39 am

    The good fight can be fought from anywhere. It can be fought in Malaysia or it can be from from overseas, eg RPK in England and visiting other countries as well. But most importantly, the good fight must be fought in the mind and the heart.

  5. #6 by pulau_sibu on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 10:40 am

    The young people in Malaysia are suddenly behind those in the streets of Tunia, Egypt and Libya. I should say it is even worst for those in Sarawak…we are sorry. we have no gut compared to the poorest people on earth.

    • #7 by cemerlang on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 10:42 pm

      The Dayaks were once the most feared tribe. They still have the guts but these days, they cannot fight with the parang alone. They have to fight with money and knowledge and realizing that they have to fight. If they are contented with RM 50 once in every two to five years, tuak and merry making, then so sorry, nobody can help them. They have to help themselves too together with the help from others.

  6. #8 by sotong on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 10:53 am

    You cannot fight a repressive regime from within only.

  7. #9 by -e- on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 4:45 pm

    long story short, please come back to vote.

  8. #10 by Dipoh Bous on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 7:18 pm

    Do you think the present regime gives a damn whether you (the ‘open-eyed’ ones) want to come back to this country or not when in Egypt alone there are more than 10 thousand Malaysians pursuing their education? Most of them are sponsored ones ! I wonder how many thousands more such students are being sponsored in other “well-known” universities else where.

    Upon graduation (?), these are the people who would (esp. after attending certain courses) blindly support the present regime !

    So, we have only one choice left : get rid of BN come GE13.

    • #11 by cemerlang on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 10:38 pm

      Not all will give a damn. But some will care enough. Sponsored or none sponsored, nobody is willing to be led by the blind because nobody wants to fall into the mighty South China Sea without any good reason. Even the sponsored ones are exposed to thoughts, to ideas, to views that are different. Even the ones in the local universities are exposed by the internet, by their own discussions.

  9. #12 by HJ Angus on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 9:49 pm

    It is good that your time in the UK has matured you somewhat to see what has gone wrong in Malaysia.
    My advice to you especially if you were sent on a scholarship is to return and serve your bond, if any. You can also spend the time back in Malaysia to help the taxpayers who helped to sponsor your time overseas.
    Simply deserting your nation in its time of urgent need is a copout.
    Myabe I am old-fashioned but I returned to serve a private company for 5 years after the scholarship.

  10. #13 by raven77 on Sunday, 27 February 2011 - 12:50 am

    Dont come back…..start an anti BN radio station instead…..you will be helping in your own way…

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