Building a new ‘We’ for the nation

By M Nadarajah
Jul 16, 11 | MalaysiaKini

Recently, I had to go to IJN to be with my brother-in-law who recently went through open-heart surgery to replace a faulty valve in his heart. He was in ICU.

As my trip was from PJ during peak hours, I had time to chat with the taxi driver – something I normally do with drivers who are friendly and willing to chat.

Most of the time, such conversations lapse into topical political issues, race relations, the economic situation and sometimes, personal challenges.

This time it led to conversation on Bersih and what it stood for. He was completely for it, showing a lot of knowledge about it.

He thought Bersih is for everyone. In fact, he also educated me on the fact that EDSA, the peaceful revolution in Philippines in the late 80s that saw the removal of the Marcos regime, also extensively used the symbolic import of the yellow colour.

So I asked him if he would participate in the event calling for the recognition of the principles for establishing fair and free elections in Malaysia.

He said: “I have a family … I have a sick mother… If I get into trouble, there will be no one to take care of my family … Not even those who I want to support … How can I participate? The only thing I do is pray … Without fail, I pray every day for what Bersih stands for…”

I am not sure how this response will sit with people who demand and pursue the need for everyone to put their signature on petitions or take part in confrontations, for those who say “you are either with us or with them” – people whom they call such Malaysians as scared or cowards.

Nation’s needs, the magnet

But it offered me, through a voice from the ground, another confirmation of ‘Bersih values’ and how far they have reached. It also showed me the many ways citizens are responding to the needs of the nation.

So if on July 9, you did not see your friend or neighbour in the peaceful rally, just entertain the possibility that they were there in spirit.

The support for a free, fair and corruption-free polity is far wide and deep coming for a peaceful rally to, perhaps, be considered a really good indicator. Numbers cannot capture the spirit behind it.

I reached IJN and waited with my family. The visiting period will start in about 15 minutes.

There are people of all races and religions – some praying in their own chosen way, some hoping all will be okay with their relative or friend in ICU. I recognised a wonderful social behaviour at this edge of life and death.

All are concerned with each other, checking out on each other’s relative or friend, one consoling the other, one informing the other of keeping them in their prayers, taking care where necessary – the doctors and nurses make sure that patients of all communities who have had gone through a long and tough operation, strapped to all kinds of sophisticated machines, are brought back to their normal, healthy self without ‘showing face’, without any gesture of disgust or displeasure, an inspiring service orientation.

The relationship among the people, doctors, nurses and patients at the ICU area reflected a Malaysia I always want to see, participate and experience.

Cruelty of outside world

Yet, when I walked away from IJN into supposedly the healthy world out there, it seemed to completely lack that mutual and cohesive spirit of care and concern for each other… the ‘healthy world’ out there is so divisive and ‘sick’ – devoid of a cohesive ‘We’ spirit on critical matters that involve the ‘health’ of the nation and all its citizens.

Over 50 years of independence, and now moving towards the 13th election, our polity is so badly divided we seem to have been unable to get our act together and positively move forward as a national community, with all our differences. It has become an ailment.

If an ailment is not recognised, the body is doomed to pain and eventually demise. That is where the nation is. It is sick and we are refusing to take care of it by coming together, as a cohesive surgical team would, with not only the required competence but also compassion and hope.

The old ‘We’ is so tragically fractured. And within the national consciousness, there is a state of denial of our national ailment which is not beneficial for us now or the well-being of the common future of our children, and theirs. Now there are many fancy and expensive symptomatic treatment of the ailment.

A housewife friend of mine puts it in exasperation, “What is really wrong about Bersih’s appeal. It is good for all, isn’t it? It is a cure, isn’t it?”

And the conversations, casual and involved, with other ordinary citizens suggest that we should all celebrate the call for of our polity, not go on the path to further hurt ourselves with roadblocks, checking, interrogation, legal actions, victimisation, arrests and incarceration, creating frightening scars on the national body and soul that history will judge us for…and ask the question ‘Was this the Malaysian way?’ It is unbearable, meaningless self-flagellation not preventive action.

Another more analytical conversation covered the following: “Is the government upset with the principles Bersih stands for or with Bersih itself as a political initiative or the way it wants to express those principles to the world?

Principles vs Malaysian way

“Looks like it is upset with it as a political initiative since the party representing the government see and demonise it as an opposition ploy not the voice of substantial number of citizens. They seem to be also upset with the way it is expressed, claiming that it is not ‘the Malaysian way’.

“Very difficult to define the Malaysian way in our complex political culture, seems more like a convenient ploy.

“Actually they should come out strongly in support of the principles and show to an objectively chosen independent body that they are actually addressing those principles in terms of institutional changes.

” But frankly, I do not see any sincerity or seriousness about the principles first. And it is perhaps this that is really causing the whole problem.

“Eventually these concerns should be the government’s not Bersih’s or the 60 odd organisations that support it.

“Our government should stand above parties for them, practice them and endear itself to all citizens. We can then nationally celebrate those principles anywhere… even in the Merdeka stadium!”

But that is not happening, so we badly need a therapeutic intervention. Bersih is certainly an attempt to cure and to help rebuild the country’s polity and re-form a new ‘We’ that the nation so badly needs – an honest, transparent and unifying We.

Bersih is really a platform to create the basis of a new “We” the nation is desperately looking for.

A new “We” based on the simple principles of transparency and honesty, particularly for organising and managing our public life. That must mean something if we are a nation of God-fearing people.

These principles – expressed through clean the electoral roll, reform postal ballot, use of indelible ink, minimum 21 days campaign period, free and fair access to media, strengthening of public institutions, stopping of corruption and stopping of dirty politics – are meant for all citizens, and certainly go beyond sectarian or party political selfish and myopic interests, beyond race, religious, class and gender.

Neglected side of political power

As I overheard in a restaurant, it is not so much about capturing power as much as it is for practicing power, responsibly and accountably.

It is also certainly for building a multi-cultural sustainable democracy for institutionally sustaining the new We. It must be in the interest of any government to see the value in the principles promoted by Bersih.

In corporate culture, it is about re-branding Malaysia, reducing political risks from pervasive, systemic and chronic conflict areas, building a stable environment of peace and trust thus reducing transaction risks and enhancing business performance.

Certainly, it must be in the interest of the government. So what would have gone peacefully and without much international media attention, what would have given KL huge economic benefits, and what would have improved people’s perception of the government, finally became highly visible social, political and media event and very negatively-charged.

So while we now debate the victory, success, or failure of the July 9 peaceful protest, which is rather perspectival, it is imperative we do not lose sight of the principles and the essential values they are based on.

Only if we feel oriented this way can be move towards healing a nation that is getting sick day by day with the old “We”.

We need a new lived unity to animate the heart of the nation. And we need it now… expressed through inclusive and compassionate symbolic, legal and institutional realities.

Walls must come down and bridges must be built. That will be our moral and political victory. And it should belong to all of us…

My family and I go to a temple to pray for my brother-in-law’s quick recovery and well-being.

It is customary for Hindus to wash and clean their feet, their hands and face before entering the sacred space of the temple. As I go through the process, all I could think was “bersih”. Isn’t it after all the precondition to enter any sacred space, including our nation… together?

  1. #1 by monsterball on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 4:31 pm

    In a nutshell….Malaysians are getting smarter and unselfish.
    They think of the country and people.
    Only rural folks ….especially Muslims have yet to understand and change.
    However their children…coming to cities for jobs are learning fast…so much scares the daylight of those thieves and robbers…….knowing heir day are numbered…turned crackos and now applying provocations to the fullest…asking for trouble..for reasons to create fears.
    Stay COOL and the crackos will turn coocoos or planning to run away…like all thieves do.

  2. #2 by dagen on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 5:56 pm

    Oh yeah, the recent bersih rally is definitely the talk of town today and for a long long time to come. Not a single person I hv spoken to on the subject raise any objection or negative view on the rally. Everyone, friends and strangers alike, were pleased that 50,000 people from all over the country have successfully gathered and spoken in one collective voice “we want bersih”. The lock-down and the police brutality, far from striking fear in them, turned their efforts into an enormous success which was a great deal more satisfying for them. Umno forgot that we are in the era of reality tv show.

  3. #3 by for my country1 on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 6:37 pm

    Bersih values are never wrong.

  4. #4 by tak tahan on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 9:44 pm

    Even the bugger seller in the early twenties knows so much of the Bersih value,talked more than otherwise i expected to lecture him instead.I am getting prouder each day seeing Malaysians are getting smarter and further from cintanegara and the likes.Younger people are no longer that naive and easily been cowed.Wake up asshole->BN

  5. #5 by Not spoon fed on Saturday, 16 July 2011 - 10:21 pm

    I did not join the rally and could not join. But in my spirit and heart : the present government is so afraid of this Bersih movement.

    In my heart, this country must be get out of corruption because corruption cause Malaysians poor spiritually and financially. As reported by Transapency International:

    How does corruption affect people’s lives?
    Around the globe, corruption impacts people’s lives in a multitude of ways. In the worst cases, corruption costs lives. In countless other cases, it costs their freedom, health, or money. It has dire global consequences, trapping millions in poverty and misery, while breeding social, economic and political unrest. Corruption is both a CAUSE of poverty, and a barrier to overcoming it.

    Why Malaysians should be poorer than the citizens of Brunei and Singapore.

    Why should our Ringgit is lower value than dollar of Brunei and Singapore?

    Where are all those money gone! All gone to the pockets of BN’s cronies like Taib, Toyo, etc.

  6. #6 by k1980 on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 8:05 am

    In London, no tear gassing, no baton-bashing or kicks from the British police. But Malaysian secret service people were there, frantically taking photos of the crowd with the doubtless intention of finding out as much about the Malaysian nationals there and later making their lives as difficult as they could. How many govt scholarship holders will wake up tomorrow to find that their scholarships have been withdrawn courtesy of jibby?

  7. #7 by Cinapek on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 8:40 am

    The old missus is so politically ignorant, she has trouble differentiating between PR and PKR.

    When the Bersih issue started I had to explain to her what it is all about and how it is not a political issue but rather a simple citizens’ demand for free and fair elections. She could buy that easily. Then she started noticing the Govt.’s belligerent opposition to this matter and in her own simple way started questioning why should the Govt behave this way to a simple and fair request? She also noted the increasingly bizarre decisions made daily to ban yellow T shirts, labelled protesters as waging war on the Agong, calling them communists and finally the arrests and detentions.

    The final straw was the police crackdown. I was surprised that she was so upset by what she saw and read that she actually swore at the police!! Can you imagine an old lady using expletives?!! Luckily the kids are all grown and have left home. Otherwise I wonder what they would have thought of their gentle mum using such language.

    The point here is this. The way the issue has been handled by the Govt. is so clearly laced with bad intentions that even a “silent majority” that hitherto has been apathetic to such issues can now see through the Govt’s bad intentions and are angry at the Govt. Where I have not been sure who she voted for in past elections, now I am sure in her own small way, she will be voting against BN come the next GE. And she will be talking to her regular yoga group aunties to do likewise. And they will spread the message.

    Good luck BN.

  8. #8 by boh-liao on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 10:07 am

    We hv great n intelligent ppl in M’sia but our full potentials hv never been used fullest
    Our ppl r actually color blind n happily mix n work with each other
    However, UmnoB/BN r dead scared of dis 4 they know dat they can only rule n hold on 2 power through DIVIDE n RULE
    Hence, UmnoB/BN always use scare n oppressive tactics 2 block changes
    If all rakyat r properly educated, appreciate real history, understand meritocracy while helping d less fortunate 2 improve, reject race-based politics, denounce incompetency n corruption, then UmnoB/BN n Perkosa hv no place in M’sia
    Dis is Y as long as UmnoB/BN rule M’sia, rakyat n M’sia will continue 2 suffer n deteriorate

    We must work harder 2 educate rakyat 2 REJECT UmnoB/BN
    VOTE PR 2 give M’sia a chance 2 improve
    Rakyat can always kick PR OUT if PR were as corrupt as UmnoB/BN

  9. #9 by Joshua on Monday, 18 July 2011 - 6:16 am

    while some say we have monkeys and orang utan in what we call Putrajaya, and how can we deal with them?

    Even monkeys and orang utan in the forests are more disciplined lot..

    What can you expect from the illegal leaders telling the ‘illegal’ Police force also infiltrated with illegals?

    there maybe some good cops around and largely like the action of the herd mentality..sorry to say that..

    If someone is bad… then cerita habis bah.

    I myself had experienced the ‘brutality’ of some Police Officers.

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