Two minutes at midnight By Commander (Rtd) S THAYAPARAN Royal Malaysian Navy
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Malaysiakini : “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
- Ralph Ellison, ‘Invisible Man’
COMMENT I have never had much
time for patriotism. It seems to me the people who advocate it
vociferously are the ones who lack any kind of empathy for their fellow
citizens. Around this time, the various media in this country transmit
propaganda messages of how we are all Malaysians and that 'Merdeka' is
the time to remember that.
The Commander in his younger days, the gentleman on the left is Commander (Rtd) Charles Thong (N400201) a senior Naval Officer now residing in Penang
Having said that, I do think that Astro’s ‘Unity Runs in Our Blood’
ad and the #kitasama blood donation drive are something that we should
all get behind. They are clever bits of bridge-building that incorporate
much needed corporate activism and address very serious issues that
could help Malaysians.
I am one of those types who always - always - reads letters or
opinion pieces about what it means to be 'Malaysian'. I always try to
get a sense of what people think it means. Most times, it is about
wanting to be treated the same. Equality before the law. Most often, it
is about how the establishment divides us. I have gone down that route
too; however, I have not drunk the kool aid.
Three years ago in the ‘Naive and sentimental Malaysian patriot’,
I wrote, “Ever since the ascendance of Pakatan Rakyat as a credible
alternative to BN, and the total dominance the alternative alliance has
over the online discourse, dissenting voices have been marginalised or
vilified. From issues such as the Lynas debate and issues of race, both
alliances have sought to control the discourse through hate speech or
through the 1Malaysia or Bangsa Malaysia propaganda. This is something
any right-thinking Malaysian should be cognisant of.”
I do not have a definition of what it means to be 'Malaysian' but I
do know what it means to act like Malaysians. Unfortunately, most often
many of us do not act like Malaysians. Our reactions are based on our
I have always respected the dissidents, the outliers and malcontents
who operate far from the political and social mainstream. I may not
agree with their ideologies but their grassroots level activism and
their attempts to make a better Malaysia is perhaps evidence of what it
means to be Malaysian while being divided along racial, religious and
One of the first interviews I did for Malaysiakini was with PSM’s Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj. His description
of the construction of the Kg Perje bridge with the aid of PAS is an
example of “acting like Malaysians” that I described above.
There is this idea that helping people is some sort of noble
endeavour and that the gratitude of marginalised communities will
sustain one’s efforts. In the interview, Jeyakumar makes it clear that
it is far more complicated than that. He says:
“So, in this game, timing is crucial. Sometimes we have to give them
room to explore the options offered by the other side, and not try to
hold them back by threats or ‘emotional blackmail’. But we must maintain
contact so that we know when there is a need to mobilise them to
protest some blatantly unfair decision of the government.”
But more importantly, he said that racial and religious
“sensitivities” was not a hindrance, only political ones - “All
religions have a ‘socialist’ core. Politics does hinder though.
Sometimes people are afraid to come and participate as they are afraid
that they will be spotted by the BN and then denied the bits of aid that
they are getting.”
That may be true but the sad fact is that religious bigotry does
effect specific communities in ways that go beyond the Muslim/non-Muslim
dialectic that dominates the mainstream and alternative press.
I am always supportive whenever Malaysiakini highlights
marginalised groups like the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender) community. Well, to be clear, a specific class of these
communities where money and position does not shield them from the
excess of the state or mainstream organised religion.
Too often, people who profess grand ideals about goodwill and
equality dismiss groups based on their religious dogma or cultural
norms. These same people will tell you of how oppressed they are in
Malaysia because of the state-sanctioned racism and bigotry.
The reality is that their conception of what it means to be
'Malaysian' does not encompass the diversity that exists within our
society. Things are hidden beneath sub rosa racial, religious or
cultural bigotry that determines the discourse and those who
participates in it.
Responding to activist Pang Kee Teik's letter published in Malaysiakini, I wrote,
“People often ask how they can stem the tide of religious bigotry that
seems pervasive in this country. How can they stem the tide of racial
bigotry that seems so overwhelming?
“My answer is simple, by showing support for causes such as these. By
reminding communities such as these that they are a part of the wider
mainstream polity who believe in equality and justice even at the
expense of their own sometimes prejudiced religious dogma.”
And maybe, that is it. What makes us Malaysian is how we empathise
with our brethren or maybe that is not it at all. Maybe it is pointless
defining what it means to be Malaysian. After all, I know far more
people who do good for their compatriots living the Thomas Paine dictum -
“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good
is my religion” - than many who profess solidarity with the numerous
political parties that infest Malaysia.
As someone reminded me the other day when the discussion moved to our
Merdeka day celebrations, I have written some of the more divisive
pieces about the racial dialectic in this country, not to mention
Christian evangelism, giving prominence to so-called “racist” people
like P Uthayakumar and being “unfair to the DAP”.
I get it. Someone like me who is always talking about race should not
be pontificating on what it means to be Malaysian. No doubt, there are
many others who could articulate the concept better than I could.
The BBC online had this passage on its ‘On This Day’ page about Malaysia’s independence: “Thousands of young members of the Malay, Chinese and Indian parties,
which form the government, stood in darkness for two minutes at
midnight to mark the official handover.”
For many people in Malaysia, those two minutes have stretched to
decades and they are still standing in the darkness while those who
formed the government stepped into the light. The brutal fact is that
Umno cannot be blamed for all of it.
The reality is that we contributed
to the darkness. Maybe being Malaysian means coming to terms with the
fact that we created this country.