Malaysiakini : “Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought
is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable
habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority,
careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the
pit of hell and is not afraid... Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.” ― Bertrand Russell, Why Men Fight
COMMENT | For the record, when Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad wonders if the Malays can compete
with Chinese nationals, it is complete horse manure. The Chinese
community, foreign or domestic, is always portrayed as the existential
threat to the Malay community.
The reality is that the threat to the Malay community has always been
the foreign nationals from the Indian subcontinent and the purveyors of
Arab culture from the Middle East, who have distorted whatever culture
the community had. If anything, the local Chinese have to recalibrate themselves if they
wish to compete with their brethren from the motherland. If it is
anything like how local Indians have to compete with their countrymen,
then it is us ‘pendatang’ are the ones who have cause to worry.
This bumiputera ecosystem has made us feeble. The cultures that
sustained us all those years, when we built the foundation of this
country, were slowly lost in the delirium of perceived political
emancipation within a rigged game with shifty players. This year, anecdotally speaking, many people – friends, strangers,
those who like what I write, and those who despise what I write – are
telling me that this is the first time they are happily hoisting the
flag for Merdeka.
I understand why some folks would be excited about this year’s
Merdeka celebrations. A new government and the fact that democracy works
in this country is something to be excited about. The younger generation is especially enthusiastic because they had
regime change in their lifetime and it seemed so easy. It is not a
perfect new government, but I understand the sentiment.
Writing about Merdeka during the Umno regime was more often than not
an act of defiance. Before Najib Abdul Razak sent BN to the can and
rejected the old maverick Mahathir’s hand of friendship, when people
supported the old regime and proudly celebrated Merdeka every year,
there was this sense that we were living in a great country.
People may think that strange, but when BN was winning big and folks
were disparaging the opposition, I remember talking to this old DAP hand
– who has since left the political game – and he was wondering, sadly,
if people really cared about this country. I told him that they do, it’s
just that life is good. But sooner or later, things will change. Things
I remember how he and his wife talked about the day when BN would be
denied their two-thirds majority. In those days, that was all the
opposition could hope for. This was way before I started writing. Then
I am not one to buy into the whole revisionist thing going on now.
When Anwar Ibrahim was cast out of the Umno paradise and took to the
streets, something changed. Maybe some readers are too young to
understand this, but there was this sense that something had to give.
Whatever you may think of Anwar now, back in the early days, he was the
first to galvanise the Malay polity, and then the non-Malay community.
It was not because Anwar said the right things and made the requisite
mea culpas that bothered my friends from the Special Branch; it was
that his narrative did not change. They were always trying to trap him –
prove that he was a charlatan; a fake messiah before the idea of fake
news made it impossible to hold a constructive discussion.
I remember when my PAS comrades invited me to their rallies. At
first, I demurred, because back in the day I had written a position
paper that said the next faultline in mainstream Malay politics was the
sundering of the Umno base, which would make May 13 look like a
Christmas party. Never have I been so happy to be so wrong.
I relented, and was soon walking with the rest of the malcontents who
thought that Umno’s time was up. Mind you, in those days, it was a
largely Malay affair. So this idea that the Malays do not understand
what Umno was doing is a sort of politically correct fairy tale that
only took root much later on.
Then the opposition formalised its alliance a couple of times. And
then, of course, Mahathir happened. Bersih took place in the meantime,
and as usual, I found myself walking the streets, collecting anecdotes
and publishing them in Malaysiakini.
As the years dragged on, some of the old-timers were beginning to wonder if change was even possible. My long-time DAP friend, a Chinese educationist by trade and a
patriot by inclination, decided that he had enough, and chose to be just
an ordinary voter. “Do not like the politics, Thaya, but will vote
because there is no choice,” he said, giving in to that terrible,
perhaps false notion of there being no choice.
Sadly, he did not get the chance cast his vote that would see his
beloved, if compromised, opposition take Putrajaya. He passed away a few
months before the crucial vote, still believing that the Malaysia he
loved was worth saving.
Neither would my great friend and moral compass, Bernard Khoo. He
spent his life fighting the right fight – even if he sometimes
vehemently disagreed with my positions – but also passed away before the
polls, still believing that Malaysia was worth saving. Last year, when I wrote
about the forthcoming Merdeka celebrations, I said this – “Perhaps
there is no point celebrating Merdeka or wondering why people have no
desire to hoist the national flag. It is not that we have not achieved
independence. The sad fact is that we have not earned it.”
If we do not speak truth to power, if we make excuses for the
political elite out of partisan fervour, it would have all been for
nothing. If anything, this year’s Merdeka reminds me that we have still
not earned independence.