“The first ten million years were the worst,” said Marvin, “and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.”
Marvin, the paranoid android in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Scrolling through the various social media platforms, in particular Facebook and Twitter, Walski has observed a heightened level of despondency in today’s Malaysia.
And this feeling seems rooted in two areas: politics and religion. Also economics, but in Walski’s opinion the root cause in politics. More specifically, the obsession among our politicians to further politics over policy.
If once upon a time there was a push for Malaysia, Inc., the reality we’ve arrived at today is Despondency, Inc. And it honestly doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better anytime soon.
What the Malaysia, Inc. initiative – basically a situation of cooperation between public and private sectors for the advancement of the nation – turned out to become consolidation of wealth for the oligarchs in this country, and the creation of a GLC-controlled economy.
The 1980/90 period saw the start of a quasi-Thatcheresque privatization of government services, but with the government still very much involved in business. It was those with ties to the parties within government that benefited most (and continue to).
The other side effect of mega GLCs: crowding out of the market, creating barriers for ground-up businesses to flourish, and because of lopsided “policies” (to use the term loosely), those that really wanted to grow could only do so by relocating elsewhere. The most recent case: Grab, that relocated down south and is now a Singapore-based company.
The complete answer, like all answers to simple question, is undoubtedly complex, and would require several posts to answer in sufficient detail. But for Walski, the bottom line is three things: lack of vision, lack of agile policy, and the fact Malaysia continues to be mired in identity politics.
And all three, at the end of the day, boils down to politics.
Perhaps an oversimplification and pretty crude, but it wouldn’t be unfathomable if one of the root-cause factors leading to Grab’s relocation is that the owners are of the “wrong demographic“.
Closely tied to the quagmire of Malaysian politics is religion, a source of political power for the major players in our political environment, which by and large still believes religious/ethnocentric concerns are the key priority. In the meantime, the rest of the world moves according to REALITY. Even those political parties whose existence isn’t grounded in this antiquated notion ultimately get dragged down into the bottomless shithole pit.
Because if they don’t play ball, the big political players and their legion of fucked up retard minions will start their campaign of mudslinging. Islam Über Alles… that sort of thing. Fascist? You betcha!
Today, race and religion have become all too intertwined. Religion has become the new “race”, and religion has become a blunt tool to exert perceived social and moral superiority. It’s a convenient tool to demand compliance of those with the audacity to think rationally and question when there’s a need to.
And if all else fails, invoke Article 3 of the Federal Constitution, regardless of how irrelevant it is to the argument. Or police reports, the favorite pastime of these mofo minions.
Religious authorities are regarded as sacrosanct, beyond reproach, and any criticism will be met with vociferous ire and blood-curdling threats of retaliation. Regardless of the sometimes overreaching and unreasonable these so-called religious institutions have become, these are the new sacred cows that can never be questioned. And who comes to the rescue when there is valid criticism voiced out?
The same damned mudslingers, and other minions of the countless religious NGOs that have mushroomed over the last decade, like fauna on fresh rain-watered dung. If there is one thing that will sink this nation down to the deepest pits of Hell on Earth, it will be our increasingly incessant obsession with invoking religion at every damned turn, and forcing it to be relevant over the most minute of concerns.
So if you wonder why Walski senses great despondency within the social media sphere, these are the two root-cause reasons. From his perspective, and his alone, naturally. And yes, he too is despondent. Very much so.
Oh, and by the way, Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.
For all it’s worth…
The feature image used for this post is a screenshot from a video short called Suicidal Clown, via Alexandru Cotoc on YouTube (full image below).
The title pretty much describes what Walski thinks about Malaysia today: idiotically clownish, and just waiting to implode and self-destruct. But hey, as long as we’re “moral” and performatively pious, right?
Walski’s Note: While this is the second contribution by Mikhail Hafiz (follow him at @IMMikhailHafiz on Twitter) as guest writer, the article was his first for his ongoing Twitter-based Rediscovering Malaysia series of writings (and who knows, eventually a book?). It was published in two parts, but as the article isn’t exceedingly long, Walski has republished it here in a single post (you may find the original postings here: Part I & Part II). As Walski considers this young man one of the more noteworthy individuals he’s had the privilege to get to know on Twitter, for his eloquent delivery of ideas for the betterment of Malaysia, Walski considers it important that more folks get to read Mikhail’s writing in a more flow-friendly, longform format. And Walski is more than honored that Mikhail has consented for myAsylum to host this essay, as a guest writer. Kindly note that Mikhail’s preferred mode of English spelling is the British/UK variety, and as such this has been retained.
[Standfirst: From a personal perspective, education endows us with the ability to distinguish true from false, and right from wrong, thus facilitating the decision making process.]
Reflecting on the current state of political affairs both locally and abroad, I am reminded of the following quote by Hannah Arendt, one of the most important political thinkers of the 20th century, from her seminal 1951 magnum opus ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism‘:
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie, the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
These words are as prescient, potent, pertinent and profound today as they were sixty years ago, when the world struggled to rebuild itself, in the aftermath of the destruction, damage and despair of catastrophic proportions inflicted by Adolf Hitler, as a consequence of his notoriously unhinged megalomaniac aspirations and demented obsession with ethnocentric tribalism, which, unfortunately and tragically, found a receptive and enthusiastic audience in a weary and despondent German population.
As de facto power holders in a Westminster political system, we must remain vigilant against any attempts to pervert the course of our parliamentary democracy, by ensuring that the twin pillars of the rule of law and constitutional supremacy continue to be upheld at all times.
We can also make every effort to ascertain the veracity of the information we acquire and receive, to ensure that we do not inadvertently mislead, misguide or misinform ourselves and others.
The following informal rule of thumb, which counsels caution and circumspection in the absence of certainty or the lack of opportunity to seek confirmation, can be applied to most pragmatic issues: “If in doubt, do without.“
Over the last two decades, exponential advances in electronic innovations and end user software have brought citizens of the world much closer than could have ever been previously imagined. This globalisation of interaction and socialisation, which has in turn enhanced the democratisation of communication and knowledge, has been powered by the advent and proliferation of international social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
As we become increasingly connected, perhaps it would not hurt for us to inculcate [cultivate] an appreciation for education, and to foster a healthy respect for knowledge,in terms of its inherent value and the power of discernment conferred upon its possessor.
Once considered the exclusive, upper class privilege of the political, social and financial elite, education can be regarded as a modem day necessity, with many entry level jobs now requiring some form of academic or vocational qualification.
Not only does quality education serve as an effective antidote against authoritarianism, it also galvanises social mobility in post-colonial and post-feudal societies, and plays a pivotal role in nation building and conflict management.
In the context of personal development, “education” can be defined as the acquisition of cognitive, analytical, problem solving and communicative skills that enables an individual to exercise independent, informed, logical and rational thinking and judgement.
Rote learning, and subsequent regurgitation, without the ability or opportunity to deconstruct, analyse and verify what is being taught, is not education.
It is indoctrination.
Knowledge facilitates discernment, which in turn leads to intellectual enlightenment.
An educated citizenry is a discerning citizenry, one that possesses the ability to detect any attempts to rend the seams of what Arendt describes as the “fabric of factuality”.
There also appears to be a negative correlation between this “drill-and-practice” type of learning and its intended impact, as reflected in the timeless words of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato:
“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”
[NOTE: in Part II of this article, I shift the focus of discussion to a macro level, where I contend that education can be employed as an effective tool to attain peaceful co-existence in both the communal and global spheres.]
This aphorism acquires an added patina of resonance if we subscribe to the belief that, in a wider, philosophical context, education is, essentially, the process of discovery; not only of ourselves, but also of others, and of the environment in which we exist as well.
It is only when we understand ourselves, are we able to relate to others, and can subsequently come to a consensus on the terms in which to co-exist peacefully, that the substantive opportunity to reduce and eventually minimise the possibility of conflict emerges.
What better way to achieve peaceful coexistence, then, than through the employment of the varifocal tool that is education?
In an utopian environment, the ne plus ultra of a quality education is the emergence of a society that is firmly grounded in the culture of critical consciousness.
Ideally, this collective consciousness is one that focuses on achieving an in-depth understanding of the world, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions.
Unfortunately, existing reality still has a long way to go in measuring up to such lofty aspirations. Ironically and paradoxically, the situation may even prove to be regressive for some individuals, especially those who react indifferently or adversely to knowledge.
It is also not uncommon to discover that their sedate slide down the slippery slope of cognitive dissonance can suddenly accelerate into a free fall down the black hole of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
As such, it is imperative that we adopt a holistic approach to education, in order to propagate, normalise and perpetuate honest, meaningful and respectful discourse, since differences in opinion are bound to exist between conflicting parties in any dialogue or debate.
As a person who fully embraces the English poet and scholar John Donne’s (1572-1631) trenchant observation that “no man is an island”, I will always advocate that we build bridges that facilitate understanding and inclusiveness, instead of erecting walls that only serve to heighten prejudice and suspicion.
It has been postulated that, from an intellectual viewpoint, the world is inhabited by humans who can generally be categorised under one of two diametrically opposing groups – “mirrors” and “windows” – with education being identified as the crucial, transformative link.
Indeed, there are intellectuals, such as the American journalist Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986), who assert that the existential purpose of education is to transform reflective “mirrors” into illuminating “windows”.
And so, the question posed to every individual, in considering the dual roles of education as discussed in this article, can be phrased as a choice between two antithetical and competing options:
Are we content to remain “mirrors” that are limited to reflecting the thoughts and opinions of others, and the moods and emotions of the times?
Or should we aspire to be “windows” that can bring light to bear in dark corners where troubles fester, in our efforts to illuminate, irradiate and illumine, and thus bring clarity and insight to all that is unknown or unclear?
After all, we only fear what we do not understand.
Perhaps the solution to this conundrum lies, somewhat serendipitously and encouragingly, in the succinct yet inspirational words of one Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948):
The result was not at all surprising, with NOBODY answering Yes. The two other choices were a straight NO (43.75%), and Yes, but not in the way that makes any sense (56.25%). So basically, by any normal or sensible definition, there is no freedom of religion in Malaysia.
You see, in a country where common sense isn’t the rare commodity such as in Malaysia, if freedom of religion is a fundamental right of everyone (citizen or otherwise) accorded by none other than the country’s Constitution, it means that the decision of what flavor faith an individual chooses, is entirely up to that individual.
Malaysia’s Federal Constitution addresses this in Article 11, whose first clause reads:
(1) Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.
Clause (4), which is a qualifier, states: State law and in respect of the Federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and putrajaya, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.
So basically, the very article that grants an individual the right to conscienably believe in a religion of their choosing, but states that the right to propagate has limits.
Note the wording: Every person.
The reality, however, is that Article 11 (1) is, in practice, a sad myth. At least for the 60% and change who identify with Islam, whether by choice or by birth. Because it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE for a Muslim to change their faith. Maybe those who converted to Islam because they wanted to marry a Muslim, but later divorced. MAYBE.
A lawyer friend, Fahri Azzat, recently wrote at length about this. You can read the discourse on said friend’s blog, as Walski doesn’t think it necessary to replicate what the friend’s written (plus Fahri is certainly more learned a gentleman on this matter).
But even a Muslim cannot practice their faith according to how they see fit, according to which school of thought resonates best with them, without running the risk of persecution by the religious authorities. Ironically, authorities that are salaried by taxpayers. So as a Muslim who pays tax, part of that tax goes to ensure his freedom to believe is non-existent. Comical, no?
Freedom of speech? Yes, to some extent, but NO guarantee of Freedom After Speech. Especially if one is not high enough up the social food chain. Malaysia is, after all, a feudal society that’s in denial it’s a feudal society. That said, there seems to be a lot more freedom to criticize politicians and national leaders these days. Especially since today’s leadersheep aren’t the sharpest tacks in the stationery shop.
Freedom of association? Allowed, but under everybody’s microscope, which in this day and age of hyper-intolerance for any opinion that doesn’t jive with one’s own, and cancel culture to boot, makes publicly declaring one’s association an act that is equal in difficulty to walking on eggshells.
A couple of days back, our PM (well, hardly PM, more like Noon, at best), claimed that Malaysia’s drop in the International Corruption Perception index is not because of corruption, per se, but because Malaysia’s “values are different”, for instance, when it comes to Human Rights.
Two completely different indices with different metrics, but that’s the genius of Ismail Sabri Yaakob – idiocy must never be derailed by facts. Or, for that matter, reality.
This was said in Parliament, no less. It’s no secret that Malaysia only makes noise about human rights abuses when it concerns OTHER humans, but not those in Malaysia. Because in Malaysia freedom is officially viewed as a bad thing. A free people means that incompetent dingbats in office might not last, and that’s a bad thing. Especially for the incompetent dingbats.
But the fact that Malaysia is being run – into the ground – by a bunch of inglorious bastard dingbats is a discussion we’ll save for another day.
So, in closing, Walski would like to ask these questions:
Do YOU think, as a Malaysian, you enjoy the freedoms you deserve? And exactly what are those freedoms do think you actually enjoy?
Would Malaysia be a better place if we were truly free?
It’s funny, but one of the meanings of the word merdeka is freedom. Instead, we’ve been conditioned to be fixated on its other meaning, independence. Ever thought about that?
(Hey god) can this world really be as sad as it seems?
Trent Reznor, “Terrible Lie” (1989) – from ‘Pretty Hate Machine’
If Malaysia is good at one thing, it’s grandiose programs and schemes announced with superfluous fanfare and pomp, but without much substance to make them really worthwhile. And we have a stellar track record for it.
Take 1Malaysia(via Wikipedia), for example. While the idea behind it – creating a more cohesive Malaysia across cultural and religious divides – wasn’t new, not many trusted the sincerity of the campaign. The idea of a unified Malaysia across divides is, of course, something that terrified the general UMNO body politic, as well as other conservative race/religion-driven NGOs. Through various water-down maneuvers and what not, the campaign became diluted, and in the end, became 1Big Joke.
Making it worse were the multitude of services and products riding on the 1Malaysia branding, which ended up either not delivering as promised, duplications of what’s already available, or downright ineffective – Klinik 1Malaysia, KR1M (Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia), and of course, the granddaddy of mega scandals, 1MDB.
And before 1Malaysia we had Vision 2020(via Wikipedia), which also died in the most unglorified of ways, simply because the race/religious supremacists that hold the reins of power in this country didn’t have enough IQ to even consider having that conversation. The same demographic of fucktards, by the way, who helped make 1Malaysia a stillborn joke. Najib Razak took it to a different statospheric level with 1MDB, but that’s another story.
And so now we have yet another national catchphrase – Keluarga Malaysia. Or, Malaysian Family. Which to Walski is much worse than Vision 2020 or 1Malaysia because it literally is built on a lie. Because to claim all Malaysians belong to a family necessitates that all Malaysians are equal. And any fool knows that’s furthest away from reality.
At best Keluarga Malaysia is a very dysfunctional kind of family, one in which favoritism is rife, where some children are more important than others, and where the favorite children get whatever whim they demand, at the detriment of their siblings (whom they loathe to begin with). Don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like any family Walski would want to have anything to do with.
So what kind of fucked up family are we promoting? Seriously. Keluarga Malaysia has thus far been seen more as yet another catalyst for us to Keluar Malaysia (i.e., LEAVE). Because the reality is that the current government-nobody-voted-for-and-no-one-wants is controlled by those whose agendas are race/religious supremacy over any semblance of true unity.
One just need look at how the rickety overstuffed cabinet is constructed; mostly older males from ONE demographic: Malay/Muslim. Plus the minimum number of token MIC & MCA errand boys, for the sake of appearances.
Keluarga Malaysia is yet another public-funded campaign that will amount to nought. It will fail the same way 1Malaysia failed, and for pretty much the same reason – the ethno-religious bigots that holds the government in sway.
The only way Keluarga Malaysia could possibly succeed (assuming it’s sincere to begin with) is if there is political will to ensure all Malaysians are equal before the law, the constitution, and national policymaking. And you’d have to be a complete moron to believe that this could ever happen with the current lineup of so-called leaders in our rickety cabinet.
Instead, it’s the same-old, same-old UMNO trying to reassert what it believes to be its birthright – to lord over Malaysia. And don’t be fooled by the so-called Ummah-centric Muafakat Nasional. It’s more political power shadowplay than anything else, to pull wool over the eyes of overzealous sycophants who think the universe revolves around them, and them alone. In reality, it’s three groups of conservative ethno/religio-nationalists vying for the ultimate prize. They’re both friendly AND constantly backstabbing each other, often in the same breath. Pretty surreal, actually. In a very farcical way.
Add to the mix are other Islamists, such as ISMA, PPIM, et al, whose role is pouring fuel into the already volatile mix in hopes to profit from the fire sale. As things stand there is one and only one outcome Walski sees for the nation: WE’RE FUCKED. Thoroughly.
So yeah, take your Keluarga Malaysia and kindly shove it where the sun don’t shine, because Walski ain’t buying your blatant lies. Instead, what he’d recommend is to join the “movement” writer-extraordinaire and Twitter friend @amirhimself has come up with: the FleeMasons. The objective? FLEE! FLEE! FLEE! Get the hell outta Malaysia if you can, while you can…
Seriously, the more Walski thinks about it, the more he’s convinced that there’s little left that the common people like us can do to save this nation. She’s become damaged, almost to point of no repair.
Democracy? Well, for the moment democracy is pretty much dead in Malaysia. How could it not be when a democratically elected government can easily be swept aside by unscrupulous scumbag politicians all-too eager to subvert and betray their coalition partners to claim the prize of wielding power for themselves.
Well, some of those traitors have themselves been given the boot, while the other traitors remain in Cabinet. PPBM, the main orchestrator of the deceitful Sheraton coup, are today fighting for their political survival against their then silent partners in crime, UMNO and PAS. Serve PPBM right for now experiencing firsthand what betrayal tastes like.
And that leaves us ordinary Malaysians with what to look forward to, exactly? Not much, as long as UMNO is in power. Because power is what that supremacist party craves, and once it’s gotten it, craves for more. And more after that.
Any party that has the audacity to contribute to the formulating of a national campaign based on a lie is not a party that only has one entity at heart – themselves.
And what of Pakatan Harapan, MUDA, and other aspiring political groupings? Pakatan Harapan (PH) has issues of their own to resolve, coupled with the non-stop barrage of political mudslinging and character assassination attempts. And their performance in both the Melaka and Sarawak state elections leave much to be desired. MUDA is still, well, too muda… but that said they are beginning to gain traction. Then you have Warisan, recently entering the Peninsular political fray expanding out of their home state of Sabah; again, early days but like MUDA are gaining some high profile traction(via The Edge Markets).
Keluarga Malaysia thus far has been not much more than sloganeering. Sure, there’ll be branded products and service to come, for sure. But the real powers that be – the Ketuanan Melayu and Ketuanan Islam folks – will ensure that their agenda is numero uno, screw the rest of the nation.
What a duplicitous fuckwad, conveniently using Keluarga Malaysia; such a restriction, which if this super-groper minister were sincere about Keluarga Malaysia, wouldn’t have even been mooted in the first place. “Detrimental to public order”? Yeah, because it’s YOUR demographic that will probably disrupt public order, NOT the public in general.
Bottom line, as long as all Malaysians don’t have equal standing, same rights, same privileges, Keluarga Malaysia remains a political sham, meant to cover up the failings of a government NOBODY VOTED FOR, and worse, INEPT. In short, Keluarga Malaysia is a big, fat lie.
And truth be told, it’s a terrible lie. Because it’s a lie so blatant, so disingenuous, so clear-cut, everyone knows it’s a lie. And nobody in their right mind believes it to be anything other than a politically motivated lie.
(p.s. While the FleeMasons is not a serious (or any kind of) movement, the sentiments of despair, dismay, and being thoroughly fed up are very real)
Walski’s Note: This is the second of a two-part article by myAsylum’s first ever guest writer, Mikhail Hafiz (follow him at @IMMikhailHafiz on Twitter). Part I of this well-researched and well written piece may be found here. This two-part article provides one Malaysian citizen’s lament about the state of the nation, and what said citizen thinks may be the way forward. In this second part, Mikhail argues for a values based reconceptualization of what it means to be Malaysian. This is Mikhail’s second article in his Rediscovering Malaysia series of writings (a book, eventually, perhaps?). Kindly note that Mikhail’s preferred mode of English spelling is the British/UK variety, and as such this has been retained.
Forging a comprehensive national identity requires the collective individual to relinquish the archaic and communalistic mindset that considers diversity a liability and a threat to national development, and embrace pluralism as an asset and an advantage.
In the sagacious words of esteemed constitutional law expert Shad Saleem Faruqi:
“Creating unity in diversity is a long-term process that requires constant strengthening and recalibration. The job is not the government’s alone. All citizens have a role to play.” He further counsels: “We must recognise that our diversity, heterogeneity, pluralism and multi-culturalism are assets despite the inevitable challenges they pose.” [See Building bridges, dismantling walls by Shad Saleem Faruqi, via The Star]
While unity based on uniformity may prove to be elusive, or even undesirable, unity that is predicated upon diversity can and does exist. In other words, what is attainable here is a non-uniformitarian unity, as postulated by eminent academic Clive Kessler.
It is a pragmatic and feasible stratagem that employs “the acceptance and negotiation of differences as the basis of strength, the real source within complex socio-political entities of effective unity itself.”
It would be not be unreasonable to suggest that, for an ethnically plural, religiously diverse and vibrantly multicultural nation-state like Malaysia, “[p]ursuing this inclusive notion of non-uniformitarian unity, and so creating a framework for its realisation, is now the best, and probably the only way forward” to address the somewhat pressing issue of our existing identity crisis.
This significant paradigm shift undoubtedly presents a formidable challenge to our various ethnic communities, which have each been exposed – in varying degrees – to collective identity manipulation, and raised in a political culture fuelled by fear and distrust.
To complicate matters even further, unscrupulous politicians have exploited what local writer and academic Lloyd Fernando describes as “de-tribalisation anxiety” to ensconce themselves in positions of power and authority.
However, all is not lost. There is still light at the end of this dark and dangerous tunnel, even if it glimmers faintly in the distance.
Social thinkers (eg, Denis-Constant Martin, Ruth Wodak, Rudolf de Cillia, Martin Reisi and Karin Leibhart) have identified language (medium) and discourse (method) as the essential means through which the uniqueness and distinctness of a community and its particular values are presented.
As such, a common language and honest, meaningful and respectful discourse are both key instruments in the social construction of a nation, which is defined by political scientist and historian Benedict Anderson (1936-2015) as “a collection of imagined communities”.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this engagement process, as national identity requires the process of self-categorisation, and it involves both the identification of in-group (identifying with one’s nation) and differentiation of out-groups (other nations).
Because they are “mobilised into existence through symbols invoked by political leadership” (Dryzek, 2006, p. 35), discourses are powerful in that they can construct, perpetuate, transform or dismantle national identities (Wodak et al., 1999).
After 64 years of independence, it is time for us to move away from the constrictive, divisive and pernicious realm of identity politics, and imbibe a set of universal values that are acceptable to Malaysians of every race, religion, colour, creed and class.
It is humbly submitted that this value system should be anchored by the centrifugal human attribute of integrity, for the fundamental reason that it is integrity that gives a nation-state credibility, especially in the increasingly important domain of international relations. This percipience is particularly pertinent in the wake of Malaysia’s irrefutably and significantly tarnished international reputation, due to its notoriety as a global kleptocracy(via reuters.com), following the hugely embarrassing revelations of the now infamous 1MDB scandal, much to the mortification of the Malaysian public, and disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s subsequent High Court conviction for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering in July 2020. [see Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Former Prime Minister, Found Guilty in Graft Trial, via nytimes.com]
Former Attorney General Tommy Thomas contends that “[s]ince Merdeka, Malaysia has placed much emphasis on how the world perceives her. Image building has been very much the cornerstone of her foreign policy.”
Erstwhile federal lawmaker Tawfik Ismail (son of the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, widely regarded as the best Prime Minister Malaysia never had) asserts that integrity is “one of the most important core values around which other desirable ends are built, such as the integration of our society into a cohesive, inclusive community”. [“Integrity – the core quality we need” via The Star]
This prized attribute acquires additional heft if we support the argument that the long term goal of Merdeka is, from an individualistic perspective, the emergence of an intelligent, empowered and virtuous Malaysian citizen; and collectively, the creation of a Bangsa Malaysia that is imbued with an impregnable sense of integrity.
As a plural society, we are in the enviable position of being able to harness the potential of every faction in our combined efforts to weave a rich tapestry of national values, where the final product is considerably more than the sum of its parts.
In this particular context, the success of our nation building effort is, to a significant extent, dependent on our ability to pinpoint the equilibrium by attaining a delicate balance between “more is more” and “less is more” via a judicious selection process.
Our ultimate nation building challenge, then, is to identify a set of compatible and complementary values that define and represent the collective and connective ownership of a nation we fondly refer to as “tanahairku”, and couch them into a congruous narrative.
As we look ahead to what appears to be an uncertain and unpredictable future, do we want to spend the next six (and a half) decades lamenting the missed opportunities and commiserate about the unfulfilled potential of our nation?
Or do we knuckle down and construct an inclusive and non-discriminatory national identity that we can proudly proclaim as uniquely and distinctively Malaysian?
Public intellectual Ooi perceptively opines that “building a country and a society that one can be proud of is a process and the work starts immediately in the individual’s mind and heart.”
He adds that while cynicism has become one of the underlying attitudes among many Malaysians, “the future is not for cynics to build. It is built by people who dare to dream and hope, who are bold enough to forgive if not forget.”
Perhaps these stirring words, brought to visceral, invigorating life by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Malaya’s (and subsequently, Malaysia’s) first Prime Minister and Father of Independence, on the historic day of 31 August 1957, can serve as an inspiration:
To paraphrase a famous saying of the Italian patriot Massimo d’Azeglio (1798-1866): “We have created Malaysia. Now all we need to do is to create Malaysians.“
And so, besides “What is it that truly makes us Malaysian?”, the other salient question we should strive to answer – both individually and collectively – in relation to the reconfiguration of our national identity is: “When does one effectively become a Malaysian?“
Formulating a unique and distinctive national identity may be a formidable challenge, but it is one where the rewards far exceed the efforts expended.
The success or failure of this noble endeavour is predicated upon the intents and actions of both the political establishment and the general populace and diaspora, which are, to a significant extent, interdependent and inextricably linked.
Constructing a unique and definitive national identity is like building a sturdy and durable home. The structure of our national ethos should be clearly and unequivocally defined, just as the framework of the building should be scrupulously and securely erected.
Additionally, the set of chosen values to be incorporated as part of our national identity should build on this structure, just as the various materials employed in the construction process should strengthen the underlying substratum of the residence.
A Malaysian identity that is based on the twin pillars of integrity and diversity acts as a robust bulwark against intemperate racial and religious polarisation, just as a solidly constructed dwelling protects its inhabitants from even the most extreme elements of nature.
Can Malaysian citizens muster an unyielding determination and unstinting commitment to undertake this arduous yet fulfilling task to completion, if they are given the opportunity to do so?
Reciprocally, can Malaysia’s current (and future) leaders cast aside their partisan interests and overcome their political shortsightedness and inertia to spearhead a genuinely substantive nation building process?
Only time will tell.
However, since every accomplishment begins with the decision to try, it would perhaps be prudent for us to heed the advice dispensed by American founding father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who advocates action in favour of procrastination:
“Don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can do today.”
Walski’s Note: This is the first of a two-part article by a guest writer. Being that Walski isn’t as productive in creating content as he used to be, he thought it would be a good idea to post articles that he thinks are worthwhile to share. This two-part article was written by Mikhail Hafiz (follow him at @IMMikhailHafiz on Twitter), and provides one Malaysian citizen’s lament about the state of the nation, and what said citizen thinks may be the way forward. This is Mikhail’s second article in his Rediscovering Malaysia series of writings (a book, eventually, perhaps?). Kindly note that Mikhail’s preferred mode of English spelling is the British/UK variety, and as such this has been retained.
(Standfirst: Decades of uninspired post-Merdeka nation building has left Malaysian nationalism in a parlous condition: suspended in a narrative limbo and stranded in an ideological purgatory.)
[NOTE: In the first part of this article, I explore the interconnected concepts of nationhood, nation building and national identity, and outline the ideological dichotomy of the ethnic nation-state and its civic counterpart, from a uniquely Malaysian perspective.
In Part II, I argue for a values based (re)conceptualisation of an existing quasi-variant of the Malaysian identity, anchored by the centrifugal human attribute of integrity, and assert that, in our quest to attain national unity, diversity should be regarded as an ally.]
“Malaysia, bereft of a unifying national identity, is like an unmoored boat, drifting aimlessly in the sea of identity politics.
As it strays further into treacherous waters, the boat continues to be buffeted by increasingly turbulent waves of racial bigotry and religious intolerance.
The roiling waves, which continue to gather speed and momentum, are soon to be accompanied by torrential downpour, crashes of thunder, flashes of lightning and howling winds that have appeared in the not-too-distant horizon.
The inevitable confluence of these menacing and malevolent elements signals the imminent arrival of a tropical storm of relentless and rampant racial and religious polarisation that threatens to capsize and destroy the boat.
Will Malaysia be able to steer herself to safe waters and tether herself to the sturdy and reassuring harbour of an inclusive and non-discriminatory national identity? Or will she be rent asunder by the tempestuous storm and sink ignominiously to the bottom of the ocean?”
Nationhood. Nation building. National identity.
Three distinct, yet interconnected socio-political concepts, each representing a crucial and chronological component in the initial stages of national development. The successful establishment of a post-colonial nation-state leads to the emergence of a sovereign nationhood.
The existence of this newly formed political, economic, social and cultural polity necessitates the process of nation building, which, at some point, and with the requisite effort, usually results in the formation of a unique and definitive national identity.
[NOTE: In the intermediate and advanced stages of national development, it is imperative for the nation-state to continue to exist while nation building progresses. Similarly, a multi-dimensional relationship can, and often does, exist between nation building and national identity. The former does not necessarily come to a grinding halt once the latter is constructed. This “revelation” is hardly surprising, considering the fact that nation building dynamics of most countries are influenced by geo-political, socio-political and religio-political developments in the domestic, regional and global spheres, since they are not hermetic in nature.]
Malaya’s sovereign nationhood was both intentional and aspirational: it was willed into existence through a protracted series of extensive diplomatic negotiations between the local political elite and a retreating British empire in the mid-twentieth century, justifying her current status as a nubile nation-state and fledgling democracy.
The yen for political self-determination was also buttressed by the formation of the Reid Commission in March 1956, to draw up a secular constitution for the independent and fully self-governing Malaya, after centuries of colonial rule by three major trading Western European empires (Portuguese, Dutch and British, in chronological order), interspersed with regional suzerainty (Acheh and Bugis) and the Japanese occupation during the Second World War.
And yet, more than six decades after freeing herself from the shackles of Pax Brittania’s global hegemony, Malaysia still suffers from an identity crisis, as she experiences continual and inevitable growing pains in her rite of passage to eventual sovereign maturity. Without a cohesive national identity, Malaysia is an amorphous, ambivalent and ambiguous entity, devoid of any unique, defining characteristics.
Without an edifying social structure, our nationhood remains fragmented, factionalised and fragile. [See Why National Identity Matters by Francis Fukuyama]
Ironically, Malaysia’s ongoing identity crisis is effectuated by our very own inability to come up with a decisive and unequivocal answer to a deceptively simple yet ultimately perplexing question:
“What is it that makes us truly Malaysian?“
It is therefore unsurprising to note that, in a 2016 survey of attitudes and ethnoreligious integration to meet the challenge and maximise the promise of a multicultural Malaysia involving 1,504 adult citizens based in Peninsular Malaysia, “there was an indication that being Malaysian meant different things to different groups, and further research is needed to tailor integration efforts based around promoting the national identity so that such efforts do not inadvertently push people further apart”.
Also, this survey revealed that “[r]espondents from all ethnic groups identified more strongly with their ethnic group than they did with being Malaysian, though for Malays, these identities were more similar in strength than for non-Malays.” (Al Ramiah et al, 2017)
Political analysts Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid and Che Hamdan Che Mohd Razali offer this trenchant observation on the indeterminate status of our national identity:
“Despite over 60 years of uninterrupted nation-building under [then governing coalition Barisan Nasional], consensus on the character of Malaysia’s national identity still eludes the various ethnic and religious groups that make up the country.”
This question inevitably leads to a related query: what kind of national image are we projecting to the international community? How can Malaysia represent herself accurately on the global stage without a clear, coherent and conclusive self-identity?
Without a collective self-image that is both articulate and authentic, our national psyche remains diffuse and unfocused. Also, the opportunity to develop a sense of commonality is lost.
This sense of common purpose and communal belonging was eloquently expressed by His Royal Highness Sultan Nazrin Shah (then the Crown Prince of Perak) in a speech at the First Annual Student Leaders’ Summit in 2007, in which he artfully enunciated the clear-eyed recognition that “Malaysians of all races, religions and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun”.
(According to political analyst Ooi Kee Beng, “[t]his insight gains power not through the fact that inter-ethnic relations have been worsening in recent years, but because it bravely directs attention to the worry that [Malaysia] has been developing a stubbornly multi-tiered citizenry”.)
Malaysia’s peaceful and orderly transition from a subject of the British empire to a post-feudal, post-colonial independent political entity has necessitated the promulgation and implementation of idiosyncratic nation building measures and state building procedures.
While our state building efforts have been solid, if not spectacular, the same cannot be said of our nation building endeavours, which can, at best, be described as lacklustre and haphazard.
To exacerbate matters, our nation building initiatives have constantly been hampered, hamstrung and hindered by the confrontational and discordant nature of our country’s communitarian and sectarian politics.
Given the prominence of the anachronistic quagmire that is the race paradigm (and its subsequent cooption of religion) in our socio-political consciousness, as reflected in the deliberate ethnicisation of our public institutions and social structures (Frederik Holst, 2014), and half-hearted attempts to codify a national identity, Malaysian political discourse is blighted by dissonance, conflict, and superficiality.
(Similarly, our education system is geared towards fulfilling the demands of the state apparatus: to equip the citizenry with functional knowledge and academic qualifications that will enable them to occupy various positions in our civil service and private enterprises.)
If we acknowledge the predicament that our previous attempt(s) at nation building have been subpar, how do we remedy this shortcoming?
It would not be unreasonable to postulate that a reconceptualisation (ie, redefining or reshaping) of our national identity is imperative.
So, how do we define our national identity?
Three main schools of defining national identity exist.
Essentialists view national identity as fixed, based on ancestry, a common language history, ethnicity, and world views (Connor 1994; Huntington 1996).
Constructivists believed in an importance of politics and the use of power by dominant groups to gain and maintain privileged status in society (Brubaker, 2009; Spillman, 1997; Wagner-Pacifici & Schwartz, 1991).
Finally, the civic identity school focuses on shared values about rights and State institutions’ legitimacy to govern.
The genesis of Malaysia’s identity dilemma can be traced back to her post-1969 political reconstruction; since then, Malaysian nationhood has veered between a civic-territorial ideal and an ethnic-Malay genealogical vision. (Loh, 2017).
Our predominant nation building initiatives have been a binary, Dickens-seque “tale of two narratives” that pits ethnic nationalism, characterised by its inherent rigidity and stridency, against civic nationalism, which is consultative, consensual and conciliatory.
The most recent manifestation of this ideological dichotomy is evidenced by all three major ethnoreligious nationalist political parties in the governing coalition pursuing a Malay-centric approach, even though ethnocentricism, as an ideology for modern nation building, effectively dismisses the inherent and prevailing inter-cultural hybridity and cosmopolitanism of our country (specifically) and the South East Asian region (generally). Meanwhile, civil society favours a more collaborative approach, as delineated by political and current affairs columnist Nathaniel Tan in an informative and illuminating article, appropriately titled “#BangsaMalaysia dialogues”, in which he argues, convincingly and persuasively, that “[b]uilding social capital, shared values for a shared identity and rakyat-centric policies are core elements of nation-building”.
Post GE14, Malaysian nationalism appears to have arrived at an ideological crossroads. What type of nation-state do Malaysians desire: an inclusive civic nation, or an ethnocracy driven by identity politics?
Former military officer and incumbent academic Muthiah Alagappa asserts that “based on the principle of one person, one vote, Malaya and later Malaysia were intended to be civic nation-states in which all citizens had equal political rights, opportunities, and responsibilities.” However, the commitment of these ethnoreligious nationalist parties to the creation of an ethnic Malay-Muslim nation-state, despite immanent, well-documented flaws in its communitarian and exclusionary ideological foci – facilitating zero-sum competition, heightening the siege mentality of the ethnic majority via fear and hate mongering, invoking negative connotations of race, religion and language, demonising the benign (and neutral) concepts of secularism, liberalism and pluralism, encouraging minority groups to seek political alternatives instead of building loyalty and consolidating support for the nation-state – ensures that Malaysian identity remains a contentious issue, one that will only be resolved when all parties (eventually) subscribe to the idea of a civic nation.