Placing Myself in Syed Hamid Albar's Shoes
As we all know, or ought to know, Syed Hamid Albar, the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, was recently given a heated grilling by Sarah Montague on the BBC. Those who have not seen it yet can witness the whole farce here:
One interesting reaction to this which I witnessed did not bother with addressing the content of Hamid Albar's claims. Instead, the response was: what would you do if you were in his shoes?
The implication obviously was that you would defend the country's reputation — that you would not want to sully it by admitting that we practice apartheid and that our whole country has been screwed up by this "social contract".
This is clearly a wrongheaded way of approaching the issue. It assumes that I must defend my country, right or wrong. The fact is, sometimes my country is wrong.
There is nothing wrong about admitting our shortcomings. Are we to lie, to claim that we are perfect, that all is well, just because of nationalist pride?
We are all taught in moral and religious education that God comes above all else. God wants the truth from us. What service are we doing God and our fellow man by lying?
If I were in Syed Hamid Albar's shoes, this is what I would have done: I would have admitted to the mistakes Malaysia has made, and not sidestepped the fact that our "social contract" is nothing more than state racism.
If I controlled the government, this would not be an issue. I would then say that despite this, we would be attempting to address these problems by committing the country to true equality of opportunity. I would say we would move forward by abandoning an ethnic approach and adopting one based on ensuring all Malaysians have the chance to make the most of their God-given ability.
But if I were not in control of the government, if I were a lone voice, then I would admit my country's wrongs. I would confess that we have no right to say some people are more Malaysian than others simply because of a happenstance of birth.
And I would state that I would resign from the government over this. That I would have no part in a regime that insists race determines loyalty, that insists race determines who is needy. That I would work for a country which seeks to provide equal opportunities for all its people to be the best that they can be.
That is what Syed Hamid Albar should have done. Our country has gone terribly wrong. There is nothing bad about admitting this fact. There is nothing bad about letting truth see the light of day.
The most important thing is that we admit our wrongs, that we work to correct them. Syed Hamid Albar's attempt to defend the country did not defend it; it only sullied the country's name by proving how ridiculous our discrimination is, and by failing to show how we are trying to build a Malaysia that is fair and just for all. If I were in your shoes, Syed Hamid Albar, I would have done a lot differently.