Malaysia, Not A Paradise
A few days ago, a foreigner posted a thread on this site's forum titled "Malaysia - close to paradise". The writer expressed optimism for the country, citing its ability to maintain a good combination of work and play.
The problem with this optimism, as I pointed out in my response, was sustaining this combination. Some people complain because they have nothing better to do, but I grouch because I fear that what I have today is something my children will not have, and because I know that even what I have today is not good enough for my children, because there is so much potential to be unlocked in Malaysia.
In my article The Death of Malaysia, I pointed out that if we do not work to change this unsustainable equilibrium we are caught in for the better, circumstances will change it for us, and for the worse.
Some Malaysians argue that we should not harp on the problems with our country so much, that we should reflect on and take stock of how we have been blessed. All well and good.
But often these same people insist on downplaying or worse, hiding the truth. They want all of the beauty and none of the blemishes. That is just as bad, if not worse than focusing on the defects while ignoring overall quality.
I have always been reluctant to subscribe to the alarmism and extremism of some reactionaries who I feel and think have taken pessimism about Malaysia to unhealthy extremes.
But a couple of nights ago, I decided to compare notes with an acquaintance from a tinpot dictatorship. (No names will be given so as to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.)
This tinpot dictatorship is a place where nobody dares to say a thing against the government, where teenagers can be arrested and forced to sign false confessions saying they planned to assassinate the head of state.
Knowing something about it, I had always believed this was a worse place compared to Malaysia. But as we started comparing notes, it became shockingly clear to both of us that Malaysia is not the sweet place it seems to be.
For one, there are repressive laws like the Internal Security Act. Most Malaysians have become desensitised to the ISA, but if you sit back and think about it, it is embarassing. The government is empowered to arrest anybody it likes for an indefinite period without having to present that person before a judge, without having to prove any guilt whatsoever.
(Of course, that's not to say things haven't improved. Before the 1980s, released detainees were often forced to confess to their political crimes on television — and I thought this only happened in communist dictatorships.)
Then there is that thorny problem of race. Malaysia is torn by the constant struggle between two racial extremes, without any commitment to true equality.
But that is not the shocking part. When you take a fresh look at things, it is truly incredible that only last year, delegates at the UMNO Annual General Assembly were permitted to threaten bloodshed and violence on live television. (Not that this is anything new, considering that behaviour has been par for the course in most UMNO AGMs.)
No less a prominent personage than Najib Razak, our Deputy Prime Minister, once threatened to bathe his keris in the blood of Malaysian citizens.
When you reflect on all this, how can you truly believe that Malaysia is a paradise? Like the commentor on this site, my foreign friend once thought Malaysia was a decent place. But he thought wrong. We all thought wrong.
The reality is, even though we can be great, we just aren't great. We're a farcical sham, and incredibly, we have yet to wake up and face this reality.