Don't Let the Truth Out!
I was not too surprised to finally get my first email from the patriotic Malaysia fanclub. Billing himself "Malaysian's Patriotic Son", a reader writes after viewing evidence of vote-buying in the Ijok by-election:
Pls don't put this video on youtube or anywhere else on the the internet. If other countries sees this, it will give a bad image to the our country, and maybe it might cause foreigners to get involed in malaysian affairs.
One more thing, if you want to ridicule/complaint about the nation, please mention its good side too. Thank you.
Well, for the first request, it's a little bit too late now. The video is actually hosted on YouTube — I just found it and put it here. It's already been viewed 18,000 times, so the proverbial cat is out of the bag.
What I find interesting is the motivation for hiding the truth, though. When it comes to any action, there is normally a cost-benefit analysis. We weigh the pros and cons of anything — be it lying or cheating or whatever — and we reach the conclusion we reach.
The voters of Ijok weighed the pros and cons of vote-buying, and decided a few extra ringgit was worth selling the right to elect their representative in the state assembly — something which tells you not just how abject the living standards of these people must be, but just how much people actually care about politics in this country.
A similar and interesting question, however, is why "Malaysian's Patriotic Son" would think that the benefits of lying about this incident in Ijok outweigh the costs. It seems to be that honesty, democracy and practically every bit of propaganda we had shoved into us in moral education should go out the window, because, hey, it's reaaalllly so important that foreigners don't think we're a banana republic with unfair elections, right?
I think this is just a variant of our Singaporean inferiority complex. We are not just frightened of losing (kiasu!) to Singapore, but to any other country. The truth be damned, our country is great!
But really, how sensible is this? I don't know how many have read George Orwell's Animal Farm, which brilliantly satirises the Soviet Union under Stalin, but there is a very striking scene where the animals, who have conquered the farm from the humans, are compelled to fill up granaries for show while starving other animals to death, just because they don't want the humans to find out that they can't administer the farm.
Of course we will lose face if people find out we don't have a proper democracy. But what is the proper solution? Is it to lie, or is it to fix our democracy? And assuming your answer is the latter, how do we fix our democracy if we deny there is a problem with it in the first place?
Ah, then there's that old bugaboo — foreign interference in Malaysian affairs. Again, there is this inferiority complex — we cannot allow others to tell us what to do. I suspect this jingoistic paranoia is a culture created by Mahathir, since only he has ever had such a paranoia of foreign countries — none of our other leaders had this axe to grind when it comes to foreigners.
Now, of course any Malaysian will decry a foreign country invading us to set things right, or foreigners ordering us around. But what is wrong, pray tell, with foreigners giving constructive criticism of what we're doing? Is this criticism somehow inferior to local criticism? What kind of thinking is this?
If the foreigners want to criticise us, let them go ahead. If there is something for us to take from their criticisms, excellent. If all they can do is whine and whinge, then ignore them. Is that so hard? Or are we afraid that we will lose face? Well, why not fix the root cause rather than trying to shut up the free press of other countries?
Ah, and then we come to that bone which all these patriotic fanboys have to pick where any criticism, constructive or otherwise, of Malaysia is involved. What I'm curious to know is, since when did any writer have an obligation to insert one positive statement for any negative statement he makes?
After all, when we criticise Israel for its poor human rights record, are we supposed to add "But remember, Israel also has its good side because of its nice beaches!"? When we rail against American imperialism, is it necessary that we point out "But they also make nice pornography for Malaysians' downloading pleasure"?
Why is there an obligation to create this artificial semblance of being "fair and balanced"? It's honestly ridiculous. If I want to criticise my country, I'll criticise it; if I want to praise it, I'll praise it. Anyone who regularly reads what I have to say knows that I think this can be a great and good country, and that, warts and all, Malaysia is my country.
But if you're going to insist that I add in one artificial positive for this country every time I point out a flaw in it, I hope you'll be consistent and point out some positives about my writings every time you criticise them. Well, that is unless you feel you'd lose face and make foreigners think you're some insane nutcase.
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