Dec 27, 2006

Just Sayin': We have to try harder and believe in ourselves

NST bringing us the rundown of Malaysian politic scene for 2006.

(NST) WE’VE forgotten how wonderful Malaysia is, and how much we’re capable of.

Our universities, in particular, Universiti Malaya, used to be some of the best in the region. The last Times Higher Education Supplement saw the former top school in the country continue to slide in ranking.

In 1990, Malaysia was ranked fourth in the United Nations’ foreign direct investment ranking. Last year, we dropped to 62.

A Citigroup report said our economy is "a pale shadow of itself compared with 10 years ago".

Indonesia, usually behind in terms of foreign investment, has been attracting more interest of late, as are up and coming economies like Vietnam. I think somewhere along the way to 2020, we forgot how great we actually are. We also forgot to try harder, and we forgot to believe in ourselves. Self-belief is important, because without it, all we can think of is making teh tarik in space.

At the current rate, the Internet revolution will probably just bypass Malaysia. For all the talk about WiMax, state-wide Wi-Fi, and now, the Malaysia Internet Exchange, nothing much has really changed in the past year. Which means it’s quite likely that no one really has a clue how to supply fast, reliable and affordable Internet access to the masses. That is somewhat unfortunate, because we have so many aspiring independent filmmakers making short films with virtually no budget and distributing them online.

The more people have access to affordable broadband, then more would get to watch some of these hit videos like nude squats in police lockups, UPM students and how good some of them are at imitating animals, schoolkids interpreting Fight Club, and current favourite, footage of couples caught in tangkap basah operations.

Elections are really overrated. Every five years or less, about 70-odd per cent of eligible Malaysians go out to cast their votes for their Members of Parliament and state assemblymen. Elections equal democracy, some say. But, unfortunately, our Parliament is better known for shouting matches and out-of-touch MPs who make racist or sexist statements.

More disturbingly, however, many of the people who have power over our lives don’t take part in elections, be they chief ministers, mayors, local councillors, or religious officials. So even if they build big palaces, abuse the privileges that come with their positions, or simply show up for work both late and sloppily dressed, it’s not up to us to dismiss him or her. So much for change through the ballot box.

All in all, despite my critical view, I think most of us agree Malaysia is a wonderful place to live. Food is good, affordable and aplenty. The weather, though a little too hot at times, is still mostly pleasant. And for all the restrictions imposed, we can all generally find ways to do what we need or want to. Fully enjoying these blessings, however, requires a certain amount of detachment and apathy.

Stick only to the entertainment section of the newspapers. Don’t find out about how the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council demolished Kampung Berembang, a village in the middle of KL with about 50 houses, leaving its residents homeless. Don’t be alarmed by the polemic and racial nature of Malaysian politics and how it is stopping us from living up to our potential. Instead, think about what to have for lunch tomorrow and where to go this weekend.

And yes, Khairy Jamaluddin is right: Openness is indeed being abused, just not in the way he claims it is. Instead, it has been modified from something Malaysians have every right to expect as citizens, to a political toy that we must be grateful for, something that will be taken away from us if we’re caught behaving badly. To which I quote Noam Chomsky: "If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all."

That’s why I don’t believe in freedom of expression — it’s just more satisfying to tell the people I despise to shut up and punch them in the face if they don’t listen.

To advocate a society that is open means to accept that people who are stupid, rude, ignorant, racist or sexist will be making their opinions known, as will those who have the nerve to think they can ask any questions they want about public figures. I can’t deal with all that acceptance.

Which segues into my final lesson. It’s a little more personal, though it’s something I realised from writing this column. Sarcasm is many things. Fyodor Dostoyevsky said it’s "the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded."

Having no idea what he’s talking about, I’m offering my own explanation instead.

Sarcasm is how you can get away with writing critical opinions while still making some people laugh. It’s also how you can get people to completely misunderstand what you’re trying to say. But I have faith in the intelligence of the average reader, that they will be able to identify when I’m being serious, and when I am being tongue in cheek. Really, I do. Happy New Year, everyone.

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