Weeping for Malaysia

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Dennis Ignatius laments the dream we once cherished is no more.

A few days ago, a friend sent me the video of Anneke Gronloh’s 1960’s hit song, ‘Oh Malaysia’. Watching it brought back tons of memories of the Malaya (and then Malaysia) I once knew. Sure, we had problems even in those days but we had something bigger to keep us going – the dream of a Malaysia where the fullness and richness of our diversity would find expression and come to full flower. We were all brothers then, strong, united and hopeful.

On Saturday night, reading the news reports that yet another Pakatan Harapan minister (Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq) had suddenly reversed course on the issue of the controversial Indian fugitive Zakir Naik, it dawned on me that the dream we once cherished is no more.

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Decades of Umno rule, of race-baiting and outright racist policies, of constantly belittling and disrespecting racial and religious minorities, of disowning them at every turn and seeing them as enemies, have taken its toll. All talk of national unity now is moot and meaningless.

I for one had hoped that perhaps a new government – a coalition of hope no less – might pump fresh oxygen into the lungs of a dying dream. That night in May when the unbelievable happened, I thought that at last, we had found men and women who would be worthy standard-bearers of our hopes and dreams.

There was no talk then about pushing racial agendas or depriving others of their rights or denigrating anyone’s religion. It was simply about building a better nation where the rights of all would be respected, cherished and promoted. Surely, in this wonderful nation of ours, it is possible to create space for all our diverse ethnicities, to build a culture of respect and tolerance for all, to create an ecosystem where all Malaysia’s sons and daughters could flourish.

Now I’ve come to the realisation that even the modest dreams we had was a bridge too far for the Ketuanan Melayu ideologues and elites that now dominate our political landscape. They do not share the same dreams. They do not care for the brotherhood of all Malaysians. And they cannot be counted on to defend our rights with equal vigour.

Take Syed Saddiq, for example. Only a few days ago he called for Zakir Naik to be deported saying, “An attack against our Chinese and Indian brothers and sisters is an attack against all Malaysians.” And yet there he was fêting the same man who mocked his “brothers and sisters” and insisting that it’s time to forgive and move on.

Surely forgiveness must come from those who were aggrieved, not from some politician who’s too afraid to stand up for what is right. Does he even understand the depths of disappointment over the issue that many of the people he represents feel?

It’s hard not to conclude that they are all the same in the end – PPBM, PKR, Umno or PAS. They’d rather mollycoddle a fugitive Islamic preacher from India than keep faith with the millions of Malaysian Indians who voted for them. They’d rather dine with someone who taunts their “brothers and sisters” than reach out to the millions of Malaysian Chinese who helped bring them to power.

Perhaps they are now so blinded by power that they are no longer even capable of understanding the pain and angst of other communities.

Simply put, Pakatan Harapan has betrayed us. Time and time again, they have put their own interests ahead of that of the people who voted them into office. While they pander to those who didn’t support them, reformasi languishes: the lives of the people have not improved; oppressive laws remain on the books; institutional reform falters; UEC remains unrecognised; the corrupt run free; Lynas continues to contaminate our land, and the ever-controversial and divisive Zakir Naik remains protected.

And while they play their games, the cancer is spreading; the voices of hate and bigotry against ethnic minorities grow stronger.

The Perlis mufti insists that Malaysia is for Malays and muses about the need for a Malaysian Saddam Hussein to rein in the non-Malays. The Perak mufti urges the government “not to bow to pressures from the minorities.” An officer from Jakim reportedly incites Muslims to murder infidels. An inappropriately named “unity convention” weaves a few isolated incidents into a grand conspiracy by Christians to undermine Islam and Christianize the country. A former IGP declares that the Malays have now “lost power”. How does one even respond to such mind-boggling inanity?

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Even Entrepreneur Development Minister Redzuan Yusof – who is in office today thanks in part to the support of non-Malays – now complains that “Malays have compromised too much…that it is time for Malays to rise up and defend Malay culture before it is destroyed.”

Amazingly, in the face of such insidious racism, PH leaders, the centurions of Malaysia Baru, have been largely silent. They are quick to offer excuses for men like Naik and bend over backwards to accommodate him but have nothing much to say when their fellow citizens are vilified and demonised.

Clearly, defending our diversity, defending the core idea that is emblazoned on our coat of arms – ‘Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu’ – is now so politically risky, so unpopular, that they’d rather remain mute witnesses to bigotry than speak up.

This National Day, as I reflect on our journey as a nation, I know I will mourn for the Malaysia I once knew, for the Malaysia I thought we could be. And neither the fireworks nor the marching bands will drown out the dirge for the dream that once kept me going. – FMT

The views expressed are those of the author.