My friends tell me not to put anymore posts about the sad state of our nation on any of our shared social media spaces.
They tell me they are too tired of the politicians and are up to their necks with pessimistic forecasts.
I have come to realise that my friends – like many other Malaysians – are like deer in the headlights. I think I understand them now: they are too paralysed by disbelief and despair.
We are dealing with political instability, economic uncertainty and climate devastation against a backdrop of rising unemployment and inflation rates.
Meanwhile, corruption continues to plague us. Efforts to stop custodial deaths, child marriage and sexual harassment do not seem to get any easier, and the ‘anti-hopping’ bill is fast becoming a pipe dream.
To add to the downward spiral, we have gaping irreparable tears in our social fabric, with rising intolerance, prejudice and injustice towards people of other faiths, migrants and sexual orientations. Our education system continues to be ‘dumbed down’.
The writing on the wall is not hard to see when our leaders take to vilifying the English language. As a strategy, English should be perceived and used as leverage for international communication and to access knowledge and information. Leaders who speak English on international platforms should be seen as role models for the youth of this country.
The Kelantan government’s call for youths to take up trishaw riding to resurrect history is mind-boggling. There must be other ingenious ways to acknowledge the role of the trishaw in our cultural history. We do not have to pawn the future of our youth, who would do better taking up computer programming or biotechnology, instead of trishaw riding.
And so, can we trust our leaders anymore to lead with integrity and goodwill? How else can we view our government when it contemplates selling the MySejahtera app to the private sector?
I believe we no longer have responsible leadership. Instead, we have some politicians who seem to be more interested in betraying the people to win elections and to further their own selfish interests.
And so, my friends have become like deer in the headlights – but deer, we forget, can always bolt. So, these days, I hear loud whispers of people planning to leave this sinking ship of a beautiful country.
For those who are forced to remain, the situation will continue to be dire; it has become so stark that some have begun to see mirages in the shape of convicted corrupt politicians.
Those who see the writing on the wall are probably wondering if we too might one day become like Sri Lanka – torn and tattered by endemic corruption and by the absence of intelligent strategic leadership and planning.
Or will we become like Afghanistan – insanely violent and ravaged, crippled by a feverish religious frenzy?
Neither does the other side of our political divide offer much hope. Our opposition front is cracked, painfully torn between the old and the new. At one end we have frayed, fractious politicians who are unable to set aside their differences, with some still rooting for the feudal culture of patronage and identity politics. At the other, we have younger dynamic voices calling for liberalism and change.
Yet, can anything ever change when we are reminded again and again that the Malays need to be seen as a race that has to be protected by ‘Malay’ leadership?
If anything, ‘protection’ is the one thing that the Umno-led government has given some Malays in the last five decades.
But sadly – and paradoxically – many among the Malays continue to be numbered among the most impoverished groups in the country.
It is too bad that many are unable to see that the more ‘protection’ the Malays get, the more disabled they are likely to become. Entitlement has made many of them more dependent on government aid and opportunities, instead of encouraged and empowered to develop their own outstanding qualities and merits.
As an educator and parent, I often fall back on the analogy of butterflies. Butterflies need to struggle out of their cocoon to be able to fly. Rescuing them from their struggle can only weaken their wings.
The opposition parties not only have to come together to change and become a convincing and formidable adversary to the current government. They must also must work out a comprehensive plan to make the Malays and other marginalised groups outstanding high-flying butterflies.
The disempowered must be enabled to withstand competition and ride out economic changes on their own two feet. They do not need protection, but they need the support of highly qualified and competent leaders, partners and educators. They will need opportunities to develop creative, critical and innovative thinking. They will need to learn the value of grit, diligence and sweat and acquire up-to-date knowledge, skills and technological knowhow.
Protecting them is a disabling act that is not only a betrayal but an attempt to keep them forever poor, dependent and enslaved as a malleable vote bank.
While we try to work out the direction our leaders are taking this nation, let’s remember the nation is heading for uncertain times. We will face stiff competition from countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Machine-learning will reshape global economic systems. CRISPR gene-editing technology and stem cell research will make forays into medical science, making life and the world as we know it totally unrecognisable.
Where will Malaysians – and the Malays in particular – be standing amid these changes?
If we do not shift into fast gear and learn within an open fluid environment, we will not be able to ride out the uncertainties of the future. We will fail – and fail miserably.
And so, in the end, I think I understand my friends who choose to look away.
But we, as a people, should no longer look away – nor should we look to tainted politicians for hope. The war is lost when we look away. We need to look at the writing on the wall and act in whatever way we can.
Civil society groups, opposition parties and candidates should hold rallies, seminars and webinars to encourage engagement and discussions at various levels. We need to educate those who are lost and are in free fall in the information gap.
Let’s bring the writing on the wall to the people. Let’s tell real stories about the issues that affect the people. Let’s create conversations in coffee shops, marketplaces, staff rooms, tea rooms and cyber cafes as well as in the streets.
No one should look away nor should they say they have ‘given up’ on Malaysia, before they ask themselves what they have done to stop the slide down this slippery slope.Sukeshini Nair
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
12 April 2022