It doesn’t necessarily take travelling Malaysians or those in foreign lands to smudge the image of their beloved country. Some people can just do it from home, says Mustafa K Anuar.
Certain political leaders in Malaysia never cease to amuse, if not insult, you especially at a time when sober and rational thinking has apparently become a rare commodity.
In fact, they unwittingly and constantly make invaluable “contributions” to the comic scripts of creative people such as the unmistakable Jo Kukathas of the Instant Cafe Theatre and also cartoonist Zunar.
Deputy Foreign Minister A Kohilan Pillay warned recently that his ministry monitors Malaysians who travel or reside overseas in order to “safeguard the good name of the country and government leaders.”
So used to the idea of monitoring and controlling people at home, the federal government, particularly the foreign ministry, seemed quick to take such an action that contravenes one of the fundamental human rights: Freedom of expression of the citizenry (especially in a foreign land that is democratic and fervently practises freedom of expression).
This is indeed a highly controversial act of snooping on people abroad in a very Orwellian fashion — and at the expense of the Malaysian taxpayers.
Equally important, it’s rather disturbing that the deputy minister (and other like-minded people) would equate the country with government leaders. The two entities have to be de-coupled because government leaders are capable of doing things that are detrimental to the common good and image of the country.
That is why criticising government leaders whose policies and actions are perceived to be harmful to the collective interests of the rakyat and the nation or, worse, who seem to be intellectually challenged, should not be deemed an act of shaming or betraying the country. If anything, it’s done for the love of the country as a whole.
On the other hand, the antics of such government leaders themselves can stain Malaysia’s image within and outside the country.
Back to the deputy foreign minister; does he really expect Malaysians overseas not to be their true selves in terms of articulating their inner sentiments and instead be forcibly engaged in government-speak during their encounters with their foreign friends or business acquaintances?
Are Malaysians overseas supposed to be oblivious of contemporary issues such as the PKFZ scandal; the apparent lack of judicial independence; eroding media freedom and independence due to the Printing Presses and Publications Act, OSA, Sedition Act, etc; draconian laws such as the ISA; rising rates of crime and bus accidents; escalating custodial deaths; and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim still being dogged by his sodomy trial, among other things?
Should Malaysians abroad still put on a poker face and plead ignorance if asked in a social gathering, for instance: Are Malaysian authorities really afraid of ordinary people having “cake parties”, lighting up candles in public places or even enjoying cartoons?
At an international academic conference, should a Malaysian political scientist worth his/her sarong, for example, summarily dismiss the contention harboured among Pakatan Rakyat politicians and critical academics that endemic corruption has brought about leakages to the delivery system, and cronyism and a lack of transparency and accountability have caused political and socio-economic problems to the country as mere bunkum?
And should those students studying abroad commit intellectual and academic dishonesty? Should they declare at the end of the examination of their theses that what they have researched and critically written on certain aspects of Malaysia are but merely academic exercises and, hence, does not reflect their true academic commitment and political conviction? In other words, should they subsequently “disown” what they have originally written passionately?
Even if, for one second, we could imagine that most Malaysians overseas collectively are able to keep mum over what is really happening back home, would that guarantee that the foreigners would not get wind somehow of what is happening in Malaysia?
In an era of globalisation, surely territorial borders are no longer obstacles to swift and better communication, thanks to the rapid advancement in the information and communications technology, particularly the Internet. What we say and do can be made known to the outside world in a jiffy via the cyber space and also satellite television.
Besides, wouldn’t it be more rewarding if the monitoring committed by the ministry be diverted instead towards seeking more information, for example, about business opportunities in certain foreign countries for Malaysian companies intent on venturing overseas?
In other words, our diplomatic missions abroad should instead indulge in useful activities that would help further enhance benefits and opportunities to our local business folks, our academics and students, and our tourism industry people, among others. It would do our nation a world of good if they stopped playing Sherlock Holmes.
So as you can see, it doesn’t necessarily take the travelling Malaysians or those in foreign lands to smudge the image of their beloved country. Some people can just do it from home.