Malaysia: Desperately needing a new national narrative
ritualistic month long celebration of Merdeka (independence) activities
have largely lost their meaning. Discussion about the roles that
different groups played in the road to independence has largely been
rewritten to support the current rulers of today. The celebration of
31st August, the day Malaya gained independence from the British as the
major national day seems to exclude the aspirations of Sabahans and
Sarawakians, where on 16th September 1963 they joined Malaya and
Singapore in a union called Malaysia. Groups like the Communist Party of
Malaya which fought and lost many lives against both the British and
Japanese are almost totally excluded from the nation's Merdeka
This is all occurring in an environment desperately in need of a
narrative of inclusiveness.
The current Merdeka celebration suppresses the generation of new ideas
and a national creativity that could spring up from an environment of
inclusiveness. The Merdeka celebrations have severed any empathetic
connections between Malaysia's the various elements within the rich and
diverse history of the country, replacing it with a single narrative one
would find on a cellulose film like "Tanda Putera". A whole generation
of people now exist who behave according to the beliefs and values
incorporated within this narrow narrative.
This denies the cascade of alternative realities and their accompanying
narratives which stifles national creativity and evolution that Malaysia
needs to face the challenges before it.
The Merdeka celebrations fail to incorporate any evolving aspirations
that would promote and enhance the semblance of national unity.
Ironically under the Mahathir years, a strong national narrative existed
which at the time appeared to be shared by middle class Malaysian
society. Malaysia in the 80s and early 90s had a deep sense of national
pride where any senses of inferiority were thrown out of the window with
the catch cry of "Malaysia Boleh". Many people at the time believed that
Malaysia was the best country to live in. Almost 25 years on these
feelings have been replaced with a sense of disappear over law and
order, corruption, religious intolerance, and self indulgence.
The fact that Malaysia has many domestic issues to solve and it's place
in the world is slipping away, according to many international rankings,
is largely out of the national discussion and public agenda. Rather it
appears division is in everybody's best interests, from school
administrations right up to the highest echelons of government.
Malaysia has lost that true spiritual unity between people that was the
catalyst that brought independence to the nation in the first place,
first with the British during the 1950s and then between the parties
that made up the Malaysian union in 1963.
What is missing today are aspirations about the purpose and 'dreams' the
country was founded upon during the struggle for independence, and
subsequent search for its identity as a nation. Malaysia as a nation is
yet to realize that diversity has a spiritual unity about it. Suppress
it and the national narrative becomes one without optimism for a 'just
and equitable society'.
The current national narrative is one captive under the old traditional
caste system with little relevance to the needs of contemporary society.
Consequently the Malaysian mind is a prisoner of this paradigm, unlikely
to break free to enable an enlightened society.
The Malaysian rulers have felt insecure with their own values,
preferring to adopt a neo-colonial development paradigm of unquestioned
growth, and development and profiteering. Development has been a game
for the elite, without any questioning of this occidental paradigm.
Greed and intolerance have developed into two of the most important post
Merdeka qualities. This has been at a great cost to the development of
any sense of shared spiritualism about the country. Malaysia is in need
of the qualities of compassion, tolerance, mercy and forgiveness as the
assumptions behind any national development agenda. This is where the
universal values of Islam are important and where the true sense of an
Islamic state really exists. Islam must be viewed as a way to enhance
the quality of society rather than a tool to control society.
The banning of books, the demolition of buildings, and the suppression
of many practices is causing the cream of Malaysia's society to flee.
Repression through brute force has cost the country dearly. Crony
capitalism and corruption is keeping Malaysia in the relative 'dark
ages'. A relative static view of the economic pie lowers any national
sense of vision. This parochial thinking is preventing any vision of a
progressive and prosperous Malaysia in the coming decades, which may
actually force Malaysia to become a slave to the new emerging world
Malaysia must find its own dream rather than adopting those of other
nations. The aspirations of multi-media super corridors, Cyberjaya, and
biotechnology clusters, are the stuff of other peoples' dreams,
preventing the creation of something that could be uniquely Malaysian.
Many groups are dispossessed and have no part in the national narrative.
Rather capitalistic greed entrenched within 'so-called' development
projects in the name of national development and unity continue to
by-pass the poor and needy. Malaysia is not only divided by race, but by
socio-economic class, taking the country further away from any notion of
a single 'Bangsa Malaysia".
History has been written by those who have dominated society. Malaysians
have been blinded by the political paradigm created by those who rule,
preventing people from seeing new possibilities. This history doesn't
match Malaysia's contemporary aspirations.
The evils of this progress will be felt by future generations of
Malaysians who will have to pay dearly when picking up the pieces of a
destitute and stripped environment that others before them have ravaged.
As UMNO, the ruling party goes back into the shell of 'Ketuanan Melayu'
(Malay superiority), the language of intolerance and inequality will
continue and maintain a divided Malaysia. This ignores the needs of a
rapidly changing society, which will almost certainly bring further
friction where the illusion of harmony may come to an abrupt end.
The current divisions within UMNO are serving the interests of a select
few who can dictate the agenda. This will prevent UMNO learning how to
reengage its traditional constituency again and reform itself in the
spirit of Merdeka once again.
However at the same time, the popular vote of the last election strongly
indicates that the majority of people are looking for some form of
genuine change within Malaysian society. But, the election was really
just a hope or even fantasy, that any outcome would actually bring
change of any significant nature. Real change could not occur, as all
the parties involved within the political process are institutionalized.
Any real change requires a complete rebirth of ideas and new processes
to accompany them. This requires a totally frank national dialogue in
the spirit of accepting diversity in the spirit of those people who
worked together to achieve Merdeka more than 50 years ago.
One may have to question the results of the Malaysian political system
as being an occidental outcome, where a Malaysian solution is required.
The Westminster system supports an adversarial system of government and
opposition. Maybe the Malaysian political process should be much more
consultative, like it once was. National unity coalitions may serve
Malaysia better than the current adversarial system of government and
opposition. It's time to explore these possibilities for the sake of
Policy must be looked at through apolitical eyes, consensus and
bi-partisanship. This is more the Malaysian way, where this new sense of
national unity will also help develop this elusive or even mythical
'Malay unity' that many are seeking. Malaysia is not yet a large enough
country where it can afford to divide it's administrative talent between
government and opposition. All hands are needed on the deck of
government for Malaysia to prosper.
The underlying message of GE-13 in terms of both the popular vote and
seat results could be interpreted as a general wish for all to work
together regardless of race, colour, or creed.
This is where the new Malaysia could be born, where justice and equity
could be achieved. Malaysians must move onto new truths and
reconciliations in the belief of one nation Malaysia. Otherwise Malaysia
will continue to be divided with increasing frictions.
This new rebirth requires a scrapping of the current race based
political system, something often talked about. Race based idealism must
be replaced with policy based idealism, where governments work upon a
platform based on consensus. Ritual must be replaced with principled
pragmatism with ample social discussion on how Malaysia should be shaped
for the future.
by Murray Hunter / August 30th, 2013