Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The day I felt truly Malaysian

On that fateful Saturday, tens of thousands of Malaysians ignored government warnings and descended onto the streets of the capital to raise a simple point; that as citizens we deserve fairer and more transparent elections.

They told us it was an illegal assembly, Bersih, but we understood we had the constitutional right to assemble peacefully, what more to demand for a better democracy.

But when my government began outlawing ridiculous things like a certain colour or word, as if they were making up laws as they go, I knew I could no longer remain silent. I had to march.

Roadblocks did not stop us, harassments from the authorities did not wither our spirits and threats of arrests did little to sow fear among us. Official government statistics put us at 6,000-10,000. Foreign media estimates say about 100,000 took part in the rally. Whose figures should one trust then? Just ask anyone who was there and they’ll tell you it was anything but 10,000. That, I am sure.

I joined the rest of the people at KL Sentral. I had earlier planned to join a friend at Jalan Petaling where another group of people had already gathered. But prior to my arrival at KL Sentral, I received a text message from him saying, “Don’t come. The police have started!”

I saw firsthand what our police force was capable of. I was there when they fired tear gas canisters into the crowd in a confined part of the KL Sentral building. I tasted, for the first time, the unpleasant effects of tear gas — ironically paid for by our tax money. I’d never shed a tear for my country until I got tear-gassed that day.

I was also there when a barricade of FRUs aimed their fully-loaded tear gas launchers at our faces and threatened us, when we tried to take an alternative route. I should also mention that the crowd did nothing to provoke let alone, were being violent. The Malaysians, who turned up for the rally, were not exclusive to one race or followers of a religion, we were a diverse bunch, no doubt but we were there as Malaysians above all else. We were one people.

Dare I say the demand for fairer elections was more effective in uniting Malaysians than Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia slogan? You bet. If you were there for Bersih, you would concur too.

I then managed to make my way out of the building. By then, the tear gas was still present in the air albeit less concentrated. The fact that tear gas was fired in an enclosed area meant that the gas remained for some time. I had lost the earlier group whom we were with when I saw a group of fellow marchers heading towards me. I asked a man in the crowd why they were heading in the opposite direction. He told me the police had sealed the roads leading to Stadium Merdeka and they had to turn around. So I joined them and we marched along Jalan Tun Sambanthan heading towards Brickfields.

A man behind me remarked to this friend, “Who said we Malaysians can’t march peacefully? Look!” I turned around and said, “I agree with you, my brother!” We exchanged smiles.

I also saw a motorcyclist, who was riding alongside us, got down from his motorcycle, turned his engine off and walked with us. Many more did the same and we sounded our appreciation.

We chanted slogans like “Hidup Rakyat (Long live the people!)” and “Bangkit Rakyat (Rise up, people!)” as we moved. Passing motorists honked and gave us thumbs up in support. Pedestrians cheered at us while we passed them. Even the trains stopped to sound their horns to encourage us. I could even see passengers inside waving at us. We reciprocated by applauding them all. At this point, I am not ashamed to admit I almost teared.

I was fortunate enough not to experience the hell others had to go through. Despite the persistent denials by the authorities, there are hundreds of videos and pictures now circulating around the Internet to prove otherwise. For every video or picture, there are more inspiring stories of how Malaysians put aside their differences to help one another. It is no accident that #bersihstories was among the top local trends on Twitter.

When my grandchildren ask where I was when the rakyat stood up against oppression, I will proudly tell them their grandfather was there marching with the rest. July 9, 2011 was the day I truly felt Malaysian.

Note: Bersih opponents, please understand we marched not only for ourselves but also for you. A clean, fair and neutral EC would benefit everyone across any political divide.

And no, in my humble opinion, Bersih wasn’t hijacked by the Opposition. BN was invited to put aside politics and join the call for electoral reforms but they turned down the offer. So don’t blame the Opposition for backing the movement, such are politicians for they are opportunists. BN had their chance to steal the Opposition’s thunder if they had agreed to work with Bersih but they blew it.

It also must be said that Opposition leaders and supporters are also citizens of this country and they have as much right as you have to demand for a better democracy. If you cannot accept the previous sentence, then you have failed to understand what ‘democracy’ truly is.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dumb, And Proud Of It

by: Thushendran Amarakaran

An anti-Valentine’s Day campaign. ‘Awasi Jerat Hari Valentine’, to be more exact. Could a government initiative sound any more ridiculous? Granted, I’m not a big fan of the overly popularized and commercialized annual event that seems to serve little more purpose than prosper gift shop profits.

If popular albeit questionable lore is to be believed, this now infamous day is celebrated in memory of one Saint Valentine who was jailed and executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II for secretly marrying young couples who were in love in spite of a state law that prohibited young men from being married. How chocolate hearts and teddy bears help commemorate this noble notion is beyond me. But I digress.

I should also take this opportunity to assert my disclaimer that in hammering away at my laptop to write this piece, I bear no affront to the personal beliefs of any individual. This piece is intended to be an indictment of the unbelievably mind-numbing, teeth-clenching, face-palming stupidity (for lack of a better word) of a religious department that is federally funded, no less.

Despite the frivolous (and usually costly) expressions, the idea of love birds around the world professing their love on this day seemed harmless enough. At least until the Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM) decided it was time to wage war on Valentine’s Day. Before JAKIM apologists begin foaming at the mouth in defense of this establishment, allow me to ascertain that this isn’t a sweeping verdict on the very validity of JAKIM. That’s an argument for another day.

The following is JAKIM’s official statement on the issue: Kenyataan media JAKIM berkenaan bicarawara pelancaran kempen awas jerat Valentine's Day, as well as an article by a guest writer extolling the evils of this decadent Western festival: Sambutan Hari Kekasih salah disisi Islam

We’re all used to JAKIM’s usual drivel about keeping the faith. It would be redundant to repeat JAKIM’s well known stance that it is the last line of defense in protecting the integrity of the Malaysian Muslim’s faith. This is after all, the same institution that was concerned that football jerseys and yoga was enough to erode the very fibre of a moral person’s being to the point of apostasy. However, in this recent episode, I must applaud the department for having outdone itself. Firstly, JAKIM beings by warning Muslims not to participate in Valentine’s Day celebrations as it is a Christian festival that may lead to the committing of vice.

Granted, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in memoriam St. Valentine, an early Christian martyr. Despite its somewhat Christian origins, this day is by no means a religious celebration, nor is it in any way related to Christian teachings (or so I’m led to understand). Furthermore, the claim that a day to celebrate love may lead to vice activities leaves me speechless. Needless to say, the profession of love should not be confined to a calendar marking but should one choose to observe a day in dedication of the notion, what’s the harm? But more on these ‘sinful’ activities later. The argument that time spent with a loved one or a gift of a hideously overpriced teddy/chocolate/card (pardon the stereotype) may lead to a spiritual/moral crisis of some kind makes as much sense as exclaiming that football jerseys and yoga classes are corrosive to faith. Oh wait, in this country they are. Dang.

Moving along, I was especially tickled to read the guest writer’s summary of points as to why Valentine’s Day is anything but chicken soup for the soul. He kicks off to a grand start, by saying that Valentine’s day serves as an excuse for teens to loiter around and waste time. Firstly, JAKIM has no business telling people what to do with their free time…unless their hiding in a bush somewhere waiting to pounce. Furthermore, the notion seems to suggest that frivolous teenage meanderings only occur annually in this country, and I’m sure Malaysians are a little wiser than that. Put simply, berfoya-foya or loitering isn’t, as JAKIM seems to think, an activity observed specifically on Valentine’s Day nor does it lead to any real damage. Relax guys, some spare hours spent hanging around a mall isn’t going to kill anyone.

Sadly, the list doesn’t get any better with its subsequent points. For instance, No. 2: Valentine’s Day greeting cards commonly feature two-winged angels (I can only assume it’s a reference to Cupid) which are a long known “Christian symbol” and purchase/exchange of such artifacts are tantamount to worship. Hallmark artists would be wise to manipulate an obvious loophole and redesign Cupid with one wing instead, although this may lead to further problems with lift and drag during angel flight. No 5: Exchange of cute, cuddly text messages may lead unwitting tele-correspondents to believe in the ‘magic’ of Valentine’s Day. Yes folks, you heard me: A federally funded department that believes in magic. You can’t make this stuff up. But my personal favourite is No. 4. It’s so incredulous that it has to be quoted to be believed.

“4- Kebanyakan negara-negara Barat, parti-parti diadakan sempena hari tersebut disambut dengan pesta seks dan tari-menari…”
For the record, if anyone happens to be organizing a Valentine’s Day orgy, do drop me a Facebook invite. Nothing says ‘I love you’ more that a night of food and wine, fun and dance, and just for fun, let’s throw a little random, casual fornication en masse in the mix. You know, just to break the ice.

And just to put the cherry on the cake, JAKIM has decided to organize a forum to discuss and consolidate their views on what must seem to them to be an apex social ill, certainly more disturbing than the likes of child marriages or polygamy. Furthermore, they have reportedly decided to make fliers and stickers to be handed out to students to be passed out to their university mates (link). It seems fair to assume that JAKIM is paying for the whole grand shebang; fliers, stickers and all. JAKIM is federally funded. The federal government is taxpayer funded. So after much discreet elbowing and nudging, guess who’s stuck with the bill for this lovely Valentine’s Day celebration. Fun.

The thing that irks me the most about this whole issue is JAKIM’s unfailing ability to pin the blame on the most ridiculous scapegoat and deem the issue solved. The problem with faith in this country was football jerseys, then yoga classes and now Valentine’s Day. Case closed, faithful beware. Avoid the hedonistic Western values promoted by such elements and salvation is guaranteed. Come February 14th, confine yourselves to your rooms, cover your ears, and go lalalalalalalalalalala and forever more drown out the evils of Saint Valentine from your souls. Be sure that you are alone in your room, of course, or JAKIM will want a piece of that action as well. Come on-lah. Hyperbolae and exaggerations aside, JAKIM simply has to be held to higher intellectual standards when it comes to releasing statements. Given its flamboyant claims of moral and spiritual superiority, anything JAKIM says or does must fall nothing short of sage-like wisdom, failing which, Malaysians of all shapes, sizes and colours should unite and partake in a national pastime: laughing at idiots.

Though my palm still repeatedly strikes my face from the clueless doltishness exhibited above, I end my piece here lest I be perceived as a whiny rant and leave you to mull over the points raised here. It’s easy to say such issues do not concern a non-believer such as me, but I can’t help but raise a questioning hand when arms of my government still behave like ignorant children. And if I have unwittingly trodden upon a few toes in my quest to make sense of this madness, janganlah marah…The following quote by Thomas Jefferson seems a fitting way to conclude this rather cynical reflection:

"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions…”

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Malaysia isn't JUST Tanah Melayu

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir admitted at a recent conference that Malaysia belongs to the Malays. As a citizen of this country, I would like to correct Mahathir on this. Malaysia isn't exclusive to a race. It belongs to us, Malaysians.

But firstly, let me digress. The organisers of the February 1 conference, in which, Mahathir made the statement, was apparently "ordered" to bar non-Malay journalists from attending and covering the event [link]. Whether that was racist or not, I shall leave that to your educated minds.

Now, back to the topic of this post.

“This country belongs to the Malay race. Peninsular Malaysia was known as Tanah Melayu but this cannot be said because it will be considered racist. We must be sincere and accept that the country is Tanah Melayu," he told an audience at the “Malay race and the future” talk at the Tun Hussein Onn Memorial here.[link]
In case ignorance has befallen on our former premier, Malaysia is defined by Article 1(2) of our Federal Constitution as a federation of states comprising Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Pulau Pinang, Perak, Perlis, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor and Terengganu.

So, how is it that Malaysia equals Tanah Melayu? Has Mahathir forgotten that the formation of Malaysia came with the inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak?

The decision by our forefathers to unite as a federation meant that no state or region has the right to claim that the newly formed nation belongs to them or that it should be identified by their name. I would like to take the United States as an example. The proud nation of the United States, which spans fifty states today, was originally founded by thirteen British colonies. Do these original states today say they are the "true" America? No and so, my point exactly.

The former prime minister also said that country’s forefathers gave the Chinese and Indians immigrants citizenship because they expected the communities to respect Malay sovereignty. So, where does Malaysian sovereignty fit in? Mind you, the descendants of these immigrants are born Malaysians and therefore, are no longer "immigrants".

Correct me if I am wrong but I was taught in school that the British were not willing to grant us independence unless every community, immigrant or not, can show that we are able to accept one another as fellow citizens despite our cultural differences and to run this country as one, united people?

In my version of Malaysia, being Malaysian doesn't mean you are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban or Kadazan (apologies if I've missed out on the others). It means you see yourself as Malaysian, belonging to a nation which isn't identified by an ethnic group. Now, being proud with one's cultural heritage is one thing and it isn't criminal for one to practise his or her culture. I believe diversity is our identity and it has been so. We, the minorities, do not need to conform to the cultures and customs of the majority in order to be identified as Malaysian.

Otherwise, why do we brag about how multicultural Malaysia is to the world through countless tourism videos and campaigns?

I am not saying we abandon our national language. The Malay language is the binding language which unites us all. It is true that there are many Malaysians who are not as fluent in the national language as we want them to be, but it doesn't mean that people can use that to say they are not patriotic. Again, being proficient in the national language and adopting a culture are two very different things.

The following quote from Mahathir probably sums up the oxymoron which is the point he is trying to make:
“It is different in Malaysia, we still introduce ourselves according to our race. This is why the question of race will continue to haunt us."
And here I am wondering what was he doing there speaking at a racially-themed conference in the first place.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Two wrongs don't make a right

Speculation suggests that the next General Elections is at hand. With all the talk of Prime Minister Najib seeking a new mandate from the people to push his agenda of reforms, it is only natural for the Pakatan Rakyat to scramble to gain or retain support from the people. But I, personally, do not agree with how the Selangor government has acted recently.

The Malaysian Insider reports the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat government has allocated RM1 million for each of the constituencies it currently holds. Chief Minister Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said Barisan Nasional assemblymen are being excluded from these allocations because the federal government had similarly discriminated against PR representatives.

But two wrongs don't make a right, does it?

I cannot but to disagree with the Selangor government in this one. Firstly, by denying the RM1 million allocation, the state government is also withholding funds of which every citizen of Selangor is rightfully entitled to. Is that being fair and just?

Punishing voters for not voting you is wrong. It is not ethical. The state government serves the people, regardless of political creeds, and the folks in the Selangor government should know better when it comes to separating party from government.

By excluding BN-controlled constituencies from these allocations, the state government is also punishing their own supporters in those areas, mind you.

Secondly, is this also not vote-buying in nature? The PR leadership was quick to condemn Najib's "you help me, I help you" speech during the Sibu by-election last year but continues to remain silent in this one. For those who may not recall, Najib promised to sign a cheque of RM5 million to resolve flood woes in Rejang Park if BN candidate Robert Lau wins.

“The understanding is quite simple. I help you, you help me. If Robert Lau becomes the MP on Sunday, on Monday I will ask the cheque to be prepared.,” Najib said to a spirited response from the 1,000-odd crowd mostly Chinese.[link]
BN lost, eventually.

RM1 million may not seem a lot and may not even make a huge difference in urban areas like Petaling Jaya or Subang Jaya. But that sum may go a long way for rural constituencies where proper roads, bridges and other infrastructures are lacking.

That said, it doesn't really matter if it's RM1 million or RM100 million, it is the act of discrimination that I disapprove.

I want Malaysia to move forwards and away from such childish politics. Someone's got to be better man (or party, in this instance) and make the first, right move. I truly hope the "better alternative" would show they are indeed the better one.

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