Saturday, March 20, 2010

My poor Malaysia — Karim Raslan

MARCH 6 — Manila is an exhausting and ugly city. After a week of meetings and far too many encounters with politicians (strange how they never listen to us?), I was itching to get away from the capital.

On the recommendation of some friends, I headed south to the island of Bohol, which is located in the Visayas, the belt of islands anchored by Cebu and sandwiched between Luzon — to the north — and Mindanao — to the south.

I’d been told that Bohol, more than Boracay, (the country’s party-island) was a Bali-in-the-making. Bohol, according to my sources, had Boracay-like sandy beaches. However, at the same time, it also had culture, history and a beautiful countryside.

So, tired of being stuck in endless traffic jams along EDSA, Manila’s equivalent of Jalan Tun Razak and the Federal Highway rolled into one, I headed off.

However, modern technology means that we never really leave our “world” behind and with my Blackberry blinking perpetually; updates from Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta followed me across Bohol’s gorgeous landscape.

Of the two, the news from Malaysia where three women were caned for illicit sex was by far the most disturbing.

The canings have serious implications for Malaysia. We have crossed an invisible line. We no longer belong with Turkey and Indonesia as progressive Muslim nations. For better or for worse, we have chosen to join the more conservative spectrum.

Indeed, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has long argued that we are an Islamic state. The recent canings strengthen this position — though I disagree with such a definition.

Moreover, we have chosen to dramatically insert the state — with all its inadequacies and prejudices — into the world of private morality. In doing so, the boundary between the public and personal has been erased forever.

So, what is happening? Well, the Malay/Muslim community is once again being consolidated and united around Umno. Inevitably, this will have tremendous long-term repercussions for the community and indeed the country.

Why? Well, because the very real diversity and differences within the Malay community will no longer be tolerated. We are to be homogenous, loyal and unquestioning subjects.

Independence of thought and action is dangerous and unwise. Anyone who chooses not conform had better be prepared for the consequences.

This is ironic given the fact that we’re simultaneously being exhorted to be innovative and creative in order to take Malaysia to a higher economic level.

The push to control the community absolutely will leave the Malays as the ultimate losers. The best and the brightest will flee for higher paying jobs elsewhere. Meanwhile, everyone else will readjust (or rather, stagnate) to the new reality — namely that obtaining power and money depends on your closeness to Umno, thereby heightening the lobbying and the politicking.

At the same time it’s worth bearing in mind that morality laws are a double-edged sword. Today’s accuser could end up tomorrow’s victim. It’s arguable that justice without mercy is merely revenge. The second trial of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is a powerful reminder to people of the dangers of challenging established authority.

Needless to say, the news was pretty depressing. Still, since I was in Bohol, I tried enjoying myself while doing my best to forget the bigotry and narrowness that has been making life in Kuala Lumpur more difficult.

Whilst Bohol’s charms couldn’t entirely shake off the gloom, the island and its history reminded me of the arbitrariness of life in Southeast Asia.

As one of the first points of contact between the Spanish and the locals back in 1565, Bohol was probably a Muslim enclave. The Spanish, however, were thorough conquerors, also spreading Catholicism in their wake.

Interestingly though, the conquistadors quickly realised that they would only be able to convert the local people if they learnt the local languages. This they promptly did, spreading Christianity through a mixture of Tagalog or Bisayan, depending on the locality.

What this did in turn was not dissimilar to the acculturation process that took place in Java in the 15th and 16th-Centuries when Islam was spread by the famous Wali Songo. These nine famous Muslim preachers used Javanese in their sermons, adapting their message to local customs and practices.

Bohol was so strange and yet so familiar. I was constantly being reminded of places elsewhere in Southeast Asia that I’ve visited over the past decades. There were parts that had echoes of Terengganu, Sabah, Ambon, Bangka and even Pagan in Myanmar.

As I drove across Bohol, stopping off at beaches and the rolling chocolate-coloured hills in the centre of the island (a set of bizarre and uniformly dome-shaped formations that rolled on for miles and miles), I found myself forgetting the dispiriting news from Kuala Lumpur.

Indeed, I became quite intrigued by the island’s churches instead. They were large, daunting stone structures, laid out by Jesuits in the 1600’s and 1700’s. The buildings had impressive thick walls, baroque altar-pieces and lavish painted ceilings.

They had survived earthquakes and fires, standing tall among the humble atap homes of their parishioners, a stern and forbidding symbol of Catholicism’s might, not to mention the power of the Spanish monarchs.

Indeed, as I watched the local Bohol people go about their religious practices I was reminded of similar crowds I’d seen years before in Kelantan, in Padang, Quiapo and

Penampang. Indeed, I was most struck by the similarity in terms of intensity and passion that I’d seen at the historic Sultan Ampel mosque in Surabaya, or the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon.

We were all Southeast Asians — history’s pawns. Here, in a land little different from my own — a land studded with coconut palms, bamboo groves, mango trees and watered by frequent rainstorms, another faith — almost by accident — had taken hold and become dominant, whereas on the Malay Peninsula we had become Muslims.

Once converted, we have now become the most assiduous of believers. Tragically, we are in danger of losing our openness. Instead, we are all-too eager to condemn and attack. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we forgot our rich, syncretic, and much more accepting, tolerant past. Malaysia, my poor Malaysia. — mysinchew

Yes my point exactly. I am not as lucid as Karim Raslan but i do share his dismay of what have happen to the Malay race. To walk tall among others we must admit our shortcomings by doing so we could learn and adapt it to survive. We must admit in terms of ketamadunan or being civilised we are far behind the Cihnese and Indian. No doubt we have government, we have our own writings but domestic economics we have remain stagnated. We are traders no doubt, we buy and sell but we do not create end products. We have good harbours, people comes to buy raw materials while we bought from them cloths, silverware etc. We sell raw, we do make certain items but even then the craft goods that we made were not market properly or the price were higher. So yes we produce songket, we made keris but overall we still buy porcelain plates and cutting tools from neighbouring countries.

It was more economical but it also create a gap between us and others. So when machination arrive here, the one servicing these tools were the non malays. They have a head start. Since I have also wrote the next economic wheel for Malaysia would be in the service industries I am sad the Malays will be left behind. The Ultras are still wailing for level playing field but what the use of level playing field if the Malay mind set is not geared to service her clients. You go to any restaurant own by Malay and likely the bane is poor service and you ask a Malay why he likes Mamak restaurant, not for the food really but the service.

We must create a service oriented mentality, we must be able to serve and not look that as beneath us because to succeed we must serve. As Muslims we serve God so why can't we serve Man for profit? A paradigm shift must be the main goal of the Malays, Mindset must by all means reflect the new economic necessity. Leaning to the Government for hands out is the thing of the past, they must rely on themselves and look at the government more as a friend to help them but not a father figure anymore.



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