Sunday, 27 June 2010

The culture of hate & short term tactics vs long term vision for country

I have been very disturbed by recent actions by some political actors in the country. Indeed the actions which I will detail below are severely disillusioning.

What has happened has been to take the national discourse to the lowest common denominator instead of uplifting the discourse by persuasion and leadership. It seems on certain matters, political leaders are running scared of a public rather than leading them and this fear is their own creation since no one really knows what the public is thinking.

1. Israel and the culture of hate.

I have always been disturbed by the thin vein of anti-semitism that tends to flare up in Malaysia. Being against the policies of a govt. is very difference from being against an entire ethnic group yet there is very little differentiation in Malaysia.

I have been hearing the plight of the Palestinian people for as long as I have lived. The flotilla attack should not have taken place the way it did. What should have been opposed was the actions of the govt. Instead it is Yahudi this and Yahudi that. The people on the forefront of this was Pakatan. The implication was this, let's get together in Malaysia and banish discrimination and prejudice but anyone outside of Malaysia is fair game.

This is what I call the culture of hate that is conveniently whipped up by politicians, agitators and those with vested interest.

A hate that is directed against one group or another . Now Pakatan is trying to say, that era is gone, yet it is acting the same way to a group of people outside of Malaysia.

Hate is hate, prejudice is prejudice. If you want to change the national discourse , you cannot make an exception saying that it is wrong in one place but ok in another. You cannot say it is ok to hate one group of people and not another. The whole thing should have been nuanced and explained properly.

Indeed it seems to be a crime in Malaysia to even have friends of Jewish descent wherever they come from or whatever country they are citizens of and this seems to be highlighted in blogs as some kind of crime. A lot of people in Israel also disagree with the actions of their govt. and vote and protest against it. Is such things not highlighted? Just as there is no monoethnic groupthink by ethnicity in Malaysia with each person having different ideals, dreams, aspirations, hopes, fears, believes, temperament from each other etc rather than some kind of collective consciousness that keeps them apart from others, so too is this applicable to others.

The Palestinian people deserve all the support they can get and in the end of the day they are going to have to live with their Jewish neighbours in hopefully their own state. I wonder if and when that time comes, whether it will still be Yahudi this and that in Malaysia. You cannot unwind prejudice and hatred like a switch. Not after spending years instilling it.

Note : I spend 40 days in the Middle East in a country that is an absolute monarchy (as most of them are). You would not want to live there. Migrant workers who form the large bulk of the population are in fear of their jobs all the time. There is no culture. National consciousness of any sort is stagnant. There is no public space, no history, no vision or sense of the future. You can feel the lack of human vitality, enterprise and spirit in a society where people are uncertain of their rights and those in power have absolute control over you. A society dependent on the largess of rulers from money that should be the people's anyway. Yet no one mentions the lack of freedom and choice and the culturally dying society in these places.

What is a short term tactical win for Pakatan is a long term lost to lead the public in Malaysia.

2. Sports Betting

I have talked about moral policing and unaccountable laws before but having deleted all my previous post I am going to have to rehash.

I find it disturbing in Malaysia that they are different sets of laws for different people. Everyone equal under the law is a basic precept of democracy, yet that becomes less relevant when the question turns to which law or some laws are applicable to some people and not others. For example polygamy is a crime in Malaysia except if you fall under a different set of laws. I am highlighting this not to support polygamy but to show the absurdity of it. Why is a crime for some and not others? And I am not even looking at gender bias here.

What is worse is that laws that fall under the syariah court are not debated by any elected representatives. They are passed summarily by unelected officials without discourse with the general public and therefore are in danger of containing the prejudices and bias's of people who pass them. The point of having a parliament is to bring the light of day to the laws being passed, so what is finally passed can be judged by the majority (who are accountable to their voters) to be in the best interest of the people as a whole. But if laws are being passed without this scrutiny, you end up having the situation in Malaysia. A moral police that can arrest people for not fasting during ramadan, yet religious leaders in the same breath saying that there is no compulsion and it is a choice. There is a body of jurisprudence that is open to interpretation, who is watching those who interpret?

I really believe that those who are adherent to a certain faith should practice it the best they can. But what has happened is that in religious matters pertaining to Islam, Malaysia has become a police state, where there is compulsion under the law and the choice of how to practice is taken away. Instead you have the nonsensical comment of "the people can be confused (i.e. they are too stupid so we have to tell them exactly how it is)" so there has to be benevolent religious dictatorships to "set people on the correct path" , on the path as these religious interlocutors see it. It is the closing of the Malaysian mind to new thoughts and ideas in a very important sphere of their lives.

Before I start on the main topic one more digression. The head of Islam in each state is the ruler and those states without rulers, the Agong. In my experience, most of these characters are womanising sex-crazy alcoholic playboys (the men anyway), not epitomes of morality. They lost their moral authority by the lives they have led a long time ago. They have their timber interest, their property interest, in a quid pro quo, their privacy and social lives are protected by the ruling parties and you therefore have ridiculous articles about them on their birthdays, with pictures of 60 year old rulers with their 30 year old second wives highlighting the sheer hypocrisy of the whole exercise . They are too compromised with too much vested interest to ever be the people's umbrella in the state. They could never go against state Mufti's and override them. They are more or less yes-men in matters of religion in their state and these laws are being written unchallenged and unquestioned.

Now to sports betting.

What's the big deal? You acknowledge that illegal gambling is a big issue. Regulating it brings it out to the open and controls it. The logic of opposing is simply not there when you have 4d's and a casino in Malaysia already. It might be a smart short term political move. Some good point-scoring and definitely less money to the ruling party's coffers for the next general election. Yet the reasoning to oppose it was not there. It was politicians acting as moral champions when individual people should have been given the right to choose or not to choose to gamble.

Instead the manner it which it was awarded should have been questioned. The rights should have been auctioned to the highest bidder (as has happened to other countries for example, telephone spectrum) and the govt. earning revenue both from the highest bid as well as the high taxation that the gambling industry generally pays worldwide. Everything should be transparent. Instead you have what happened instead. Point scoring instead of leadership.

There are occasions that are "teachable moments". Where politicians sense there is a chance to influence the national discourse and take to the stage to argue their case instead of pandering to their supporters worse instincts. Unfortunately no one in Pakatan has the balls for this or any long term thought beyond the next election.

Where is our country heading with leaders like this on both sides?

I ask what next? What is is going to be banned or deemed unfit for the people without their say?

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