Not so long ago, if memory serves me correctly, growing up in this nation-state named Malaysia that I fortunately can call as my homeland, it was touted by many foreign observers and local policy makers alike as an exemplar country for multiculturalism.
It was a society which celebrates its vast diversities and proudly practices a common sense of inclusiveness, known well for a harmonious tolerance in order to achieve social stability that generates successful milestones enjoyed by all walks of life.
That was among the various self-made and freshly inspiring public formulas which caught the attention of the world towards a nation that was relatively quite unknown before.
It offered solution-based approaches for the many problems across the globe and thus marking Malaysia as an important player at the world stage with its attractive social model, innovative economic strategies and well-respected international diplomacy.
At one time, Malaysia became a regional powerhouse or the booming market as a result of its many visionary elements, charismatic leaders, progressive constructs and effective ventures particularly during the 70s & 80s (coincidentally simultaneous with the emergence of the Islamic “tide”) prior to my generation’s birth that ultimately shaped up its impeccable status back in the 90’s as an emerging and developing nation. (As according to the generally-accepted notion, term, implied definition and worldview of the post WWII events that is the super-powered nations.)
Malaysia was consistently entering the headlines for all the right matters.
Today however, things have change. Unfortunately for us, not for the better.
Due to the dynamic nature that is politics, a lot of drastic shifts have taken place within the overall fabric of society that now sees the continuous decay of its once-herald potentials, and usher in a bleak forecast of its declining slip into a problematic state.
Malaysia somehow finds itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons as of late.
Looking at the sharp feedback, vocal criticism, eroded public trust, intense grassroots pressure, acts of civil disobedience and even outright open backlashes, it has never been this high before.
As the rakyat now begin to suffer from the effects of past decisions and criminal mistakes made by its previous corrupted leaders and mega-rich cronies that were detrimental yet cunningly kept under-wraps, the illusionary wall of success for Malaysia is starting to crumble at the expense of its people, specifically the youths as truths begins to set in harshly.
In an futile attempt to maintain its grip upon luscious power and what is left of a much sort after regimented order, we now witness clear violations of basic rights and repressive scare tactics done by those in authority and the law enforcement upon the disgruntled consensus that are facing the realities of daily survival struggles, job insecurities, rising qualified yet unemployed local graduates, urban disenchantment or rural backwardness, and widening gap of inequality between rich and poor.
And all the while having to witness firsthand the accountability of their elected representative destroyed and its reputation taken through the mud due to plenty of scandals and truly insensitive controversies that simply is disgraceful for any government.
This absence of what is known as social justice and human dignity as prominently cannoned by the Islamic movements of Malaysia and its selfless members can only be credited to the abuse upon the institutional frameworks by the greedy and materialistic characters of what Prof Syed Hussein Alatas describes as “jadong” individuals (jahat, bodoh, sombong), that in turn has allowed for the flourish of a concept as coined by his younger brother Tan Sri Prof Syed Naquib al-Attas to be the “vicious cycle” (confusion & error in knowledge – loss of adab – rise of bad leadership), that can be further described as a “septic culture” that drags a society towards its own internal implosion.
That situation has led some to speculate upon the ultra-conservative trend that currently is sweeping the mainstream politics and influencing a significant majority of its Bumiputera politicians here in Malaysia, particularly the ruling government led by the prime minister and also certain opportunistic factions of the now disoriented, unimpressive and perhaps even leaderless opposition pact, namely those that seek a lucrative uniting cooperation and pious efforts in providing assisting advice while maintaining a blatant double standard attitude.
This orchestrated hyped-perception and media intensity by the ruling government as well as both its existing machinery components and newly rekindled allies, has seen to the countless provocative remarks and downright offensive statements being blurted out carelessly by high profile personalities, “hired” ambitious entities/NGOs that aspires to become big players, and clowns looking to make a few quick bucks, that deconstructs the multiculturalism pillars on which the nation was formed out of its independence, through the expansion of sentiment-based manipulation done in order for career advancements, wealth accumulation and political survival.
In turn, it garners enough of a drama to cause a vindictive reaction from the “extreme-radicals” at the opposing end of the spectrum in the society that then stupidly distorts the entire narrative by playing a very risky game of denouncing out of context and attempting to “throw a fastball” by lobbying their own personal motives along the way.
They bid to portray themselves as the sorts of “rational voices”, “moderate figures” and “credible alternatives” yet are unable to fully grasp the alarming situation and appear as a bunch of pretenders that not only hijacks the discourse but also escalates an already troublesome propaganda move done by the “die-hard” fanatics or fundamentalist found in abundance throughout the layers of governance offices, public services, commercial sectors and certain specialised groups of nuisance.
Multiculturalism has ironically found itself being publicly antagonised here in Malaysia as oppose to before being a central theme in nation-building, often now being said to contain confusing dangers, undermine special privileges, and are a form of foreign-made threat, as in the case today throughout the West with matters pertaining to immigrants, Islamophobia, racial profiling, security concerns and a quest for national identity.
Subsequently, it has fuelled the rise of far-right tendencies and populist sloganeering to begin infiltrating the political scene in Malaysia and slowly influencing attitudes of the masses at public spaces.
Some even, had triggered shameful behaviour of violence and acts that spark racial flares. This contributes to the heightened “silo mentality” among the communities, along with the already long-held “ignorant prejudices” that are truly difficult to manage and curb.
Adding up to chaos are the constant bickering done among the different streams of thoughts and background by the academicians and religious scholars as is apparent elsewhere in volatile countries or those experiencing atrocious wars. Those recognise as having knowledge nowadays would usually fit being of either four types:
1. The ones positioning themselves with safe comfort and plays the “assumed” role of polite yet conforming gestures and recommendations.
2. The ones that are famously popular but narrowly literalist in their understanding and are simplistically reckless in their proposals that leads a determine obsession to uphold their misguided egos and unhelpful interpretation.
3. The ones which speak on behalf of the general populace as a daring public intellectual that engages seeking for a betterment of society as a whole, thus causing conflicts with the norm and drawing definite “heat” upon his/her ideals.
4. The ones finding all sorts of excuses and selfish arguments for self-censorship.
Of those types, its safe to assume on which is apparently the dominant condition right here in Malaysia and which is in a minority-like situation in terms of combating earnestly towards enlightening and empowering the people. The “castigation of will” and deplorable state of affairs within our “ivy towers” has resulted in a lack of emphasis upon dealing with actual problems.
Also, offering more audience for judgmental cynics, vulgar personas and rampant ‘trolling’ mediums to run wild among teenagers and their peers as a result of not having correct role models to look up to (as highlighted by Datuk Dr Siddiq Fadzil as the “kebanjiran idola kemarau teladan” phenomenon) other than the profitable garbage provided by the entertainment industry and also the “sexy” counter-culture done by underground-indie substitutes.
At the root of these systemic predicament is the excessive discrepancy of our priorities, one that shuns multiculturalism for superior identification, one that prides physical accomplishments over spiritual integrity and moral fibre, one that overlooks social cohesion and mutual integration in return of a dividing class elitism, one that fulfils the expectations of market-monopoly demands at the cost of sacrificing purposeful reforms and wasting local talents.
Why did this “transformation” (pun intended) happen?
The most glaring of flaws, well documented by experts and pundits alike that follow the Malaysian journey, is that of the principle aspects and ethical dimensions of the products and qualities Malaysia has so far been able to come out with from the input of its fundamental education and core philosophies.
Therein lies the uphill task for intellectuals and educators, social workers and civil societies, idealistic figures and pragmatic politicians, in seeking a form of retrospect and coming out with a better plan for Malaysia that can somehow merge the spirit of “muhibah”, noble values and uplifting success.
There is a urgent need to rediscover those memories of old in order to once again move forward and become respected for the rich substance that we are capable of. Only by looking inwards with bare sincerity and collective teamwork across differences can we finally be able come out with a solution.
Quoting again from Dr Siddiq, this time from his work titled “Kepelbagaian Dalam Bingkai Kesatuan” as he brilliantly explores the concept of true unity and nation-building.
“Kita harus dapat bersikap positif, melihat dan menerima kepelbagaian kaum, agama dan budaya bukan sebagai sumber konflik, sebaliknya sebagai aset kekuatan, kekayaan, kreativiti dan dinamik kemajuan.”
Indeed, multiculturalism is a complicated subject that has so much variables, yet it is precisely that which makes it distinctly unique and relevant to be addressed as a point of convergence rather than a tool of segregation. – December 30, 2015.
Halmie Azrie Abdul Halim
PKPIM & ABIM Activist
*This article has been published in The Malaysian Insider,