My fellow dear Malaysians, and the leaders of my Malaysia,
True, there are many things wrong with our Malaysia - a polarised and angry politics, the perception of corruption, a non-competitive and undiversified oil-based economy, an unfair and outdated affirmative action policy couched in racial terms, a rising crime rate, and a general sense of malaise within the country.
We have rising numbers of Malaysians renouncing their citizenship, or emigrating, or voicing their rising discontent in the streets and kedai kopi; that’s the evidence you need that Something is Wrong with Our Malaysia.
But what a mistake it is to think that it is all doom and gloom. Just travel outside Malaysia, and we can see the deep reservoirs of respect that Malaysia still commands in many corners of the world. I’ve lived, worked or studied in four countries, travelled to 44 countries, and have friends from over 140 countries. Wherever I go and whomever I meet, Malaysians are received with tremendous goodwill, respect and affection.
People recognise Malaysia for our relatively peaceful multi-racial society, our moderate politics, and the successful confluence of Islam and secularism. They admire our relatively successful economic policies that gave rise to an oasis of prosperity and growth in frequently poor South East Asia in particular and Asia in general.
They perceive our physical infrastructure to be strong, our healthcare system modern and accessible, and our education system affordable and of good quality. That’s saying nothing about our stunning natural beauty, the hypnotic mix of cityscape-beaches-mountains-forests-culture-history-people, and the glorious food.
What are we? Are we a dysfunctional country on the brink of disaster, or a successful one with a bright future? The truth, my dear fellow Malaysians, is that we are both.
Non-Malaysians think that we are doing well, but we Malaysians think that we should have done much better. After all, we have intrinsic strengths and blessings that few other countries have: a British legacy of governance, institutions and infrastructure; a near-absence of natural disasters; rich natural resources and minerals; fairly stable political and economic stewardship between the 1950s-1990s.
So, if we should have done much better, when did we lose our way?
Perhaps we lost our way, not at dramatic inflection points, but in small doses and incremental carelessness and years of poor policies taking their collective toll. Of all our strengths, our greatest and most visible is our peaceful multi-ethnicity. Do not take this for granted: look at how a homogeneous France, Germany or Japan deals poorly with immigration, or how fractured multi-racial Iraq and Myanmar are, or former Yugoslavia was.
Malaysia is not blessed to be a cohesive country of 50 million South Koreans, five million Norwegians or 120 million Mexicans, all of whom speak the same language, eat the same food, and wear the same dress.
We Malaysians are different from each other, but yet therein is our strength. We have not nurtured this strength; instead, we play dangerous race-based politics, and show Isis beheading videos during our party meetings, to create an us-versus-them siege mentality. We encourage racial statements (even by political leaders), ghettoisation, quotas in university admissions and government posts.
Stop this slide into an abyss
Years of insults big and small have created mistrust and downright hostility between the races in Malaysia. STOP! We are not yet on the brink of a civil war, but 2015 is a great time for us to stop this slide into an abyss from which we may never return. A great first step would be to stop all the actions that create mistrust, before we begin actions to re-create the trust.
Secondly, we may also have lost our way in gentlemanly and transcendental politics and politicians. Yes, it’s true that even the democracies of America, Britain and India are paralysed and fractured. Yet it is no excuse for us to succumb to our base human instincts, and forget what it means to be a leader and a statesman, as opposed to being a mere politician.
Taking care of yourself and family reasonably, AND leading Malaysia to a brighter future, are not mutually exclusive aims. Aim to be a transformational figure like a Mandela, Gandhi or Lee Kuan Yew. Regardless of whether it is through birth, talent, luck or hard work, you’ve risen to become leaders of a proud country of 30 million people.
We understand that you are only human and are imperfect, but you’re supposed to be better than us, more evolved than us, Advanced Beings almost. Isn’t that why you’re our leaders, so that we may look up to you, and not vice versa? ACT LIKE IT! I am not being naïve about the human condition of selfishness, but believe that you still have common sense and common decency to at least not do the wrong thing, if you can’t do the right thing.
Finally, on Anger. This is the dominant emotion of today. In order to be heard, we adopt progressively more extreme views, and become progressively louder in expressing these views. No doubt there would be considerable anger and frustration at the recent cabinet reshuffle, but a revolution isn’t the way forward for Malaysia.
Look at the Arab Spring, where only Tunisia emerged with even a vaguely functioning democracy. No, any change for Malaysia must take place in the ballot box, between two political coalitions with (hopefully) two functional and competing political philosophies.
Both sides would have anger, but both sides need to cool down the rhetoric a notch, and focus on what can be done to make Malaysia better. Isn’t that what we all want? Why must we hate those who disagree with us, as though they are our enemies? We all want the same thing - a successful, peaceful and prosperous Malaysia.
We may actually be at an inflection point for Malaysia now, although this inflection point will be measured in months to years. There are things that we can do to get Malaysia back on track, to be a tolerant, liberal yet Asian, modern yet traditional, balanced and successful country.
We should not squander the good luck, goodwill and good reputation that Malaysia enjoys in this world. It would be a sad day in the future, if we meet a foreigner who looks at us with pity because we come from a corrupt banana republic.
Sadly, we may never have soaring rhetoric and leadership in our beautiful Malaysia, nor see a Kennedy, Suu Kyi or Churchill lead us on an irresistible arc towards a glorious future. So, if we will not get beautiful words and visionary leadership from our political leaders today, perhaps we should speak in a plain, unadorned and honest style, in order that we will all get the message: #MakeMalaysiaBetter .