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LETTER | Barbarians at the gate
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LETTER | An oft-repeated joke by some ex-friends goes, if you come across an Indian and a snake, which do you kill first? This does not offend me because we all know that story really ends with a pot of snake soup. But lately I’m wondering if we’re having trouble recognising snakes.

Malaysians are experts in politics, including Aunty Sandra, Uncle Muthu, Aunty Sandra’s gardener, Bilal. But Aunty Sandra’s kitchen cabinet isn’t the same as any prime minister’s, although at times both contain some empty vessels.

Silly season is approaching and, if you haven’t already noticed, the rules of the game have changed. In 2018, there were some seats that if a monkey was on the ballot, the monkey would have beaten the BN candidate. These days, we’re seeing some actual primates taking advantage of coalition politics and hoping to win big in the Hoopapalooza lottery that follows.

What is it in us that makes us fall for charming, sweet-talking, holier-than-thou but more useless than most-type of charlatans? Are we so stupid and naive that we can’t see the devil’s true colours?

Maybe we can’t.

Malaysians, well some of us, are often so consumed by emotion that we are so easily manipulated by these halfwits and a smile. These conmen know what you want to hear since they hire agencies with access to everything you’ve ever posted on Facebook or Twitter. They know you’re pissed off at Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin for making you take that booster shot.

But here’s the thing, it doesn’t take much to scratch the surface of anything or anyone you like or dislike to discover for yourself if your feelings are trustworthy.

Take Khairy, for example. In the last year, the man has been through a rollercoaster of adulation and abuse. One day he’s being lauded for getting everyone vaccinated and the next day he’s the Illuminati for wanting everyone to get vaxxed again. I mean, we trusted the Oxford scholar to organise the first two doses.

Between then and the booster, did we think he started taking advice from the coconut bomoh? The man sits in meetings daily with scientists, doctors with PHDs and medical experts from global agencies, yet you put your trust in Twitter handle @theworldisflat.

Yeah, well so what, you might think. It comes with the job and being a minister is a sweet deal anyway. Well, yes and no. Think of your office politics and add jet fuel. Any other person in his seat, and we all saw how that went, would play it much safer. To go against the anti-vax mob in what could be an election year takes courage, lots of it. A lesser politician would have put his career first and public health second. So rather than fuel the cries of his enemies, we could amplify our approval of his tenacity.

We also love our media. Our media loves clickbait. I used to work as a journalist in The New Straits Times when it still was journalism. The media today isn’t journalism. It’s a fight for survival and diminishing margins. The 24-hour news cycle and battle for eyeballs has turned almost every respectable paper into a gossip rag.

In January this year, Jana Santhiran Muniayan became one of the rare Indians appointed as the chief secretary to the Youth and Sports Ministry. A much-experienced and decorated officer, his journey to becoming the most senior officer in the ministry wasn’t a walk in the park. The minister that made this happen, Ahmad Faizal Azumu, or Peja as he’s known, is often ridiculed for his curry mee post.

In the midst of the pandemic he had posted a picture of a curry mee stall in endorsement. I never understood what the fuss was about. That he did that was a fantastic thing. The stall owner sold out for the whole week during a time when small businesses were struggling.

Since then, it seems like the media informed by its algorithms waits in the wings to make any fumble a blunder. But I spent an hour combing through his socials and what I discovered tired me.

The man is literally everywhere. How one person can be on the ground in so many places in a single day is beyond me. This man (and his wife Nomee) seem to be covering more ground than any NGO I’ve ever been involved in. And yet we know so little of him aside from the clickbait gaffes.

One thing is for sure, for all those who have paid lip service to unity, he pushed for the best chief secretary regardless of colour.

We’ve got to become better at this. Better at seeing through the clickbait and tweet storms. No one is perfect, but some try harder than the rest. We must identify and stand with them. The barbarians are at the gate. Some have already broken through.


The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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