Malaysiakini Letter

Mere rhetoric? You decide!

Slipperyhead  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the Malaysiakini article The dangers of rhetoric

I find this letter amusingly ironic, as while the 'dangers' of rhetoric are never really mentioned, it has resulted in a trade of barbs between us that might indeed be counterproductive - one of the dangers of rhetoric perhaps?

I will start by conceding with one of your suggestions - that hurling accusations at Dr Mahathir is somewhat useless, as I cannot know for sure what happened between him and Anwar. I too am hardly ever in the mood to hear repetitive arguments that don't really go anywhere.

My only defence was that I was not attempting to accuse Dr Mahathir, as much as I was trying to present a balance to your argument of not judging people just based on their bad qualities - I was pointing out the irony that the value you were using to defend Dr Mahathir with did not appear to be one that he himself espoused (based on his track record of his dealings with Anwar).

Though, I do think that your understanding of Western ideas as reflecting a culture of "not wanting to be admonished, criticised or complained at" is grossly flawed and inaccurate. The truth is that freedom of speech is a Western concept, and that freedom includes the freedom to admonish, criticise and complain.

These are traditionally normal practices in Western society - people have a right to say what they want, as long as they do not step over certain boundaries. Freedom of rational speech is also a key component of democracy, and contrary to what you think or claim, democracy is a Western ideal - it was born out of and first practiced by Western society, while the rest of the world clung on to other systems (monarchs, totalitarianism, etc).

Seriously, look it up - the Greeks, then later the Romans, and then even later the French refined the process as we know it today.

Actually, the culture of "not wanting to be admonished, criticised or complained at" are neither Eastern nor Western ideals - they are human ideals. No one likes to be complained about.

But let's take a look at the places in the world that control the media - a tool of the government to prevent criticism and complaints against it - China, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia. All 'Eastern' nations.

Don't get me wrong though, there are likely countries in South America and Africa that practice the controlling of the media too. But whether their system truly represents the ideals of a democracy, or whether they can even count as Western countries is another matter.

The ideal of a democracy is where everyone is represented as best as possible. Suppressing people's voices, through controlling the media, is a step against it. Removing the right to free and rational speech, is a step away from democracy. And no, I'm not saying that people can simply say what they want - there has to be accountability involved.

Another factual error you have made is your assumption that Malaysia's non-acceptance of aid from the IMF caused Malaysia to fare better than the other nations that did. Actually, if you do some homework and read the economic reports of the last 10 years on the issue, the general consensus among professionals is that our non-acceptance of aid from the IMF neither helped nor hindered Malaysia's recovery during that financial crisis.

Though I will admit that economically, Dr Mahathir did wonders for us. He transformed our economy into a modern one. I do not deny that.

What I deny is the protection of his character and dignity based solely on the good things that he has done. I take Dr Mahathir with his good points and bad points. Yes, he did a good job. But some things, he did not do so well. Others, he downright screwed up - such as, our judicial system, and the closing of the gap between the judiciary and executive parts of our democracy, which is against democracy's 'separation of powers' or 'check and balance' concepts.

Oh, and while I thought it was clear, perhaps the sarcasm of my comparison of Dr Mahathir to Hitler was somehow lost. I was commenting on how you implied Dr Mahathir was a true leader and your statement "A true leader will die believing in what he did for his country". Hitler died believing in what he did for his country too. I think that hardly made him a true leader.

The comparison that I make between the two hinges on your assumptions of true leadership. If "all Malaysians and Asians" have been insulted by this, it is because of your equating of true leadership as 'willing to die for your beliefs'. I was merely pointing out (sarcastically) the ridiculousness of your rationale.

I cannot deny that race-based politics has its merits and its place. However, when comparing BN to African-American civil rights groups, kindly keep in mind that while such civil rights groups exist within a large context of political representation, they do not solely dictate the political scene in modern, Western society - rather, they fight and lobby for the dignity and rights of race groups that would be trampled upon should they no longer function, while in the larger scheme of things, political parties based on economic principles dictate, govern and make up the bulk of the politics of the day.

Democrats vs Republicans. Liberals vs Labour. They differ not significantly in racial make-up - their true differences are their different economic emphases.

You argue that a democracy in Malaysia must suit our special needs, and not simply mimic that which is practiced in the 'West'. But what are these 'special needs'?

There are poor people all over Malaysia, regardless of race. Shouldn't they all be helped? There are people who need aid and an opportunity to function in society in Malaysia, regardless of race. Shouldn't they all be provided the opportunity too? Why should the colour of my skin determine which university I can go to, which jobs I can take, or how much aid I receive should I need it? Beneath the color of my skin, I am like every other Malaysian. I bleed. I feel. I hunger. I yearn. Why should I be treated differently? Truly I say to you, race based politics practiced in their 'right form' only result in discrimination - when one person's skin color is favoured, another's will be less favoured.

That's what our NEP has done for generations. And the result - there are the rich who take advantage and abuse the system, while there are the poor who cannot get access to the things that they should have a right to, given that they are citizens of Malaysia too.

You are quick to dismiss a Western democracy, likely free of race-based politics, based on economic principles because of the assumption that we need to tailor democracy to fit Malaysia's special circumstances. I fail to see how we are so 'special', in this regard.

Also, I like to think of a true democracy as a key - a key to a life where dignities are protected as best as they can be. When a key is altered, it no longer opens what it originally intended to. The key no longer works, or it opens something else.

And so I end this long letter by rebutting one of your first assumptions - I cannot speak for Helen but I am Malaysian-educated - I was educated in Malaysia for about 15 years before receiving further education overseas. The principles within our Malaysian education system are not as biased against Western principles as you may think.

In fact, I daresay they share more in common. The pursuit of truth is the most common. And people in Malaysia are slowly seeing the truth of the relationship between race-based politics and discrimination. People are starting to question the truth of the necessity for the suppression of our voices, for injustices to carry on, and for the assumption of people having unequal dignities.

'Divide and rule' strategies (read: race based politics) are outdated. But there is no need to fret, because there are viable and better alternatives. Labourist-principles can dictate the scene instead - fighting for and protecting the rights of every worker in the country.

Justice-based principles would espouse justice (Keadlian's philosophy). There's just so much more that our ruling government can be doing, if it were not bound by its definition of 'divide and rule' principles. And there are so many ways, so many different principles that Malaysians, as a single race, can embrace. All the Malaysian race needs is a chance.

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