Saturday, April 25, 2009

Article by John Lee on Unity for Malaysia

A very solid article by John Lee. This sums up what most Malaysians abroad think, and hopefully, we Malaysians, can be united!

This is quoted from here .
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APRIL 17 — It’s rather clich├ęd, but you don’t know how much you value something you own until you lose it. As a Malaysian living overseas, you cherish Malaysia much more than you did when you were back home. And when you finally meet up again with other Malaysians, all you can talk about is how much you miss Malaysia — and how much you wish things might change, as much as you love it.

It is rather lonely being a Malaysian studying in America; there just aren’t very many Malaysians around. If the number of Malaysians on your campus is in the double digits, you can count yourself extremely lucky. This is a big reason why a bunch of Malaysians dispersed across the northeastern United States came together and formed the Northeast Malaysia Forum in 2007 — our second annual conference, held at Yale University, concluded just under a week ago.

NMF, as we have come to call it, gives us a taste of home. Words cannot describe how comforting it is to once more be among people who look like you and your friends, talk like you and your friends, and eat like you and your friends. For a little while, it’s almost as if you really are home again.

Looking at Malaysia from the inside, it’s often hard to believe that we are actually one country, or 1 Malaysia, as the Prime Minister would have it — much like the shopping mall, I suppose. But when you go overseas, these differences really melt away. Nobody gives a crap where you’re from, what race you are, or what languages you speak — they’re just excited to see another Malaysian.

I believe that what defines a nation the best is the shared experiences which its people must go through. Regardless of what we actually think about Negaraku, the Jalur Gemilang, Rukunegara — whether we think of them as patriotic reminders of our country, or pointless propaganda — we all know what they mean, and we all care about this meaning, even if that is sometimes reflected in gripes about our government. Perhaps more importantly, we all have a favourite Malaysian food, a favourite Malaysian song, a favourite Malaysian person; we are in love with something Malaysian. And nothing reminds you more of how much we have in common than spending months separated from all you hold dear.

If you want to create national unity and nurture patriotism, cost be damned, just disperse all those kids we send to National Service across the globe — and reunite them 12 months later in a foreign land. It’s expensive, but it works. Every year, at NMF social events, it is guaranteed that you will find people randomly breaking out into patriotic song — just turn the corner and you might find someone belting out “Sejahtera Malaysia”.

Perhaps more importantly than this, because we are reminded of how much we love our country, we don’t shrink from speaking some hard truths about it. When people give us feedback on NMF discussions, there’s always astonishment at the things that came out, and a sense of regret that we could not have discussions like these back home. Last weekend, a Malay in the group I attended bluntly told us: “You know, the Malays are really very racist.” A Chinese responded: “If you think the Malays are racist, you haven’t met the Chinese yet!”

Strikingly, these conversations were not just being held in conference rooms at Yale, but in cities across the world: for what might have been the first time in history, Malaysians in places ranging from Sydney to Yale to London gathered together to watch a live webcast of speakers hosted at a studio in 1 Utama, Petaling Jaya. And then, in real time, as the speakers held forth, these Malaysians engaged in a spirited debate online, in a chatroom, leaving no controversial issue untouched — from race to religion. Almost every imaginable point of view was represented — and questions from this very chatroom were posed to the speakers in KL, also in real time, allowing for an unprecedented, jovial and amazingly civil back-and-forth between Malaysians across the globe.

Meaningful dialogue, even on sensitive issues, is very possible — and while back home, repressive laws may be a barrier, the biggest block is primarily societal: most Malaysians are not comfortable enough with each other to have these frank discussions. We are not vulnerable enough to let our guards down; we define ourselves by a conflict with some other ominous group. I have heard many Chinese over the years admit to other Chinese that most of us are incredibly insensitive and far too racist — but till now, I have never seen a single one dare admit this to someone from another ethnic group. But when your worldview changes — when you’re overseas — you’re just a Malaysian among Malaysians: you can talk about Malaysian issues as a Malaysian, instead of as a Muslim, or a Chinese, or a Perakian.

NMF actually grew out of an earlier initiative by a group of Malaysians in California, who founded the Stanford Malaysia Forum — and what both groups have in common is a desire to drive this dialogue, to build bridges between Malaysians of different backgrounds. We recognise that right now we are not quite 1 Malaysia — or a Bangsa Malaysia, or a Malaysian Malaysia, or whatever you want to call it, because these labels really all mean the same thing. But we believe this ideal, united Malaysia can be created, if only enough Malaysians can come together to make it a reality.

This year, the theme for the NMF conference was Revision 2020: rethinking our idea of what a truly developed and progressive Malaysia should look like. As much as we may disagree on what this ideal Malaysia should be, we are at least talking openly about it, and through conversations with other Malaysians, slowly making a united Malaysia — a Malaysia with a shared vision — a reality. We posed hard questions with no simple solutions, and we shared our differing ideas freely and civilly.

Can we really say the same for our members of Parliament, our Cabinet ministers, or even our simple gatherings in warungs and kopitiams across the country? When we complacently slide back into the old idea of pitting one group of Malaysians against another, it is much easier to pretend these problems aren’t really there — it is simpler to ignore the elephant in the room, or to dismiss it as a trivial problem. But until we can frankly talk about that elephant, we’re never going to make it go away: until we can talk openly and honestly to another Malaysian, regardless of who or what they are, can we really call ourselves 1 Malaysia?

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1 comment:

Fareen Ali said...

I am hopeful things will be better for us in Malaysia. These growing pains will go away. It is a question of when it will happen.

All of us still in the country are facing something akin to a mass prisoners' dilemma. With each generation an iteration is being played out. After many iterations, we as a collective will learn the value of collaboration. This will come after many failed games played many times. Where are we now? Do we need many more generations to have this insight? This is an solution worth developing.