Last updated on 29 Jan 08:51 AM
OUTSPOKEN: For decades, we watched as Malaysia was overwhelmed by racial and religious extremists. Recently, we wondered if there was anyone who could lead the nation through its darkest hour.
Some of us may remember being united, at the formation of Malaysia, against a colonial power, the British; but 57 years later, we are still gripped by another form of colonial rule, the enemy from within, which is Umno-Baru. Dissension and tolerance are both prohibited. Anyone who opposes the administration is silenced by the Sedition Act.
Ever since the 1970s, many of us have felt that we were seeing the end of the era of the multiracial and secular Malaysia. Did we say farewell to the Malaysian dream, at the death of Tunku Abdul Rahman? Not necessarily, because in December 2014, we were given a lifeline, when 25 voices of moderation arose.
Former ambassador, Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, a member of the group of 25 prominent Malays dubbed the “Eminent 25”, has said that their group is speaking-up for peaceful dialogue and rationality.
She said, “I remember when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, we didn’t have supremacist groups, there was so much tolerance and mixing between the races. It is because we are patriots and we love this country that we are standing up to call for the return of moderation for the benefit of all Malaysians, before it is too late.”
As 2015 begins, the Eminent 25 have grown in number. Their presence gives all Malaysians hope. They are waiting to speak with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, but will he seize this golden opportunity? Or will he be crippled by indecision and his penchant for brooding and silence, in the hope that the Eminent 25 will give up and go away?
When you look back at the 70s, as Farida recalls, Malaysia was a different country, not just in its countryside or the urban areas, or its dress code and racial and religious make-up, but also in its moral and cultural attitudes. Will we ever recapture those days? Today’s generation do not know the Malaysia that was vastly different from the one they know today.
It was a country in which women wore the selendang (scarf) and there was no peer pressure to cover themselves from head to toe, for the purposes of promotion or career advancement. Malay girls did sports at school and wearing shorts or short sleeved shirts, was not an issue.
Several thousand schoolchildren went to mission schools and Malay parents did not worry that the crucifix or The Lord’s Prayer, would convert their children. Children were not ashamed to communicate in English, unlike today. In those days, parents wanted a good education for their children. When English was sidelined in favour of Malay, in the seventies, the elite started to send their children to international schools or overseas. The irony is that today, many non-Malays speak better Malay than the Malays, and are well versed in at least three languages.
Family time was important, then. Today’s rat-race means parents are too busy to tend to their children. At night, the exclusive clubs, in KL’s golden triangle, are the preserve of the children of the rich and famous, including and especially children of the political elite. For the less well-off, there is always the 24-hour mamak stall. The end result is the same. Many of today’s parents do not know where their children are, nor what they get up to, at night.
Pornography was hardly known, and although religion was important, it was not used to isolate communities or pit one against another. Today, it is alleged that the conservative state of Kelantan holds the highest rate of housewives who have HIV/Aids, people involved in incestuous relationship and sexually transmitted diseases.
Most Malaysians had not travelled on an aeroplane. Now, despite their ability to travel and see the world cheaply, some have not learnt to shake off their bad Malaysian habits. Malaysian students cluster into their racial groups at universities overseas, and recently, someone wrote to say that, at the Bicester Village shopping outlet in England, one Malaysian wanted to know if the food was halal. Instead of asking nicely, he simply grunted “Halah ah?”
It took a few grunts before the proprietor of the food stall understood him. In typical Malaysian fashion, he was also seen rummaging through the fridge, behind the counter, instead of waiting to be served.
We used to communicate verbally, but today, sending text is the norm. Human contact is avoided.
Many revere people with a “Datuk” or “Tan Sri”, but treat others shabbily. In reality, the titles mean very little these days; they are offered for a sum of money.
Money is useful in many ways, like helping the poor uplift their lives, but politicians are the most despicable for corrupting the ordinary people by using money to buy votes.
Illegal immigrants are treated better than non-Malay Malaysians, and are given an identity card, voting rights and opportunities in business. We have forgotten the importance of our cultural and religious values, many of which we once held dear.
In the past, police outriders were reserved for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, but today, even the ministers’ children brag about using police outriders.
On the sporting arena, any Malaysian, who excelled in his particular field, could represent the nation. Today, only a certain race is allowed to predominate. This bias starts in school and the discrimination means that talent is neither recognised, nor nurtured. Today, this discrimination is also prevalent in the civil-service.
What use is the gleaming architecture of the Petronas twin towers when we are bankrupt of social and cultural mores? The homeless are banished from our city centres because they are unsightly.
Of course, not everything from the 60s and 70s was good, but are we too arrogant to learn from the past. Will Najib meet the Eminent 25 soon and move Malaysia forward?
Mariam Mokhtar is "a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth.”
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