Keruah Usit Published
ANTIDOTE Is it worthwhile to fight for Malaysia? Would you be willing to live and die for an idea, or a principle?
Many people would answer no. Few would be willing to die for a nation, or an ideal.
Perhaps a handful would die for their religion, for a promise of paradise. (Very few would lay down their lives to defend, say, Bentham’s concept of utilitarianism.)
Even those who claim they are willing to die for their religion are self-deluded. Their nihilism is, ironically, a form of self-preservation, of trying to survive beyond the grave.
Hardly anyone dies for a belief. All too often, we die in spite of our beliefs; simply letting life slip away, day by day, and failing to do much with our ideals.
Decency and perseverance
Many friends and I are mourning the recent death of a Sarawakian, See Cho Kee who lived his life for his ideals - decency, conscientiousness, and perseverance.
He died of lung disease on March 8, at the age of 76. He was a taxi driver, not a firebrand politician or preacher. But he and his wife looked after a family of four children - three sons and a daughter - with love and care, and raised them to contribute greatly to their society.
See was an outstanding Malaysian, humble, kind and gentle. Some of my contemporaries in media and NGO circles have described him as one of the finest men they had ever met.
His formal education was truncated when the colonial masters closed his school, Chung Hua Secondary School No 2, claiming communist infiltration.
He started his working life printing and delivering newspapers, then worked as a reporter for the Sarawak Vanguard, a local newspaper. This newspaper, too, was shut down by the government for being radical and progressive.
He drove a taxi to support his family, a story of self-sacrifice and quiet heroism that is not uncommon among our elderly.
One son took after him, becoming an honest and hard-working taxi driver, before starting his own business. His daughter and another son contributed to educating the young (of all ethnic groups) in Chinese vernacular schools, as a teacher and an administrator. Another son, See Chee How, took up land rights law and was elected state assembly representative for Batu Lintang.
See Chee How has worked for the rural and urban poor for more than 35 years, first as a human rights campaigner and then as a Native Customary Rights (NCR) lawyer.
He survived a Molotov cocktail attack, when he stood up for Iban NCR landowners against palm oil companies and their hired thugs.
He nearly drowned when he went on an odyssey to Baram on a fact-finding mission, in support of Penan protesters who had been beaten and gassed by the police and loggers at NCR blockades.
He weathered legal threats by Abdul Taib Mahmud, the most powerful man in Sarawak from 1981 to this day.
He even endured imprisonment by the Burmese military junta, after he had protested in Rangoon in 1998 against the crackdown on Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
See Cho Kee and his family have all lived their lives in decency and perseverance. They have never given up on the idea of a better society.
Fear and loathing in Malaysia
The current political atmosphere is as toxic as our perennial haze from dying trees. Fear and loathing clog up the air.
Any cynic who, as Oscar Wilde described, “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”, would throw up his or her hands at the state of our Malaysian politics, and give up hope.
He or she might retreat into the cynics’ favourite pastime, of surviving; making money, “doing well”, looking after his or her own family, perhaps “migrating”.
I would argue, though, that Malaysia is not a basket case, despite the public clowning by ministers and their sycophants.
All societies go through their political and economic crises, and the resilient ones grow stronger as a result.
Indonesia, for example, lived through the horror of Suharto’s 1965 killings of at least half a million people. Indonesians survived decades of theft and political persecution by Suharto that made Najib Abdul Razak look like Mahatma Gandhi.
Yet Indonesia is now far outstripping its neighbours in political, judicial and media reforms.
South Korea’s military leaders ran the country like a mafia, and butchered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of university students and workers at Kwangju in 1980. Taiwan suffered under 38 years of martial law, following a Kuomintang massacre of tens of thousands of civilians in 1947.
Today, South Korea and Taiwan are flourishing democratic nations, and corrupt strongmen have been humbled in court. Even Burma is moving forward.
Can Malaysia do the same? If the many cynical and apathetic commentators in the mainstream media and social media are to be believed, never.
But there are people worth fighting for in Malaysia, people like See Cho Kee, Ahmad Sahari and Surik Anak Muntai.
Many millions of other, similar decent Malaysian people, of all ethnic groups and religions, go on contributing to our society.
We too, have a duty to these fellow Malaysians, rather than to some flimsy concept of patriotism.
What hope is there for Malaysia? We are not a failed state, by any measure.
We have a duty to be decent, and to persevere. We do not have the privilege of despair.
Perhaps a better question is, what hope is there for Malaysians?
KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - ‘anak Sarawak, Bangsa Malaysia’.