1 Oct 2006

Growing legion of the unfooled

Sunday Column: Growing legion of the unfooled
01 Oct 2006
Kalimullah Hassan

RAMADAN, the month of fasting, has great significance for Muslims. But in Malaysia, over the years, it has also become a season for all Malaysians.

For Muslims, it is a period of sacrifice, of restraint, a test of will, of refrain, of patience and of charity. Of course, not all Muslims observe the tenets as they should.

For some, it is just fasting from dawn to dusk. For some, even fasting is a chore.

But the majority do their best to observe Ramadan as it should be observed. If only people could exercise the same tolerance, humility, charity and peace throughout the year, Malaysia would be an even more wonderful place.

A unique aspect of Ramadan in Malaysia is the buka puasa culture which has evolved over the years where friends of different religions and backgrounds get together to break fast. You do not see this widespread phenomena in any other part of the world.

Save for when we break fast at home with the family, all our outside buka puasa engagements always include friends who are Buddhists, Christians or Hindus and there is absolutely no awkwardness at all.

While the Muslims go off and perform their Maghrib prayers immediately after breaking their fast with dates and a drink, the others nibble on finger food and resume eating when prayers end.

It took years for this culture to develop, but today it has become our way of life. Just like the Kongsi Raya or Deepa-Raya and the tradition of Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Christmas or Hari Raya open house.

This is what I miss most when I am abroad during festive seasons.

This year, much to our disenchantment, my family will be separately celebrating Hari Raya in three different continents.

And I know what we will miss most — the preceding buka puasa, the Hari Raya prayers, the seeking of forgiveness when we return from the mosque, and the open house when families, friends and neighbours get together.

Almost inevitably, a lot of tears are shed as we seek forgiveness from each other and remember an unkind word uttered or unkind deed committed. Almost inevitably, we are reminded of the need to be more sensitive in the coming year and tread more carefully when dealing with each other.

I do believe that we become better people, year by year.

Again, if only all the wisdom and sensibility that we have cultivated over the years were to come at one go, when we are younger, then the world would be a better place. Perhaps that is too much to ask because we are, unfortunately, only human.

Had buka puasa with a couple of friends over the week. One of them, a world-class award-winning Australian sailor, was quite amazed to see different Malaysians dining at the same table over Ramadan. His short love affair with things Malaysian only grew.

But despite the fasting month, conversations at the buka puasa table don’t differ much from the coffee shop talk on normal days.

It always comes back to the topic of the day — whether it’s the sugar shortage, the Blair-Brown fallout, the Thai coup or Malaysia’s favourite, politics.

Much as he was intrigued on why some Malaysian politicians spend so much time politicking and why Malaysians spend so much time talking politics, the Australian gentleman said the principles of politics were no different anywhere.

It’s all about the power game, and all politicians play to win, even if the cost to people and country is high, he said.

He related the story of two Australian politicians — one pushing for a controversial Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the other opposing it.

The proponent of the GST took a great risk in pushing an unpopular policy and his opponent capitalised on it, resorting to crude personal attacks.

At the end of the "game", the opposing politician told the GST-proponent: "I actually like you and admire you. But I had to win the game."

A game? So it’s not always about convictions? About the larger good of the country and the people?

I suppose we cannot tar all politicians with the same brush.

Just like there are good and bad journalists, good and really bad lawyers, good and bad civil servants, there are also good and bad politicians.

On a subsequent night, at another buka puasa, someone asked why Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew had haughtily commented about the Chinese in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Lee, who ruled Singapore with an iron fist when he was Prime Minister of the island republic for more than two decades, has maintained his influence by remaining in the Cabinet first as senior minister and now, in the uniquely Singapore-created position of Minister Mentor.

Lee claimed that the Chinese in Malaysia are marginalised and compliant and that Malaysia and Indonesia wanted Singapore to "be like their Chinese — compliant".

We should not be surprised that Lee made that statement. It is not alien for him to get on the high moral ground and make derogatory comments on the affairs of other countries.

There were many theories on why Lee would have wanted to make such profoundly inaccurate observation about Malaysia, especially when relations between Singapore and both Malaysia and Indonesia had taken on a better turn in the last few years.

"Wag the dog" — that was the common consensus at our table of Chinese, Indians and Malays.

Here was Singapore being criticised for reneging on a promise to allow non-governmental organisation protesters at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Singapore and foreign officials wondering aloud whether it would be in the greater interests of freedom not to have such high-level conferences in the island republic in future.

In Thailand, a coup was fermenting against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra which centred around the sale of his telecommunictions company to Singapore’s Temasek which is run by Lee’s daughter- in-law, Ho Ching.

The unbridled Thai Press has been at it for months, questioning Temasek’s purchase, and alleging and alluding all kinds of opaqueness in the deal. Temasek has, of course, denied the charges.

So what better way to divert the attention of fellow Singaporeans and seek the sympathy of the international audience by reverting to the age- old and tested formula of the "big brothers" from Indonesia and Malaysia trying to bully "poor, little Singapore"?

Only, this time, Malaysia reacted in proper and civil fashion — seeking an explanation from Lee on what certainly was an ill-thought, inconsiderate and provocative statement.

Had Malaysia reacted in any other way, it would have only lent credence to Lee’s assertions of a "bullying big brother".

Lee may not have changed but Malaysia has changed a lot from the days when he was engaged in building up his island state in a period of great recrimination between both countries.

Today, both countries’ leaders often speak about the need to leave past emotional baggage behind and work towards a new era of friendship and co-operation as two sovereign nations should. But, it appears, Lee’s baggage is still in tow.

The facts, Lee, are different. Yes, there are continued grumblings about the abuses in the New Economic Policy’s aims of restructuring society but not one Malaysian who has studied the country’s history and grew up in pre-May 13 Malaysia will dispute that it is the Tun Abdul Razak-initiated NEP which provided the stability and peace for Malaysia to become what it is today.

Take the top 20 richest Malaysians and more than half are Chinese. There are also Bumiputeras and Indians on that list now, a sure sign that no one is targeted for marginalisation.

Malaysia has Tamil- and Chinese-language schools. How many does Singapore have for its own multi- racial population?

The Malaysian Cabinet is made up of all the country’s races. How well are the minorities reflected in the Singapore government?

Sure, Malaysia is not perfect. There are many weaknesses. But we could also use statistics in Singapore and portray a picture of prejudice and marginalistion.

Talk about compliant people. Lim Kit Siang is not compliant; Karpal Singh is not compliant; Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Hadi Awang are not compliant; many NGOs are not compliant; the MCA is often not compliant as is the Chinese-based Gerakan; and most of all, many politicians in Umno are not compliant, leading to fractious battles every few years or so.

But they get their say and today, in the changing Malaysia, they have never had as much freedom to be "not compliant" as they have now.

Now let’s look at Chee Soon Juan and J.B. Jeyaratnam or a host of others who were not compliant in Singapore.

We should all read To Catch a Tartar by Francis Seow and James Minchin’s No Man Is An Island. Malaysia doesn’t look so bad, does it?

Maybe my Australian dinner companion was right. It is just a game. Like some Malaysian politicians think it’s a game to make unfounded allegations and tell lies to achieve their objectives.

But as we grow up, the legion of the unfooled is also expanding. And the legion of the unfooled in Singapore, too, has substantially outgrown the Cold War mentality of aging politicians.

It’s the festive season. Ramadan, Aidil Fitri, Deepavali and then Christmas and Chinese New Year around the corner. ’Tis the season of forgiveness and friendship, Lee. Seek and ye shall find.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The way I see it, Mahathir and Lao Lee should both go to heaven and fight so relations between M'sia and us can improve.

Anonymous said...

As a Malaysia working in Singapore, I read both the positive and negative news of these two nations daily. While this article is highligting the ugly sides of Singapore's leadership, it is also painting a distorted scenery of Malaysia's socio-political landscape.

1. "Take the top 20 richest Malaysians and more than half are Chinese. There are also Bumiputeras and Indians on that list now, a sure sign that no one is targeted for marginalisation."

A sure sign? C'mon, let's not kid ourselves here. It's a fact (not a rumour) that the Malays aka Bumiputeras (princes of the land = natives la!) get special privileges for their education, scholarship, housing, business, shares and other benefits that are not dished out for the rest. And to think that some of these jokers (finally) made it to the top 20 seems to me like ... ah forget it.

2. "Malaysia has Tamil- and Chinese-language schools. How many does Singapore have for its own multi- racial population?"

For the uninformed, the Tamil and Chinese language schools have not increased for the past few decades while the demand has increased several folds. (The Msia govt are just too lazy to rip off the remaining schools, that's it!). And let's not close our eyes on the recent scandal revolving around fund abuse scandal on Chinese and Tamil schools.


3. "Talk about compliant people. Lim Kit Siang is not compliant; Karpal Singh is not compliant; Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Hadi Awang are not compliant; many NGOs are not compliant; the MCA is often not compliant as is the Chinese-based Gerakan; and most of all, many politicians in Umno are not compliant, leading to fractious battles every few years or so."

C'mon, tell these Singaporeans who is Anwar Ibrahim,the ex Deputy Prime Minister, the guy who had his mattress brought to the court to prove that he committed sodomy. And he was definitely not compliant to his boss, I guess.


Nonetheless, I do agree with the author that the political scene in Malaysia enjoy a greater sense of freedom compared to this unique(ly) island.

Anonymous said...

anonymous, who made the following comment at 10/01/2006 10:14:58 PM, "It's a fact (not a rumour) that the Malays aka Bumiputeras (princes of the land = natives la!) get special privileges for their education, scholarship, housing, business, shares and other benefits that are not dished out for the rest. And to think that some of these jokers (finally) made it to the top 20 seems to me like ... ah forget it." - while one cannot dispute the fact on the privileges stated above, one has to balance it with the perspective that Malaysia is not a land of diversified, pioneering immigrants. The indigenous have a right to protect their own. Though that policy of privilege is not totally correct, one must admit that despte those privileges the non-bumis have flourished in Malaysia. The host has provided you a home and you have flourished. Is it too much that the host would make some provisions for other family members? Should the ethnic-chinese defend for the rights of their own in another country when perhaps they should be asking about the rights of their kindreds in China? If the chinese are that great a people - that hard working, that good in business, and all - why is there such a large chinese diaspora in the world? Why was China broke at the turn of the last century? Why did its people have to suffer so long that so many of their forefathers have to seek opportunities overseas? Why don't they now think about returning to their motherland to make it a better place?

- Thoughts of a non-Malaysian chinese.

W said...

To the non-malaysian chinese.

I would question the above comments made in ignorance or naivety. I will ignore your name calling

Lets restate the facts, the Malays are not the only indigneous if not there would be no Kadazan etc.And the non Malay bumi are in the same straits but slightly better at present.

The Malaysia chinese do not quibble at the main aims of he policy which was to eradicate poverty and to prevent economic identification by race.

In the first case, many of those have been born in Malaysia for the umpteenth generation.

However, the NEP policy(sometimes joking said as Never Ending Policy) or DEB as earlier known which was hijacked or implemented to only perpetuate obstacles instead of making the pie bigger (creating rentseekers which even the ordinary Malays are now grumbling). All aspects of society have been hijacked to that end. The NGOs noise is just a sop, the reality never changes or is perpetuated to a different form eg the University entrance which was made "by merit only", however a new matriculation was set up immediately.

Nobody would complain if the policy's only help the poor, however, it is now just pure rentseeking and perpetuate a crutch mentality

Phantom Prospero said...

Seek and ye shall find.
Knock on Chee's door and he may knock on your head for disturbing and harassing him. Dr Chee needs all the rest he can get so he can continue to find ways and means to be a thorn in PAP's flesh?

Anonymous said...

well seek and realise that the article is written by a muslim. 'nuff said

Anonymous said...

Ask a common (non PAP, MP or Civil Servant) Singaporeans Malays and Chinese if they are marginalised and you will find the answer loud and clear

Anonymous said...

oh well wake up everyone! everyone in singapore is marginalised. that's as fair as it gets!

jonathan said...

hahah if EVERYONE is marginalised then no one is marginalised in the end!

anyway YES, Singapore doesn't have Chinese or Indian lannguage schools. But that's only because every GOVERNMENT school is required to offer all four official languages. singapore doesn't marginalise races to the extent that they have to set up their own private schools to teach their children their own mother tongues.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post except it will never see the light of day in the straighjacket times.

There's nary a big headline of the national disgrace of an apology.

Matilah_Singapura said...

It is ALL a game.

People simply take life too seriously.

Politics is a DIRTY game. If you can't stand the heat, get the fuck out, and stay the fuck out of the kitchen.

Look at the political side of human hisotry, and observe: Assassins are nature's cure for asshole politicians and their meddling, power-lusting ways.

God bless asssassins!

Anonymous said...

Assassins are nature's cure for asshole politicians and their meddling, power-lusting ways.

..............

What a load of codswallop.

Do you have anything serious to say or contribute?

Kong Lan Cheow

Matilah_Singapura said...

anon: >Do you have anything serious to say or contribute?

Yes, though you wouldn't know it.

A pox on both your houses!

Anonymous said...

It is a case of MM vs MM

on either side of the Causeway...
the original MM (Mahathir Mohd as he is named when he is born) and the newly coined word, MM for Minister Mentor.

Irony ?