Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Five Good Things for Malaysians to Ponder for 2009

1. Media. Interestingly enough, it's a plural of "medium", as in the thing in which something is processed. Therefore, it's a noun but that's rather misleading, since it essentially provides a function - it doesn't just deliver the world to your door, it provides a perspective, an opinion, an emphasis on one side or the other. All the media do this, whether it's mainstream or alternative, and yes, even the words you read right now. People tend to say that the quality of a democracy is the freedom of the media which is an aspect of that democracy, and that has a certain truth to it. But the real essence of a democracy is whether you have a people who want to have a plurality of ideas, and whether they can sift through a variety of opinions before making up their own.

2. Melting pot. Malaysia used to advertise this quite a bit in the early '90s - that Malaysia is a cultural melting pot, a cornucopia of cultures, a blend of races living in harmony. That's where we get the "Malaysia, Truly Asia" slogan. These days when this comes up it seems to be a stern reminder when trouble brews rather than a badge of pride. As in, don't forget that cultural harmony is what a Malaysian strength. Or, we should keep in mind that racial harmony is what others have always envied about Malaysians. Thankfully yoga isn't one of our cultural products, yes?

3. Social contract. Somewhere, someone noted on the American Constitution, far enshrined by its people, was not a statement of what already is, but a set of goals to achieve. Here, and now, Malaysians would do well to understand that the historical context of our social contract was to provide eventual equality, where everyone would be on the same playing field - not provide dominance of one race over the other... which would be, ironically, the absolute opposite of equality.

4. Bloggers. There's a tendency for certain words to gain a meaning it never had. There's also a tendency to make certain words gain either a negative or positive slant by people with ulterior motives to do so. The term "bloggers" doesn't denote either good or bad people, like everything else, including "politicians", there are the good, the bad, and the ugly.

5. Security. As in the Internal Security Act. Let's think about the opposite of security: insecurity. When someone gets arrested under the guise of our security (or in the case of a certain journalist, her apparent "security"), do we really feel insecure about what that person says or does? It is perfectly acceptable to feel a certain insecurity if the person is about to, say, blow up a bus, but if only words can create insecurity, then well, we must really have an insecurity complex. Do we advertise our maturity as a people to the world, or a certain immaturity?

If I could add a more upbeat bonus:

Boleh. Just like "bloggers", this term has gained a certain notoriety, as in "Bolehland" denoting where anything goes in this country. But much like the rise of "Yes We Can" halfway across the globe, Malaysians can regain a sense of positive energy not merely asking whether we can, but indeed whether we will.

Happy new year everyone, and happy new year, Malaysia.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whatever Happened to Rafidah Aziz?

I was never much of a fan of the Barisan Nasional, no surprise there. But early on I rather liked Rafidah – or perhaps I liked the idea of Rafidah, the persona she wore. The UM economics lecturer turned International Trade Minister plus the no-nonsense attitude: it made it seem cool to have a person who actually knew a thing or two about the job instead of just someone who could bluff his way through a speech.

Then came the whole AP thing. The pakai tudung when it’s useful thing. The whole then-magnanimous speech about being thankful for a long career after being dropped from the Cabinet… and then needing to hang on to a position for another six months after elections. Almost makes me think that the best politicians are the ones who die in office before they have a chance to let you down.

Recently of course, it’s the whole Sharizat versus Rafidah brouhaha.

“Barisan Nasional component parties have been told not to wash their dirty laundry in public.
BN Wanita head Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz reminded them to settle all internal issues within the coalition and not use the media to publish their grouses.”

– “‘Keep feuds within the family’”, The New Straits Times, Dec. 3, 2008.

Now this would be all fine and dandy if she were providing grandmotherly advice to, say, infighting in the MIC. But it is instead an ill-disguised barb against her opponent, who was sitting right next to her when she was at the press conference. The grand irony and the height of hypocrisy is that this wasn’t a speech to delegates or members of BN – this was in a press conference, the very channel she said one should avoid.

"'If you have something to raise, then do through a memo or raise it in a meeting. What is the problem?"
- Rafidah Aziz, ibid.

Let's look at the problem, then. I don’t know a thing about Sharizat’s policies and have no idea if she’d make a better Wanita head. But in all fairness, it should be noted that Sharizat’s explanation for going to the media was that she couldn’t get word in edgeways in the meeting, and that she was bullied into compliance. Rafidah would have had a point if Sharizat had a fair hearing in the meeting, agreed without undue pressure and then did a turn around the next day. So far, Sharizat’s account of how the meeting was conducted has not been contested. Close-door meetings - that's the problem.

And to add to it, she said that the purpose of the press conference as to talk about the BN, and that she was so focused on it that she she actually “forgot” person she was contesting was sitting right next to her.

That’s a lot to swallow, when the person saying it should really be eating humble pie. Apparently you can say a lot of nonsense in a no-nonsense voice.